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INTERVIEW: Spring Awakening Star Jonathan Groff Is Ready To Take On Red In Los Angeles

The star of Hair, Boss, and Glee prepares to go head-to-head with Alfred Molina in John Logan's Tony-winning drama.

Jonathan Groff
(© Craig Schwartz)
Jonathan Groff -- whose career skyrocketed following his Tony Award-nominated turn as the impassioned Melchior in the megahit Broadway musical Spring Awakening -- is always ready for a an exciting new challenge. In the past few years, he's taken on leading stage roles in the Public Theater's productions of Hair and The Bacchae, the London production of Deathtrap, and Jeff Talbott's controversial Off-Broadway play The Submission, and appeared in such films and television series as Taking Woodstock, Glee, and Boss.

Now, Groff is co-starring in John Logan's Tony Award-winning play Red at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum. In the play, Alfred Molina reprises his Broadway and London role as abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko, while Groff plays the famous artist's fictional protégé, Ken (a role originated by Tony winner Eddie Redmayne). Groff recently spoke to TheaterMania about his new role and the highlights of his budding career.

THEATERMANIA: What are the primary challenges you have faced in preparing for this production of Red?
JONATHAN GROFF: The first challenge was being the new kid coming into the show with people who already knew it incredibly well and very intimately. There's a certain respect you must have for what they have done. But you also need to be able to speak up and incorporate your own ideas about the character. Fortunately, things could be tweaked and adjusted, based on the relationship that Alfred and I have formed in the rehearsal room. Also, when we first read the play, Alfred and Michael Grandage [the director] and John all said that we were looking at this as a new production, and that we should be open to new energy and ideas. There's been a lot of discovery in the rehearsal process. Every time I do it, I understand more of what I'm speaking about.

TM: How has this been different from other plays you've done?
JG: I've never done a two-hander before. When you're always onstage, you really have to focus on listening and reacting. Alfred Molina is one of the nicest people on the planet and a complete master. I've never been in rehearsals for a play before where I've gotten chills, on a daily basis. The hairs in my neck stand up listening to Alfred saying these lines.

TM: Is it true that you abandoned plans for a college education when your career got rolling so quickly?
JG: I was definitely planning to go to college, but I deferred my admission to Carnegie Mellon, to be in a non-equity tour of The Sound of Music. But I made very little money in the tour and college is really expensive, and I thought I'd never be able to pay off those loans. So I moved to New York, waited tables for about a year, got an Equity card and went to North Shore Music Theatre in Massachusetts that summer. Then I got in In My Life, a short-lived Broadway show as an understudy. A couple of months later, I got cast in Spring Awakening. I've been fortunate that my career has developed through on-the-job training.

TM: Your career also quickly diversified. Are things going the way you had hoped?
JG: When I first went to New York after my tour, I wanted just to do musical theater. I had done straight plays in high school, but musicals were my number one goal. That was my passion. And then Spring Awakening happened so quickly. Fortunately for me, they were looking for untrained young kids and so that show changed my whole life. After that my goal became to do as many things as I possibly could, which luckily, I have been able to do. I realized the need to develop and grow.

TM: I think a lot of people would like to see you back on Glee, where you were paired with your former Spring Awakening co-star Lea Michele. Was that a fun gig?
JG: Lea and I know each other so well as friends and so intimately as actors that the chemistry between us is quick to tap into, because of all the time we had spent together on stage eight times a week. There's sort of an immediate connection for us, so when we get to work together it's so much fun. The only bad thing is we make each other laugh a lot. I'm always the first one to go, and she gets very frustrated with me when I just lose it. It's sort of one of those things that hurts so good.


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