I first experienced the power of a Jonathan Groff performance in 2007 when I caught him, alongside Lea Michele, in Broadway's Spring Awakening. Since then he's dazzled on stage and screens of varying sizes, but no project has more perfectly captured his ability to evoke empathy than C.O.G., his new movie which kicked off the 2013 OUTFEST Film Festival in Los Angeles on July 11.
A poignant story of self-discovery, C.O.G. soars above the standard coming-of-age tale as a direct result of Groff's deeply resonant and emotionally bare performance. It made for the perfect opening night feature at OUTFEST, which is where ETonline caught up with Groff to talk C.O.G., The Normal Heart and his upcoming HBO series, which he hopes everyone continues to think of as "The Gay Girls."
ETonline: How do you describe C.O.G.?
Jonathan Groff: C.O.G. stands for Child of God. It's the first time a David Sedaris short story has ever been turned into a film. That's a major thing. Normally, in a movie, you have the small town kid moving to the big city and learning about himself. This is the reverse of that: a well-educated college student moves to the small town and gets his ass kicked [laughs]. I play this smart-ass, David Sedaris-esque character that goes to Oregon to have the quintessential American experience and ends up getting thrown on his head and, hopefully, learning something about himself in the process.
ETonline: What does it mean to have this movie playing at OUTFEST?
Groff: It's incredible. OUTFEST is so amazing. I've heard the lore of OUTFEST for years, but never actually been before. I'm excited we were invited to be here representing this movie that I care so much about. I'm just so happy tonight.
ETonline: Your fans were equally excited that you'd signed on to star in an HBO series about gay men living in San Francisco. A lot of people are calling it "The Gay Girls," how accurate it that?
Groff: I love that people are calling it The Gay Girls, because I love Girls -- and if that makes people watch the show, so much the better! I think the thing we have in common with Girls is that there's a realistic quality to the show and how it depicts relationships. But it's not a snappy comedy; it's much more of a slow burn. Tonally it's more similar to Andrew Haigh's film Weekend. It's funnier than that, but you definitely feel his hand in this show a lot. I just watched the pilot and I'm so proud of it. But let's keep comparing it to Girls because that will hopefully make people watch it.
ETonline: Girls is a super naked show. Weekend is a super naked movie. What's the nudity level on this show for you?
Groff: All I know is signed the rider. Who knows what they'll end up making us do, but I know there will be some intimate moments captured on our show during the first season.
ETonline: You've done lots of nudity, including full frontal, in your work, what's your feeling about stripping off for roles?
Groff: I'm kind of whatever about nudity. Hopefully I wouldn't be a part of anything, whether I'm naked or not, that I didn't believe in. But, yeah, I'm pretty comfortable being naked. Even in Spring Awakening I was kind of naked. My parents are like, "Really with the nudity all the time?" They're not so into it ... but then again, what parent would be? [laughs]
ETonline: You're also a part of The Normal Heart. And I don't know if you know, but the announcement that you and Taylor Kitsch would be playing boyfriends pretty much broke Twitter.
Groff: What do you mean I broke Twitter?
ETonline: I just mean the internet just had too many emotions to handle with that news.
Groff: [laughs] Ah, OK. Clearly I don't know anything about Twitter. Our [C.O.G.] director, Kyle Patrick Alvarez, showed me this Tweet that said, "Jonathan Groff, stop being an old-ster and just get on Twitter already!"
ETonline: Why aren't you on Twitter?
Groff: It's just not for me. I feel like it’s a slippery slope. All my friends are on it and tell me that I could just use it to Tweet about the concerts I'm doing, but once you start doing that, I feel like it inevitably leads to, "Here's what I’m eating for breakfast." I don't judge it, but I just like a little mystery.
ETonline: Makes sense. Back to The Normal Heart, what has filming of this very heavy movie been like?
Groff: The actual acting of it has been intense, incredibly intense. The convulsing and the crying and the falling down and all the stuff that's a part of this story makes for tough days. But there's a lot of laughter after they say cut. There's a lot of levity and giggling among the company because I think the material is so dark we all know we need to keep it light off-screen.
ETonline: And how has working with Taylor Kitsch been?
Groff: I just adore him. He's just beautiful. I mean, he's like an annoyingly handsome person. He looks like he was ripped from a magazine ad from the 80s. He's stunning and so open. I'd never met Taylor before this and I've just had a great experience with him. He's so great and I hope people love the movie.