He closed out last year as the voice of the rugged mountain man romantic lead in Disney’s animated feature “Frozen.” But things are about to get less PG for Jonathan Groff.
The 28-year-old actor is switching out the unadulterated fun for adult-only fun when he stars in the HBO series “Looking.” The half-hour dramedy, from Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”), centers on three gay friends navigating adulthood in progressive San Francisco.
"It’s as extreme as it gets," Groff acknowledged during a cab-ride phone call. That’s no stretch. Within the first minute of "Looking," Groff’s character is occupied in an awkward sexual encounter amid foliage.
The Pennsylvania native made a mark as the hot-to-trot, shaggy-haired lead (Melchior) in the Tony-winning Broadway musical “Spring Awakening.” He’d go on to bolster his theater cachet in productions that included “Hair” and “Red.”
He’s also built a presence offstage with sideline TV parts. In a role that made use of his musical sensibilities, Groff had an arc on Fox’s “Glee” as Jesse St. James, the male lead of the rival glee club. And in 2012 he appeared in the final season of Starz’s “Boss” as an adviser to Kelsey Grammer’s character, Chicago Mayor Tom Kane.
"I feel really lucky that I got to play supporting roles and see great actors do the daily grind of a television show — and to learn from that," he said.
He wrapped the year with “Frozen”, in which he drew notice for being the first “prince” voiced by an openly gay actor.
In 2014, Groff will attempt to prove he can carry a TV show when “Looking” premieres Jan. 19 — something HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo isn’t worried about. “I think he is built to be the lead of a show,” Lombardo said. “The camera loves him. He is frustrating and lovable and sexy and flawed and charming and just so human.”
Being the face of a show has its own pressures. Ahead of its premiere, “Looking’s” place in gay TV history is already generating analysis. It’s drawn comparisons for its brashness to its time-slot companion “Girls” and Showtime’s groundbreaking retired series “Queer as Folk” and been blasted for its lack of diversity.
"I feel like a lot of people will be tuning in with the expectation of seeing an entire demographic being represented, which I feel is such a dangerous expectation," he said. "It can’t be everything to everyone."
Later this year, viewers can also see Groff in the buzzed-about Ryan Murphy theater-to-telepic adaptation of Larry Kramer’s AIDS drama “The Normal Heart,” which also features Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo and will also air on HBO.
"I hope I don’t overstay my welcome on anyone’s TV," he said.
Overstay his welcome?!?! That’s not possible.