- Jonathan Groff hugs somebody he doesn't know very well, but the article doesn't say who. The writer?
- Jonathan Groff finds a long blond hair in his macaroon but doesn't make a fuss about it.
- Jonathan Groff recently returned to his hometown high school (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) just to watch the school musical. So that's sweet, right?
- Several of Jonathan Groff's coworkers independently use the word "available" to describe him.
It is an extraordinarily gorgeous day in Golden Gate Park, all soft greens and sun-dappled clearings and sweetly chirping birds. A man comes into view, pushing through branches. He’s clean-cut, midwestern-looking, manifestly nervous, possibly lost. Then a second man appears—confident, silent, bearded (“not even hipster hairy. Like, gym teacher hairy,” the first man later describes him)—and immediately reaches for the first guy’s fly.
“OK, OK,” Nervous Guy says as Bearded Dude’s hands work busily away. There’s some heavy breathing, but something is obviously wrong. “I’m Patrick,” offers Nervous Guy. He goes in for a kiss and is rebuffed. “Do you come here a lot? What’s your name? I didn’t catch your name.” Nervous Guy’s body betrays the bone-deep discomfort of someone who’s either an incurable neurotic or very new to anonymous outdoor sex (soon, we find that the answer is both). He giggles nervously, is instructed curtly to stop talking, and recoils at Bearded Dude’s “cold hands.” Finally, just as things look like they might start, ah, happening, his phone rings, a shrill, jarring electronic melody—and he actually answers it, scurrying off to talk as his would-be sex partner stands by in disbelief.
In a way, this scene, which opens HBO’s new comedy Looking, tells you all that you need to know about the series, which debuts on January 19. This is a show that’s hyperrealistic, that’s unflinchingly honest about sex, that’s self-deprecating and deeply contemporary—a show that is, in nearly every sense of the word, intimate. Nervous Guy is the show’s protagonist, Patrick, a 29-year-old video game developer living in the Mission, played by Broadway veteran and Glee guest star Jonathan Groff. Patrick’s entrance in the show is played largely for laughs, almost sitcom-y slapstick aside from the blatantly sexual subject matter, but the scene is far from a throwaway. “We knew it was a bit of a risk, making a little statement,” says Andrew Haigh, an executive producer of the show who directed five of its eight episodes, including the pilot. “To start a gay show with a scene of cruising in the woods...” He trails off, pauses a beat. “We’re not gonna shy away from talking about certain things, about saying that kind of stuff still exists, but it’s not always like you think.”
In person, Groff is uncommonly warm, unerringly polite, and significantly less neurotic than his character—the kind of person who smiles easily, hugs near-strangers, and doesn’t so much as shrug (much less complain) when he finds a long blond hair in his macaroon at a Mission coffee shop that shall not be named. It’s telling that no fewer than three people independently described him as “available” to the project during my visit to the Looking set. “He’s a really incredible performer and person,” says Lannan. “He’s so game. He really makes the show live.”
Groff joined the project almost a year ago and talks about it with an evangelist’s zeal and a born performer’s steady-eyed persuasiveness. “The minute we got the first two scripts, Murray and Frankie and I called each other and were like, ‘Oh my god,’” he says, maintaining eye contact while lapping at a massive peak of whipped cream atop his hot chocolate. “I felt immediately connected to the character.” Indeed, Groff himself—who is 28 and, like many of the show’s cast and crew, gay—makes for an apt representation of the rapidly changing political realities that confront Looking’s characters. Though he came up through the uncommonly tolerant theater world and says that he never considered not disclosing his sexual orientation publicly, he’s still one of the few out actors of his generation, and he seems happily surprised by the pace of change. “I recently went back to my high school, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to see the [school] musical,” he says, “and a lot of the kids were out. I can’t even imagine being out in high school. It’s crazy.”
Everyone involved with Looking hesitates to call it a political show—and, to be clear, it doesn’t feel like one—but if you push them hard enough, you can hear faint whispers of an ideological agenda. “Acceptance in a wide scope,” says Haigh, “will only come when gay people are accepted for all that they are—for the people who want to get married and have two kids, and for the people who want to go get a hand job in the woods.” As Patrick says while walking up Valencia, debriefing that ill-fated hand job with Agustín and Dom, “The minute my phone rang, and it was you guys calling me, I immediately thought that it was my mom. Like she knew where I was and was calling to stop me from becoming one of those gays that hooks up with people in the park. I’m not taking weed with you ever again.”
P.S. Russell Tovey is also on the show. Here is an animated gif of him.