Jonathan Groff is Happy to be ’Looking’
In the opening scene of Looking, HBO's look at gay life in San Francisco that debuts on Jan. 19, an obviously nervous Patrick is in the park, looking for romance in the bushes.
"I didn't get your name," Patrick says to his trick.
"Stop talking," says the guy, as Patrick runs off to answer his cell phone.
As the storyline progresses, we see that the awkwardly sweet Patrick usually tries too hard - with his friends, his boss, and his dates. Especially his dates.
"It's very symbolic that in the first scene, Patrick is getting a hand job," says Jonathan Groff, the openly gay actor who stars as Patrick. "He's never done this before. He's looking at himself, stepping out of himself and changing his life."
Patrick is also looking for Mr. Right. After a disastrous blind date with a doctor, he meets the very sexy Richie (Raul Castillo) on Muni. He pushes Richie away. They find each other again. And again.
" 'Looking' is very different from 'Queer as Folk' and other, earlier gay shows," promises Groff. "Nobody is feeling self-conscious about their sexuality, they've already gone through that. The drama of their lives is about boyfriends, jobs, and friendships. The characters are more relatable than in other shows, because anyone can have to deal with those issues."
But Groff tipped his hat to those earlier shows. "Looking could never have aired without shows like 'Queer as Folk,' 'Will & Grace' and others that paved the way," he said. "I feel like we've come so far with acceptance towards the gay community. It's nice that we've reached the point that we're making a show about gay characters in which gay is who they are, but it doesn't define them."
The actor says that his own sexuality has become a non-issue. He doesn't feel that being gay, or playing a gay role, will be a hindrance in finding new roles to play. "Being pigeonholed is not specific to gay actors," he said. "When you're in a hit show, you're pigeonholed. I did Broadway musicals, and I did 'Glee.' It took hard work for me to be able to show that I could act without singing. It's universal: Uou have to be prepared for the challenge to prove yourself."
Looking features many familiar San Francisco landmarks, including BART, Muni, the Folsom Street Fair, Castro Street (with the familiar Castro Theatre sign blazing in the night) and the ever-popular Stud bar, where Patrick and Richie dance together. Viewers will also meet Patrick's friends, each of whom has his own issues to deal with. One of the strongest of the series' early storylines involves Dom (Murray Bartlett), who agrees to meet his ex for coffee. It's their first contact in eight years. The now-wealthy ex, to whom Dom lent a great deal of money, wants Dom back. Dom wants his money back.
MIA from Looking are the lesbian and trans communities, at least in the first four episodes that were made available to the B.A.R. for viewing. Granted, this is a show about gay men, but the women and trans communities are highly visible in San Francisco. Their complete absence in "Looking" seems odd.
But "Looking" is fast-paced and often quite funny. At times it will feel so familiar it may embarrass some viewers. It's a slice of real life as gay men live it in the City by the Bay.
Groff said that he thoroughly enjoyed shooting the eight half-hour episodes that comprise Looking's freshman year. He hopes viewers will tune in so that he can return as Patrick. In the meantime?
"I'm looking for a job," he said with a laugh.
Look for 'Looking' on Sun., Jan. 19 at 10:30 PM on HBO. Episodes will also be available online and On Demand