Q&A: Andrew Rannells Talks ‘Dangerous’ Road To ‘Girls,’ His Hope For TV True Love – And A ‘Book Of Mormon’ Revival?!

Chris Azzopardi
By | 2015-02-17T09:00:00-04:00 February 17th, 2015|Entertainment|

Photo: Mark Schaffer / HBO

Andrew Rannells won’t soon be living down the handjob he gave to a boy in a bathroom. Thanks to Lena Dunham and the other writers turning out sharp social commentary and anecdotal writing for this current installment of HBO’s “Girls,” now in its fourth season, the theater-turned-TV star didn’t just speed-race his way through a handy – he’s danced, de-clothed and continued to lambast the fogey fashions of Dunham’s Hannah. And god bless him for it.

So, Andrew, what’s up with Marnie getting all the sexy sex scenes on “Girls”?
I know! She gets to do all sorts of crazy shit this year and poor Elijah just gets an awkward handjob in the bathroom. We’ll see if we can’t fix that.

I like seeing the gender roles being subverted, though. Most people would expect to see the gay guy getting rimmed, not Marnie.
That is true. Lena’s pushing boundaries all over the place!

How did you end up with a bigger role on the show, especially this season?
Well, I was really excited: Last season was the first season that I got to be a full-fledged regular on “Girls.” They’ve always done such an amazing job of making me feel like a full part of that team, but last year was the first season that I really got to just be devoted strictly to them. In the past, during the first season, I was still doing “The Book of Mormon,” so with the second season, I only got to do half of it. And then we started “The New Normal,” and then after “The New Normal” ended I got to do the back end of the third season. They’ve always been so welcoming, and I’m just thrilled to be a full-time cast member over there.
I mean, literally, I don’t think it was even 20 minutes after they had made the announcement that “The New Normal” was canceled that I got phone calls – one from (executive producer) Jenni Konner, one from (executive producer) Judd Apatow and one from Lena Dunham – all saying, “Please come back and join us.” Even though they had started prep for their season, they worked me in very quickly. Again, I’m so grateful to them and so touched that they include me. I feel really at home with that group.

Which of the “Girls” characters would you most likely hang out with in real life?
Lena and I actually hang out a fair amount, and Allison (Williams) and I hang out a fair amount as well. Particularly during this past year, (Allison and I have) kept in very close contact over our hiatus, which is great. Character-wise, I feel like it might be a Marnie situation, I think. I know that she’s a little high-strung, but, particularly now with her new sexual awakening, I feel like she would be a fun girl to hang out with.

The one you’d least likely hang out with?
I might have a hard time with Jessa. Yeah, that would be a tough hang for me.

Because she pisses in the street?
Well, the pissing in the street – yeah. I would’ve run. If I were Adam, I would’ve just bolted. Like, “See ya, lady!”

What is your relationship dynamic with Lena off set? Do you guys dance like you do on the show?
Well, we’ve had a few opportunities to dance together, which is pretty fun. The fascinating thing about Hannah vs. Lena is that Lena is so obviously wildly driven and incredibly talented, and she doesn’t possess any of that insecurity or lack of direction that Hannah has. I learn so much from working with Lena in terms of just being motivated and making things happen for yourself, and also being confident in yourself and trusting yourself. She’s very inspirational in that way. It’s so funny to me that she plays this character that she created that is such a fucking mess. Completely opposite of herself.
So my hanging out with Lena is super fun but she’s also so encouraging. She’s really just very inspiring to hang out with in a great way. Sometimes I look at her and all that she does and all that she accomplishes and I’m just very let down with myself and annoyed with her. (Laughs) Like, “God, I do nothing.” I feel so lazy sometimes. I’m like, “I should’ve written a couple of books by now. What am I doing with myself?!”

That Iowa rager this season – please tell me those are your moves.
Oh, hell ya. One-hundred percent. I’m embarrassed to say it’s not choreographed. That is all free style, my friend. That’s, like, me in high school.

Elijah is very impulsive and decides to follow Hannah to Iowa this season. What’s the most impulsive you’ve been about a situation in your own life?
In 2004 – is that right? – I had this job. I was working for a company that made Pokemon and all these anime cartoons; I was doing voiceovers for them and directing a couple of series for them. It was good money. It was a steady 9-6 job. It was basically an office job even though I was in a recording studio and I was doing something that was on television. And it was fine, but it was soul crushing. I knew that I wanted to really pursue the musical-theater thing, which is what I had moved to New York to do. One day I just walked into the office and I quit. Everyone was so baffled because it came out of nowhere, but I had just reached a point where I was like, “I can’t fucking do this anymore. I just can’t do it.” And everyone was like, “This is a terrible idea; you’re making a huge mistake.”

What made you go with your gut?
It was building inside of me for a long time. I just knew that I was unhappy, and I would go to see a Broadway show and I’d be like, “Goddammit! That’s what I came here to do!” And I felt like I was letting myself down by not seeing that through, so yeah, I just did it. But that felt nuts to me. That was probably the most impulsive and, you know, ultimately rewarding thing I could’ve done.

How long were you without a job?
It was not that long, but it felt horrible because I was unemployed for about eight months. I was just auditioning and tripping around, so it wasn’t a horribly long time. When you don’t know what the end is, though, it feels pretty dangerous.

Elijah makes himself right at home in Iowa. Having gone from Nebraska to New York, and also to Los Angeles, is it easier being gay in a big city?
I was out but not fully out at 19. I wasn’t really in any kind of scene in Omaha, so I don’t know what it was like to be an adult in that city. All of my adult gay experiences have been in either New York or Los Angeles. I mean, it’s certainly easier to find your people and your group in a larger city.
My mom now does a lot of work with the Nebraska AIDS Project and PFLAG in Omaha, and I’ll go back to visit and go to events, and there’s a great community planted there. She’s really dove in during the last couple of years and started volunteering with all these different organizations. I go back and meet young gay people who live in Omaha whose parents are maybe not as accepting and they always say, “Your mom is so great; she’s kind of like our mom.”

Why do you think Elijah is so pivotal this season, especially to Hannah?
His return into that friend group was a little tentative. (Hannah) found out he had sex with Marnie in the second season, so she kicked him out of the apartment and then he sort of disappeared. Then, coming back, I think Hannah took a second to really welcome him back into the group, but I feel like this season really solidifies his place in this friend circle.

Where do you hope to see Elijah in the next season?
I would love to see him get a real boyfriend. I want to see him in a real relationship, and I want to see how he would function if he actually fell in love with someone. I think we’ve seen him flounder about and kind of half do a relationship, but I want to see him fully in a relationship. Someone is in love with him; he’s in love with someone else. I wanna see what that brings out in him.

You’re starring alongside Anne Hathaway in Nancy Meyers’ “The Intern.” I understand the role was originally written for a woman; so, in the film, are you gay or straight? Does your sexuality come up at all?
It doesn’t really come up. Even written as a woman, there was nothing really about her personal life in it, so in making the switch to a man, it was actually shockingly easy because there was no personal detail there. The requirements (for the role) were really just sort of play off Anne and Anne’s character, so it really wasn’t about any kind of personal background of mine. So it didn’t really come up. You tell me when you see it.

And you and Anne are besties now, right?
It’s funny: I had met her a bunch of times during “The Book of Mormon” because she had done a movie called “Love & Other Drugs” with my co-star from that, Josh Gad, so I knew her before, which made it super relaxed and easy. I mean, she’s extremely talented and intimidating in that she’s worked with a bunch (of people) and she has an Oscar, but I also knew that she was just a very cool girl, so it made it easy doing scenes with her, knowing her a little bit. It was great.
When I started, I was in rehearsals for “Hedwig” (on Broadway) as we were filming that. During my first night I received this ridiculous flower arrangement, and I was like, “Who the hell is this from?!” And it was from Anne Hathaway. Class act. Very nice that she remembered.

What kind of role would get you back on Broadway?
I loved my experience with “The Book of Mormon” and doing a new show, but ahh… you know, I’m certainly… I’d be very excited about doing a revival. Umm. There is… yeah. Yeah. Without – (laughs) I’d be very excited to go back. Yes. I’m looking forward to finding that project and getting back on Broadway.

I feel like you’re strongly suggesting something here.
(Laughs) I don’t know!

Well, something’s in the cooker and I like it.
Well, good!

About the Author:

Chris Azzopardi
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.