Jonathan Groff has become so known for his gay-sex scenes on HBO’s “Looking” that “Today” host Kathie Lee Gifford accidentally, and hilariously, quipped on-air that theactor has “a lot of balls in the air.” Indeed, he has. And in more ways than one. On March 22, “Looking,” his GLAAD-nominated comedy-drama about gay best friends in San Francisco, wraps up its second season. On March 13, you’ll hear Groff reprise the role of Kristoff in “Frozen Fever,” the new Disney animated short that’s shown with “Cinderella.” Also, on March 13, he’s back as Jesse St. James, an ex of Rachel (Lea Michele), for “Glee‘s” final two episodes. And currently, the out actor steals the show in “Hamilton,” the hot, hip-hop musical in New York.
Between doing press and performing, Groff is recording the audio commentary this week for the DVD to Season 2 of “Looking.” Created by Michael Lannan, this HBO series centers on Patrick (Groff), Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Dom (Murray Bartlett), and their loves and lives. Patrick, a sweet and nice if neurotic videogame designer, is torn between two lovers: Kevin (Russell Tovey), his buff British bulldog of a boss, and Richie (Raul Castillo), a laid-back Latino barber. Though “Looking” hasn’t been seen as a big winner ratings-wise, Brandon Nowalk at the A.V. Club has called it “the best show you’re not watching” and has urged HBO to renew it.
Groff, who turns 30 on March 26, reveals why he enjoys “Looking” so busy.
Wayman Wong: Congrats! Why has ”Looking” been such a dream job to you?
Jonathan Groff: “Looking” has been my dream job because I am so in love with the project, the people working on it, and the city that we get to shoot in! It’s so much fun to do. It feels like summer camp. I’ve never worked on anything that has felt so personal. And the 10th, and final, episode of this season felt incredibly personal. I couldn’t get through the table read without crying. It’s been a really special experience for all of us working on it.
Wong: Season 2 kicked off hot and heavy with Kevin nailing Patrick against a tree, but you’ve said “Looking’s” intense sex scenes show “character development and gay intimacy in a way that isn’t sensationalized.” To lighten things up, Tovey says between takes, you two sing showtunes. Tovey, who’s also out, loves musicals and has called you “a musical king” who’s “absolutely brilliant.”
Groff: We sing together all the time! Last year, it was mostly “A Chorus Line.” But this year, we started taking lines from the show and turning them into songs, which was fun … much to the occasional annoyance of Jeremiah on our crew, but even he started singing with us by the end.
Wong: Before “Looking,” there was “Brokeback Mountain” and “Queer as Folk,” which offered such frank and sexual portrayals of gay men. What did you recall about seeing them?
Groff: When I saw “Brokeback Mountain,” I was in a closeted relationship and went to go see it with my boyfriend, so that was really intense for the both of us. We left the theater in total horrified silence. And I remember being in high school and seeing “Queer as Folk” playing on the TV in the background at a party and being intrigued, but too embarrassed to go turn up the volume and actually watch it. “Will & Grace” was a big one, too, when I was growing up. And even though I didn’t personally relate to Will or Jack, it was just great to watch them every week and not feel so alone. Also, it was such a great show!
Wong: So when did you first know you were gay?
Groff: I’ve always known I was gay, but I didn’t come out until I was 23.
Wong: Speaking of TV, you’re back on “Glee” as Jesse St. James and you tell Rachel: “You belong on Broadway.” Plus, you do a duet of Roxette’s “Listen to Your Heart” with Michele, your Broadway BFF from “Spring Awakening.” What was it like to return there?
Groff: It was so much fun to go back and watch the experience come to a close for everyone. The most emotional reaction came from the crew on the show, who have given their blood, sweat and tears for seven years. They have been asked to do the impossible and given up so much of their lives for this show, and you could see how moved they all were to say goodbye. I felt incredibly proud to have been a part of “Glee.” It touched so many people and helped change the way people look at arts education. It made singing cool.
Wong: And you get to sing again as the hunky Kristoff in “Frozen Fever.” You’ve said that Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the Oscar-winning team behind “Let It Go,” have written “another song that you will not be able to get out of your brain” (“Making Today a Perfect Day”). But can they also write you a new solo, like “Kristoff’s Turn” or “Don’t Snow on My Parade”?
Groff: Ha-ha-ha! Those song ideas crack me up! I get to sing a bit in “Frozen Fever,” which is really fun. It’s so funny when people ask if I am frustrated that I didn’t get to sing more in the movie. I just feel lucky to be in it, period.
Wong: You first burst onto the scene in the Tony-winning “Spring Awakening” (2006), which got you a Theatre World Award, and you were one of the youngest guys ever up for Best Actor in a Musical. Now, you’re back on the New York stage in another acclaimed and revolutionary show: “Hamilton.” It’s Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s hit hip-hop musical about the Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, now playing through May 3 at the Public. What’s it like to replace two-time Tony nominee Brian D’Arcy James in the riotous role of King George? How did that happen?
Groff: Lin and [director] Tommy [Kail] asked if I would be willing to step in for Brian, and I said, “Yes!” I got to see the show five times in a row before I went in, and was blown away. I couldn’t stop crying every time I saw it. It is just so groundbreaking and emotional. They are changing the name of the game. Brian was a genius as the king, and I basically just stole all of his stuff. He is the sweetest man alive and could not have been more kind, generous and cool. I still saved the voicemail that he left me when he found out I was coming in for him. He is a classy dude.
Wong: Finally, congrats on making Out.com’s top 10 list of most eligible bachelors, along with Adam Lambert, Ricky Martin and Steve Grand. If you could name three celebrity crushes to play your hookups on a Season 3 of “Looking,” who would they be?
Groff: I did not know that I made the list. Awesome! But my celebrity crushes already play my hookups on “Looking”: Castillo and Tovey. And for a third, I would throw in Bartlett!
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