TheBacklot Interview: Jonathan Groff on “Looking”, Nude Scenes and Diet Coke

JOnathan Groff TheBacklot InterviewWhen you sit down with Jonathan Groff, it may be to talk about his new HBO series, Looking, but the conversation expands to cover all sorts of topics. Sure, we touched on Groff’s starring role in the new HBO series and his on set bonding with fellow cast members Frankie J. Alvarez and Murray Bartlett. We even covered how much nudity viewers can expect on Looking.  But those essentials out of the way, the conversation naturally opened up to include Groff’s love for Beyoncé and Diet Coke, whether he pays attention to gossip about himself and what being in the upcoming HBO film, The Normal Heart means to him.

Looking premieres this Sunday on HBO and while there are many reasons to tune in (we recently gave you 11, to be exact), know that Groff himself will be at the top of the list.

TheBacklot: I saw you in Spring Awakening years ago so my question is, back in that time, is this where you wanted things to go?

Jonathan Groff:  I would’ve never imagined. No. When I moved to New York all I wanted was to do theater. I never honestly, not even a little bit, imagined that I would want to do film or television. It didn’t seem like an option. It just didn’t even seem like that existed for me coming from Pennsylvania, and doing community theater. When I would see it on Broadway I could understand like ‘that’s the band’ and ‘I know what that is. I can relate to that.’ So moving to New York, I was like, ‘I know what it feels like to be on a stage and act in a play’ but I’d never been on a film set or like television set. I didn’t even know what that was. So, no. I never imagined that.

Do you think it’s selling this show short by calling it a ‘gay show?’

I think it’s cool. I mean, part of the reason we’re calling it the gay show or people end up calling it the gay show is because of the unfortunate fact that there isn’t a lot of TV shows on where most of the central characters are gay. So the fact that this one is out is great. And that it’s the gay show, then cool. Some people are calling it the gay Girls or the gay Sex in the City. I love Sex in the City and Girls. I’ve seen like every episode at least once in both of those shows. So, to be compared to that before we’re even on air is kind of an amazing honor. And I think there might be a crossover audience there. Like, if you like those shows, maybe you’ll like our show.

Jonathan Groff(Photo: HBO)

Do you think we’re past a time where we have to ask the question of whether a straight audience will connect with the show?

If that’s the question that we should be asking, then let’s talk about it. It’s better than not talking about it. And I think that one of the cool things about the show is it’s people mostly in their thirties and forties [and] there’s no coming out stories. Nobody’s self-conscious or devastated by the fact that they’re gay. And you think about maybe the most famous gay movie is Brokeback Mountain where it’s a story of two men who are devastated by the fact that they have feelings for each other. This is a show where being gay is not something that is torturing these guys. That’s a part of who they are, but it doesn’t define who they are.

In fact, the problems in their life have to do with their love relationships and their friendships and their work. Which I think, hopefully, is either a reflection of where we are now or maybe where we’re headed to. But I think it also is great because it makes the show more universal because it’s not about people grappling with their sexuality. It’s about problems at work and relationships.

Because the show is so much about the friendship of the three guys, what did you and Murray and Frankie do to bond? You didn’t know each other before, right?

We didn’t. Never met each other. It was so weird. I feel like part of what got us all cast is that we really hit it off at the screen test, and I think that read in the audition. It must’ve. And it’s partially probably why they cast the three of us. And then I think it reads in the series, too. Because we genuinely, like yesterday we did a full day of press after, you know, with all the international [journalists]. And then we went out to dinner to talk about it. It’s lucky, you don’t always get it where you have genuine friendships…there’ll be days on set where we would, whenever it was a scene with either me and Murray or me and Frankie or the three of us, inevitably the end of the day we would call each other and say, ‘Did we act today? Because it kind of felt like we were just fucking around with each other.’

(l to r) Murray Bartlett, Frankie J. Alvarex and Groff
(Photo: Getty)

Let’s talk about [your character] Patrick a little bit. Is he somebody you’d be friends with?

That’s a really good question. I think I would be. I think Patrick has all the best intentions. I think he’s a good person. The show is called Looking and I feel Patrick is in a place in his life where some people are at this place when they’re sixteen, some people at twenty-one, some people at thirty, some people at fifty where you say, ‘I’m about to look at my life and say, what are my social patterns? How can I change? How can I get better? How can I get out of this rut that I’m in?’ He’s in this rut of online dating. His roommate moves out. He’s now living alone. And it’s this big shift in his life. And suddenly, he starting to look at his friendships in a new way and looking at his love relationships in a new way. And looking at his work in a new way. As an actor it’s dramatically interesting to play someone that’s ready for change and ready to try new things. And then comedically, it’s also great because inevitably things are going to be hysterical at some point when you’re trying on different sides of yourself.

Jonathan Groff Raoul Castillo Looking
Can love be found on public transportation?
Patrick and Richie (Raul Castillo) give it a shot.
(Photo: HBO)

Tell me about working with Russell [Tovey], who we meet in episode three.

Russell was great. Same thing. Russell and Raul [Castillo], who plays Richie in the show, all three of us have a theater background. Russell has done a bunch of shows in London and was on Broadway in The History Boys and Raul is a member of a theater company in New York and is also a playwright. And so, we have, we just have this language that we all understand. There’s a sense of audience that a theater actor has, that we all share. So, the scene work with them, which is so specific and so interesting and those dynamics are very interesting, was even more fun to play with because we could really play with each other. Like you do in the theater. And I love both of them so much.

I’m just glad Russell got to keep his accent.

I know. Totally. It’s very sexy.

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