Just when you thought the busy and popular twentysomething stage actor Jonathan Groff might be pulled permanently to the West Coast — where he's known for appearances in the films "Taking Woodstock" and "The Conspirator," and has starred as Jesse St. James on the hit TV series "Glee" — he's back in New York City this summer to rehearse and star in the world-premiere Off-Broadway play, The Submission, by Jeff Talbott. Walter Bobbie directs MCC Theater's limited run Sept. 8-Oct. 23.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
The Tony Award-nominated actor who created radical teenager Melchior Gabor in Off-Broadway and Broadway's Spring Awakening now splits his time between Los Angeles and New York City, following his six-month 2010 stint in the London revival of Ira Levin's Deathtrap. The Submission, a racially-charged work in which he plays a cocky young playwright, represents a return to Off-Broadway following Obie Award-winning appearances in Prayer for My Enemy and The Singing Forest, proving that he's interested in an eclectic career — stage, TV, films. We got a few minutes with him on his first day of rehearsal for The Submission, in which he appears with Will Rogers, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Rutina Wesley. Can you tell me a little bit about your character in The Submission?
Jonathan Groff: I play Danny...a playwright who writes a play about the African American community, and writes it under the ghost name of an African American woman. [His play] gets produced — and drama ensues. The play is really intense. It's really surprising. It deals a lot with race and gender and racism [issues] — I think it's a conversation-starter, this play.
This role, an undercover playwright, is something different for you, yes? Danny is very unlike recent roles you've played — such as Jesse St. James on "Glee" or Melchior in Spring Awakening.
JG: I was so excited to play this role for so many reasons, the first of which, is that this character is really flawed, and, I think, sort of walks a tightrope of making good decisions and bad decisions. The idea of going on that journey and justifying his choices that he makes in his life — good and bad — was really exciting for me, and, as an actor, it's always great to play someone who is passionate and…complicated. On the first read of the play, I was on his side, [and then] I was not on his side. And throughout the whole course of reading it, I thought, "Wow. That is something that I can really sink my teeth into, really get invested in and get really excited about." What are some aspects of Danny that you respect?
JG: I respect about Danny that he is trying to make it work. He's 27 years old and he's not been in New York that long, but he's this playwright who has had a couple of readings and hasn't really had [a play produced] yet, and so, he'll sort of do anything to get something produced. I respect and admire his passion and his love for what he does. He's an intense guy.
Are there any qualities of his character that you identify with?
JG: I think I identify with his passion, and I identify with his determination… It's the first day of rehearsals, so we're still figuring it out, but I am so excited to jump into it.
|photo by FOX|
When choosing to take on a new project, does doing a new work — in this case, a world-premiere — excite you?
JG: I think, for me, as far as projects are concerned, whenever I decide to audition for a project, or choose to do a project, it's all about what sort of makes me nervous or excited in my stomach when I read it. Whether it's a revival or a play or a musical or a film or a TV show, the things that excite me are the ones that sort of make my stomach flip a little bit when I read them, and this, I think, because it's a new play and because it deals with such interesting and hot-button issues, [it] was really exciting to jump on board with. This is another chance to originate a role. What is it like for you, as an actor?
JG: It's thrilling to originate a role, always. Spring Awakening, I think, was like the first big role that I really originated, and that was, obviously, a life-changing experience. I did a couple of Craig Lucas plays Off-Broadway a couple of years ago where I got to originate a role, and it's just exciting to sort of jump into new territory, especially with a group of actors that are as accomplished and talented as the ones who are in this play, and with Walter Bobbie, the director, and Jeff [Talbott, the playwright]. The Submission is his first [produced] play — I can't believe it, it's so well written, and he's so excited and so passionate about it. When you get to do a new play and you get to work with people who are really excited about it and pumped about it and interested in the material, there's really nothing better than that. I could not be more excited to do this.
The Submission has brought you back to New York City. You were recently seen on "Glee," which films in Los Angeles. Where are you currently based and how do you split your time between the East and West coasts?
JG: Technically, I'm bi-coastal because I have a small studio in New York and a small studio in L.A., and I am kind of going wherever the work takes me, and right now, thank God, the work is taking me here. I am so excited to be back in New York.
How does it feel being back in the city? Are you reuniting with old friends?
JG: Yes! I cannot tell you… I did "Glee" for a period of time, and then I went to London for six months, and then I moved to L.A. almost immediately after coming back from London, so this is really the first chunk of time that I've had in New York in two years, and I am beyond thrilled to be here. I rode my bike here today to rehearsal. I just love the city. I love the theatre community here. I love the Off-Broadway community here, and I am so pumped to be doing this play.
Meet the cast and creative team of The Submission: