THE LEADING MEN: Jonathan Groff, the Spring Awakening Kid, Takes on Red and TV's "Boss"

By Kenneth Jones
20 Aug 2012

Groff on "Boss."

"Boss" shoots in Chicago?
JG: Yeah. We shot in Chicago from March until July.

Chicago is a totally different vibe.
JG: A totally different vibe, but I loved Chicago a lot. I really, really liked it. I lived in downtown. I lived in the River North section on Dearborn Street. The people from Chicago said Chicago is the worst city to live in in the winter and the greatest city to live in in the summer. And, we were there from March to July. It was a very mild winter, so we really got to hit the nice part of Chicago. I mean, there's live music outdoors all the time there. And, that lake — Lake Michigan — it's heaven. It's so nice. I did a lot of bike riding there, for sure.

You were new to Chicago?
JG: Well, I'd been for a couple of days in high school, but I've never spent any serious time there. That was really fun to get to learn that city. When I was in London doing Deathtrap, Estelle Parsons was so adventurous and saw so many more things than I did, and when that experience was over, I made a promise to myself where I said, "If ever I get the chance to live in a new city again for a job, I'm going to sort of attack it like Estelle Parsons did and make sure I see something different every day." Even if it's just walking down a different street or taking a different route or something, I'll really get to know the city. And so I did that with Chicago. It was really great. I saw a bunch of theatre there that I really liked and did all the art museums, did the architectural boat tour. It was really fun.

Did you see Seurat's "Sunday on La Grande Jatte" at the Art Institute?
JG: Yes, I did! Of course! Hello!

I've never seen it in person.
JG: Oh, it was amazing! That museum is incredible. I went a couple of times to that museum. That's where the Lichtenstein retrospective was. Amazing. It's so big, and they have so much stuff there. It's funny that you mention that, too, because my agent's boyfriend who came to see the show last night said to me at the after-party, "I feel like you're having your Sunday in the Park moment in Red. The end is like 'Move On.'" I said, "Oh my God. I love that."

I'm in the middle of Netflixing the first season of "Boss" to prepare for your entrance in season two. Kelsey Grammer is the corrupt longtime mayor of Chicago. I really don't have a sense of your character, Ian Todd. Can you tell me in a nutshell?
JG: Yeah. He's basically Kelsey's new political advisor. He's this young, super-ambitious upstart, and he holds a very intense secret that gets revealed a couple of episodes into the season. It's all sort of crazy and dark from there. It's really an epic show. It's a very dramatic, a very intense ride. Kelsey's giving an epic performance. And, it's very Shakespearean. You'll see when you watch it. I watched the first season because I got the audition for the show. I was like, "Okay, I'll watch it." And, I was so blown away by it. The writing is so good, and the way that it's shot is really unique — and sort of unlike anything I've seen on TV before. Gus Van Sant shot the pilot, and so it's all hand-helds and all-natural light. It's very sort of shaky and weird close-ups of people's eyeballs — really sort of cool artistic shots. I was like, "Oh, cool. I would love to get into that." The audition scene that they gave me — again, like Red, it was: "Oh, no work required. I just have to play this scene. It's so beautifully written." I didn't know the secret that my character holds until we started shooting. My whole storyline….they kept it a secret for me. That, obviously, would have really attracted me to the role had I known beforehand. But what I was most excited about was knowing that I was going to play Kelsey's assistant and knowing I was going to spend a lot of time sort of watching him work. I really wanted to do that. I knew that the writing was so good. That's why I wanted to jump in.


A season-two ad for TV's "Boss"

I was driving upstate last weekend and saw a giant billboard for season two of "Boss" on the West Side Highway. Have you seen the new billboard — the ad campaign?
JG: [Laughs.] Yes! We're hanging on meat hooks!

I said, "Is that Jonathan Groff hanging from a meat hook?"
JG: [Laughs.] "Just where he belongs!" We were actually hanging for that photo shoot. They strung us up. Like Mary Martin in Peter Pan, we were in harnesses, and they hung us up and took our picture, and then somehow cut it and moved it around and made us look like we were hanging from meat hooks.

I just assumed it was all illustrated and not a shoot.
JG: Yeah, no. It was totally a photo shoot! [Laughs.] The background — the meat — was not there, and we all hung separately, and they edited us together, but we were, like, hanging. We were actually hanging!

And, you were in a suit?
JG: Yes! [Laughs.] I was in a suit that they had to bust the back out of so they could fit the harness through. I mean, it was very intense.

And, it's supposed to represent Chicago's stockyards — the slaughterhouses that made it "Hog Butcher for the World."
JG: Exactly, yeah. Yes. You know what time it is!

I think there's a big pile of entrails under one of you — the insides of a cow plopped on the floor.
JG: [Laughs.] Oh my God. I've got to look closer! Oh my God.