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

By Kenneth Jones
20 Aug 2012

Groff in The Submission.
photo by Joan Marcus

 

I'm curious to know if you learn things from every project that you do? Are you conscious of specific lessons?
JG: Yes. I absolutely do. This sounds a little heady and hippie, but I definitely believe that every project that you end up working on is there for a very specific reason and for a very specific lesson — whether it's something that you realize in the moment or something that you realize five years later. Last night, I had a moment with [playwright] John Logan before Red. I was talking about how this play is ever-so-slightly shifting [the way I see the world]. Whenever I go to the museum, I hear Alfred's voice in my head when [his Rothko] says, "Look forward. Lean into it. Engage with it," when he talks about "a generation that doesn't aspire to seriousness isn't worthy to stand," and the people who came before them. I feel myself engaging even more, even more, even more with the people in my life, with the things in my life. If I go to see a movie, if I go to see a play, if I have dinner with a friend, I just feel myself leaning — figuratively, I guess — leaning forward as Rothko is commanding me to do in the play every night.

I think it's also the repetition. Which is to say, when you're talking about something over and over and over again eight times a week, it starts to really seep into your mind and seep into your heart and your soul. Even in The Submission last year. All of the issues and things we were talking about. This happened to me a month ago, where somebody was making an off-color joke, and I was like, "Ewww…!" The hair on my neck stood up a little bit in a way that it never would have if I hadn't done Submission last year for the month and a half that we did it, just because all of the issues and things that we talked about made me so much more sensitive to people's feelings and the way people are affected by how we communicate with each other — how we talk to each other.



And certainly during Spring Awakening, Melchior was a character that did not let the world define him and was out to sort of create his own path and do his own thing and not feel like he had to fit into a mold. And, the minute I left that play, I sort of carried that with me as the character through the two years that I did Spring Awakening, and then it, luckily for me, sent me out into the world with that sort of mindset, which is to say, "I don't need to let the world define me — professionally, personally, whatever. I can create my own way and find out what makes me tick and what makes me happy…" So, certainly, yes. Every character, every play shifts me or teaches me something in some way.

In an industry that's full of negativity, I'm always amazed how incredibly positive you remain and how you're not poisoned by the industry. Is it a challenge?
JG: Yes. Victoria Clark, actually, had a quote above the door of her dressing room in a play that says, "Don't let them steal your joy." And, that was said to me when we were Off-Broadway in Spring Awakening. Somebody said that to me — "Don't let them steal your joy." And, I was like, "Okay." It sort of didn't resonate with me when it was spoken to me, but then as you sort of deal with reviews, and then you deal with people in the industry trying to bring you down or telling you you can't do something — everyone comes upon that a lot. I came into this because I love it. It's what I love to do. And, certainly, we're blessed to be able to do that. And, I feel lucky to be able to do what I love, and it makes me very, very happy. And, on top of that, there are all sorts of obstacles and attitudes and opinions and people that are ready to just sort of rip that out from underneath you for whatever reason. And it's a challenge. It's a challenge to sort of deal with that and not let it affect you. But I just sort of hold onto that. I live by, "Don't let them steal your joy." I think I love what I do more than anyone could try and take it away, you know? The passion that I feel about my job is so extreme that it would sort of take a lot to bring me down because I love it so much.

And certainly, there are just as many people out there who are encouraging and helpful and great, and we're lucky for those people as well. You know, I wanted to do a tap dance, and I talked to Bernie Telsey and MCC Theater, and they let me do it. [Watch Groff channel his inner Sutton Foster in this Playbill Video clip from the 2012 MCC Miscast benefit.] 

I read somewhere that you don't read the internet. You don't read your own press anymore.
JG: I don't. That started a year ago. I was doing it — Googling myself — once a week or once every couple of weeks. "What's that picture that was taken of me?," "What do I look like?" or "What was that interview?" Then one day I said, "This is not doing me any good." So I set up a little challenge for myself. I said, "Every time I feel the instinct to Google myself, I'm just going to go to nytimes.com and read the news." So I would either read the news and learn something new or I would fall asleep. [Laughs.] That was the better option than looking at myself on the internet.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)

Watch video highlights from Center Theatre Group's L.A. engagement of the Donmar Warehouse production of Red.