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Why ‘Hamilton’ Star Jonathan Groff’s 16-Year-Old Self Is ‘Still Freaking Out’ Over His Second Tony Nomination

by Stacy Lambe 5:10 AM PDT, June 08, 2016
Photo: Joan Marcus

While Alexander Hamilton is the focus of Hamilton, Broadway’s smash hit musical about the “ten-dollar founding father without a father” created and portrayed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, King George is easily a scene-stealer.

EXCLUSIVE: Meet the 2016 Tony Nominees!

Played by Jonathan Groff, who left the show in April to film David Fincher’s new Netflix drama, George was transformed from a minor role -- Groff only spent nine minutes on stage each show -- into a standout character thanks to the actor’s sassy delivery and a walk that Beyonce even threatened to make her own.

"She did your walk. I watched her do it," Daveed Diggs -- who pulls double duty in the musical as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson -- teased Groff during their ET interview in January. "It was almost as good. Sorry, Bey."

The role not only delighted Groff's fans (and his many, many Glee followers, who wailed every time he was on stage), it also earned the 31-year-old thespian his second Tony nomination. His first was for originating the lead role opposite Lea Michele in Spring Awakening, a rock musical that was revived this past season with a mix of hearing and deaf actors.

Ahead of the 2016 Tony Awards, Groff answered ET’s questions about hanging out backstage, his final performance, and what his second Tony nomination means for him.

ET: This is your second Tony nomination. How does it feel this time around?

Jonathan Groff: I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, watching the Tony Awards on TV. Not just "watching" the Tony Awards on TV --  I would record them on a VHS tape and bring them in to school and show them to the other kids. I taught a class about the Tony Awards at a summer theater camp the year after I graduated from high school. So, the first time I was nominated for Spring Awakening, it felt like a surreal dream, it was every childhood dream I had come true. It felt like a fairy tale. This time around, the feeling that is overwhelming me the most, is just being a part of the Hamilton story. It is such a monumental piece of theater, and I feel lucky to be in it, and to be sharing in the Tony love with the rest of the group. (And the 16-year-old in me is still freaking out.)

What’s your favorite moment from the show?

“Satisfied.” Renee [Elise Goldsberry] KILLS ME.

Were there any pre-show or after-show rituals that you or the cast did each night?

As King George, I spent a lot of my time offstage. Most of my rituals happened during the show. Renee and I would dance in the basement at the same time during the show. Pippa [Soo], Daveed [Diggs], and Oak [Okieriete Onaodowan] would always come and visit me and chat during specific moments. Lin and I would have a semi-regular shot post-show. We shared a dressing room space and called it "the year we shared a studio in midtown."

I see that you did a lot of reading backstage. What was your favorite book that you read during Hamilton?

It's a tie between A Little Life [by Hanya Yanagihara] and Between the World and Me [by Ta-Nehisi Coates]. Both had me in tears backstage.

Pippa told us about learning to beatbox. Did you pick up any new skills by performing in Hamilton?

Playing King George for me was a lesson in stillness and timing. 

What was it like to stand alone on stage?

On a good day, it was one of the most empowering and exciting things I have ever experienced. When I was sick or my voice was out, it was about being OK with feeling exposed and training myself to not become neurotic and crazy. It really makes you grow a pair. 

MORE: 'Hamilton' Cast Celebrates GRAMMY Win by Raising a Glass to Freedom

When you look back on your time with Hamilton and everything that’s happened this past year, what stands out to you the most?

Watching Chris Jackson [who plays George Washington] sing "One Last Time" in the White House in front of a portrait of George Washington, standing feet away from President Obama during his last term is the most incredible thing that I have EVER seen. 

What was your last performance like? 

Emotional. I will never feel ready to move on from that group of people. The cast is just so strong and loving and inspirational. I miss them every day.

Did you give Andrew Rannells, who filled in for you while you filmed HBO’s Looking: The Movie, or Rory O’Malley, who is now in the role, any advice before they took over as King George?

No way! They are both geniuses and don't need any advice from me. I was out of town for all of Andrew's run, but I got to see Rory last month and he was incredible! He had completely and hilariously made it his own. 

What did you think of the Spring Awakening revival?

I watched it through tears. It was beautiful. 

What do you miss most about doing Spring Awakening?

You can never repeat your "first time." Spring Awakening was a discovery for all involved. None of us will ever have that specific sense of revelation in the same way -- that is probably the thing I miss the most. ​

The 2016 Tony Awards hosted by James Corden airs live on CBS on Sunday, June 12 at 8 p.m. ET.

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