Jonathan Groff Marches Onward
Many young people have big dreams, like winning a Tony Award or an Oscar, and the popular television and stage actor Jonathan Groff had his share while living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. But he can hardly describe being named a Grand Marshal of the 2014 New York City Pride Parade on Sunday, June 29, as one of those dreams - only because it was so far from anything in his imagination.
"Growing up in such a conservative community, I never would have thought I would ever be in one of those cars heading up the NYC Pride parade," he says. "So when I got the call this year asking if I would be a Grand Marshal, I immediately said absolutely. Of course, I have no idea what I am going to wear. It's always the last thing I think about. Still, I am so excited about this opportunity to express who I am as a young member of the gay community."
Back in Lancaster, discussing his sexual orientation simply wasn't an option. "Back there, no one talks about being gay - or sex at all," he notes. "Even my brother, who is straight, and I never talked about his girlfriends. In my family, we just don't talk about feelings and relationships, so it just never felt natural to talk about that kind of stuff then. Since I've been living in New York, I've been able to grow into myself and feel more comfortable about being gay, leading to where I am today. But I think it's an evolution for everybody, and I feel compassion for everyone. We all have our own paths, and everyone has to live their own truth. But I do think if you're able to come out, then do it. The more of us who do it, the more somebody knows someone who is gay, the world becomes more accepting."
Groff got his first taste of public gay fandom in 2006 at age 21, when he burst onto the New York theatrical scene with his heart-stopping (and butt-exposing) performance as the rebellious Melchior in the hit musical Spring Awakening. Still, Groff kept publicly mum about his sexuality - despite constant rumors that he was dating costar (and still BFF) Lea Michele - but he says that was because nobody asked him. "I was never in," laughs Groff. "I just think everyone was being so respectful because I was new to the community."
But three years later, everything changed when he attended the famous National Equality March on Washington, D.C., in 2009, as part of a coalition formed by Broadway Impact, which was founded by Groff’s then boyfriend, actor Gavin Creel. "We were walking down the street in D.C. and somebody from one of the theater websites was interviewing everyone and just asked me, ’Why are you here, who do you represent?’ And the answer just came out naturally: that I was there as a gay man," he says. "It was a very meaningful moment. But it was really a couple of weeks before anyone noticed I said it."
In the past few years, Groff has attracted widespread attention in a variety of roles, including Claude in the Shakespeare in the Park production of the musical Hair and teen singer Jesse St. James on Fox’s hit musical series Glee. And although he made headlines off-stage, during his relationship with actor Zachary Quinto (they broke up last year), his largest audience to date came by way of the Disney animated blockbuster Frozen, for which he provided the voice of the reluctant hero, Kristoff.
Currently, though, Groff is making headlines by appearing in two high-profile television projects: HBO’s star-studded film version of Larry Kramer’s award-winning play The Normal Heart and HBO’s hit series Looking, in which he portrays the leading role of gay San Franciscan Patrick Murray.
"Being part of The Normal Heart was incredible. Ryan Murphy, who I worked with on Glee, sent me a text asking if I would be part of it, and I said I would be in the crew if he wanted me to," says Groff. "I had seen the play during its last revival on Broadway, and it’s such an amazing story of the early days of the AIDS crisis. Being born in 1985, I did not live through it, and I think my generation has a sense of disconnectedness about that time."
As one might expect, Groff (who plays Craig Donner) was also thrilled to be part of an ensemble that includes Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch, and Julia Roberts. "It was a really cool cast, and I think it was so wonderful that it was made up of people who were gay and who were straight," he says.
As for Looking, in which he plays a video-game designer finally trying to find true love, the show has been life-changing, Groff says. "I live in Chelsea, and it’s been really awesome to walk around my own neighborhood and have gay people of all ages come up and talk to me about the show."
Most of them, he notes, want to chat about whether he should end up with hairdresser boyfriend Richie (played by Raul Castillo) or his boss, Kevin (played by out gay actor Russell Tovey). "I have to admit, if Raul was gay in real life, he’d be my boyfriend," Groff says, chuckling. "But as far as Patrick is concerned, I don’t have a preference. I love both characters, and each of those guys is so attractive in their own way. I think it’s rare for there to be a love triangle on television where both options are so viable. I think that’s a testament to those actors [being] are our writers."
Groff will finish filming the second season of Looking later this year, and the actor admits he doesn’t know yet what his professional future holds after that. "Of course, I’m dying come to come back to Broadway," says Groff, who recently saw his longtime idol, Tony Award-winner Sutton Foster, in the musical Violet, and fellow gay fave Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. "Neil was just flawless. He blew my mind," he adds. "I actually didn’t recognize him when he first stepped on the stage."
If he doesn’t end up singing on the Great White Way, he’d certainly be open to doing so by reprising his Glee role during the show’s sixth and final season. "I still watch it every week," he laughs. "But Ryan Murphy hasn’t talked to me about it. Still, I don’t see why Jesse couldn’t show up in New York City."
No matter what, though, it’s almost a sure bet that he’ll be doing more concert work, having premiered his first act earlier this year as part of the American Songbook series at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room. "I really miss singing regularly, and I learned so much doing that show," he says.
Indeed, one of the concert’s highlights was his gorgeous rendition of Irving Berlin’s "I Got Lost in His Arms," using the song’s original male pronouns. "My musical director, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, and I just started talking about shows that had changed my life, and I told her I wish I could sing something from Annie Get Your Gun," he notes. "But all of my favorite songs from that show were either duets or sung by Annie. But as I started going over the lyrics to ’I Got Lost in His Arms,’ I realized it’s about the mystery of falling in love with a man. And in a way, it answered the question of ’When did you know you were gay?’ When you met a man and you got lost in his arms. So I tried it in a rehearsal, and I just burst into tears. I felt really connected to who I am."