Jonathan Groff is an amazingly nice guy. No, really. It's not just an act. There are many actors who would blow off an interview after a scheduling mishap, but not Groff. Either he was raised by saints or he really believes in his new HBO series “Looking.”
Or, maybe it's a combination of both.
It's been something of a breakout year for the still 28-year-old actor best known to many for his time on “Glee.” Not only has he earned critical kudos for playing the somewhat naive Patrick on “Looking,” but he was the voice of Kristoff in Disney's Oscar-winning blockbuster “Frozen.”
Groff patiently took sometime on Friday to revisit the entire season of “Looking” and talk about who he hopes Patrick ends up with in season two (granted, that was something of a tease). The conversation was so in-depth we didn't even get to chat about his role in another upcoming HBO production, Ryan Murphy's adaptation of “The Normal Heart.” Yep, it's not bad to be Mr. Groff at the moment.
HitFix: Before I ask you about “Looking,” were you in L.A. for the Oscars for “Frozen” last weekend?
Jonathan Groff: I was. I was there sort of all weekend out and about. It was so fun. It was so exciting.
What has that experience been like? Beyond the fact it's 180 degrees from “Looking,” the reception could not have been what you expected.
Yeah, I mean I think everybody thought like we did like a cast screening of the movie in October before we did press for it. We were all like kind of blown away by how great we all thought it was and how powerful it was and how good the music was. It felt like an old school Disney movie that we hadn't seen in a long time. But you don't know how it's actually going to do because you don't know what people are into or if that sort of model would still work. Would [it appeal] maybe just to girls, but not to boys or what the audience would be for it. And I think even like the executives at Disney were completely shocked when it started doing the numbers that it did. It was like a total surprise.
Do you find mothers of girls under the age of ten introducing you now as your character?
Yes, absolutely and I get a lot of videos of “This is my daughter singing 'Let It Go.'” I get a lot of those, which I love.
That's amazing. And I hear there might be a sequel?
Oh my God I hope so. I hope so. That would be awesome.
Well, let's talk about “Looking” because that's the one thing I really did want to chat with you about. Did you get the scripts as the filming was going along or did you get them beforehand?
We knew sort of where the story was going, where the sort of broad story was going. We knew that there would be a wedding. I knew that I was going to have sex with my boss in the final episode. So, we knew kind of where it was all heading to, but we didn't get the scripts until we were finishing the current show we were working on.
So, you knew by the end that this love triangle would be set up between Patrick, Richie and Kevin?
Yes, I was aware. I didn't know how specifically it would all play out but I knew that that was kind of their vision for [the end of the] season.
When you were doing certain scenes were you always cognizant of that? For example, I've had a lot of debates with my friends about the scenes in episode four where Patrick and Kevin are hanging out at work. Kevin asks Patrick to go out to dinner and Patrick says no. I felt that was a distinct choice of his to say, “No I'm not going down that road.” But, by the end of the season he somehow is seduced by Kevin. Is that how you wanted it to be seen?
Yeah. I mean, I love that moment. And it's funny that you speak of that specifically. That's one of my favorite moments for Patrick in the season. That scene was written in the final hour of shooting that episode by one of our writers, John Hoffman, who really felt like in order for Patrick to go to that club and really be open to Richie he had to say no to Kevin. And he had to say no to sort of an “unavailable man” in order to find himself in the position to except one that was available. And so that scene was not in the original script for episode four before then. It got added while we were shooting it. And we were talking about the character development and how we wanted to go into episode five, which is the episode where it's just me and Raúl [Patrick and Richie]. And in order for that to kind of play we needed a moment where Patrick says no. This guy is clearly just like sort of using me on the side when he's got a boyfriend. And it was a really sort of empowering. I think it's a really empowering moment for Patrick. And I feel like he starts to grow a sack in the scene and I really liked that.
Then how do you see Patrick being sort of seduced by Kevin in the finale? What makes him change his mind do you think?
Well, I think there's sort of like a base animal attraction between the two of them that's always kind of been there from the moment they met. And I think that in episode eight the sex and the sort of moment of connection when Kevin completely takes Patrick by surprise. I think that when Kevin sort of the – suddenly Kevin's like in the office alone with beers, Patrick is not – maybe subconsciously he's aware of what's happening, but I don't think consciously Patrick is aware that Kevin is kind of out to seduce him. And I think that when Kevin says, “I haven't been able to stop thinking about you” it's a total shock to Patrick. And then in that moment his sort of like animal instincts and feelings take over. He's in such a confused place as well because are things over with Richie? He doesn't really know. He feels really uncertain and so Kevin kind of catches him in a very vulnerable state. And then there is that attraction that's kind of been there the whole time; it just sort of rears its head.
Well, I talked to [series co-creator] Michael Lannan yesterday and I was joking with him that I'm convinced that over the summer there will be Team Kevin and Team Richie T-shirts appearing everywhere. But I will ask you, as a viewer, as Jonathan and not as Patrick, do you want him to go in a certain direction? Do you want to him to pick one or the other?
Honestly this is not just a PC answer, I feel genuinely torn because I kind of feel like the chemistry that Kevin and Patrick have feels very authentic and real and they feel connected in a way. But Kevin's also kind of unavailable. He has a boyfriend and there's something sort of weird and competitive about the work situation and that whole thing. So. I felt mixed about that and then I also love the connection between Patrick and Richie because they come from two different worlds but their connection is also kind of undeniable. And I do feel like Richie is ready for a relationship in a way that Kevin isn't, but it's hard to say which way Patrick should go. I kind of like what both of them bring out in Patrick and I think that it's a true compliment to actors like Russell and Raúl that these characters are both so appealing and that there's a genuine divide. Even my friends that are watching the show [are torn] as to which person he should end up with, which is kind of not your usual television show. Usually there's like the one that you know is going to be the one kind of the whole time. I think that's a testament to the writing as well and to the actors.
One of the things that I was surprised when I talk to Michael yesterday, or at least he didn't cop to me, is he says he hasn't paid a lot of attention to what fans have said about the show. Have you been paying attention and is there anything that surprised you in terms of the reaction to the show overall?
I haven't been reading like message boards on websites or anything. I always read real reviews so I've read all of those, but I haven't been keeping up with like the buzz online per se week to week. Although I am aware — people have told me what the down low is and what people are saying. And I've had friends call me an email me about the show and it's been really interesting to hear people's reactions.
That was what I wanted to get to because I know you did an interview after the premiere where, I wouldn't say you were defending the show, but there had been some really sort of shockingly negative takes from the gay community specifically.
Yes. Right. I've read those, yes.
I have to tell you, I was sort of stunned by it. Were you surprised at all by some of that reaction or were you expecting it?
We we're definitely expecting. Because there was so much anticipation and preconceived notions about what the show was. People were saying it was the gay “Sex in the City” or the gay “GIRLS” before we even [started filming] and after we made the pilot. Before we even had like shots of the show there was already this buzz that was created that it was the gay version of those shows, which is great in some ways because it gets people talking about the show, which is a gift in a lot of ways. But then we knew that there would be people that were disappointed, people that felt like they didn't see themselves. We knew there was going to be people that were expecting us to represent the entire gay community, which I think is more of a reflection of, unfortunately a lack of representation of the gay community. And I think that maybe that's also where a lot of the negative energy comes from is just that people, you know, the gay community, there's not a lot out there representing them or us. And so when something comes out in the sort of a very visible way they put a lot of expectation on it, which makes total sense. And so I guess hearing the sort of negative blow back is hard because it's hard when you hear any sort of negative comments about what you're working on, but this in particular. I can speak for everyone on the show when I say that our hearts were really invested in this project, for me more than anything else that I've ever worked on. I was so invested in the show and so invested in these characters and these stories. So, to hear any sort of negative comments is kind of disappointing when you first hear them. And we were waiting to find out if we're going to get another season, and then the first week happened and then the sort of negative blowback happened. But then the numbers started to grow like a week to week they started to expand and grow and the show started to find its audience. And that felt really amazing. And then last week we got the green light for season 2 it was just like the greatest news ever. I was like so excited just because I believe in the show so much and to watch it sort of steadily grow and watch people become invested in it. And I think even some of the people that had preconceived notions that were disappointed in the beginning have started to turn around and see it for what it is. And that's been really amazing.
Another great scene that has stuck in my mind is the scene with you and Julia Duffy on the balcony in episode seven. I'm curious what you thought about that scene and do you think Patrick grew from that moment?
That's a good question. That was the most rewritten scene of any of the scenes in the entire season. Partially because there's so many opinions from the gay men that were working on the show about what a scene with the mother would be like and how we wanted to portray that and everybody sort of brought their relationships with their own mother to the table. Everybody has a very different experience with their moms. Some mothers are 100 percent supportive; some mothers are the opposite of that. And then there's sort of this grey area, which I think is what we ended up hitting on in the scene that I was really excited about. Patrick isn't totally wrong about his mother. There is some resistance from her. But there's also some surprising acceptance. And I think that Patrick has to wade through the actual issues that he has with his mother as opposed to the issues that he's kind of projecting onto her. And I think that that scene is incredibly complicated and doesn't really answer any questions but sort of just illuminates a little slice of their relationship. And then John Hoffman again who wrote the episode, who did that scene in episode four, also throws in that curveball with her eating the pot Rice Krispy Treat at the end, which then makes you think is she high for this entire conversation and puts the entire thing in perspective. I think it's a really fascinating scene and I think that there's a lot to be minded there in the future between Patrick and his mom and hopefully they'll engage with that. And Julia Duffy is awesome and so great and I had such a blast with her. She is a mother and we talked a lot about the mother/son dynamic when we were on set. We just tried to make it kind of as complicated as possible without necessarily answering any questions for the characters or the viewers.
My last in-depth question is how do you see Patrick's friendships with Dom and Agustín? There appear to be as many people who get why they are friends as there are those who don't. Is that something you feel has to be sort of explained more in season two or is it just there's so much past history between all of them we just need to accept it?
That's an interesting question. I definitely relate to the relationship between Patrick and Augstín because it's like one of those friends that you had – I didn't go to college but from when you were younger, you know, they lived together in college and now they're sort of redefining their relationship with each other as adults. And so when we meet them at this particular time in their lives they're kind of at a moment, at a crossroads when they need to sort of separate from each other and then come back together. Agustín's moving in with his boyfriend. Patrick is sort of trying to grow and trying to find a new side of himself as we see in the very first scene in the park. And so they're sort of becoming their people outside of each other, which happens in relationships. I think when you know someone really well and then you start to change and grow and develop. So, I think we're seeing them at a moment where they're in a separation moment in their friendship. And I think by the end of the season we see them coming back together, which will probably illuminate their relationship for season two. I think that the relationship with Dom is interesting because Dom is also kind of going through a personal crisis. It's like we were meant to see these people as friends at the very beginning of the season, but then they go through all sorts of personal crisis [that pulls them apart] and then they kind of get brought back together in episode eight. Hopefully that continues through the second season.
Last question for you. I'm guessing “Looking” will begin shooting season two in the summer or maybe early fall. Do you have anything in the works before hand?
I got nothing. I'm reading a couple strips and sort of looking to see if I can find something before then. We'll see what happens.
Well enjoy the reaction to the finale because I think people will be surprised by where it ends. And again congrats on “Frozen.” No joke, I just bought my four-year-old niece costume dresses from the movie.
Oh my God, amazing.
It's saturated everywhere. You will be 60-years-old and some young woman will come up to you and say “I loved you in 'Frozen.'”
No, I love that. It's so awesome. It's so great. I feel so lucky to be in it. I really do.
For more on the season finale of “Looking” read my review here.