The actor-singer (but not really dancer) tells us about his hot new gay HBO show, Looking, his role in The Normal Heart, and his childhood dreams.
Out: Tell us about Looking.
Jonathan Groff: It’s about a group of gay guys living in San Francisco. It was created by Michael Lannan and our director and showrunner Andrew Haigh directed a movie called Weekend. I had a pretty incredible experience watching that, and our show feels like a comedic take on it. It’s about modern gay life, all the ins and outs of it—and relationships.
Weekend was very British—and this takes place in San Francisco. Had you lived there, or spent much time there?
No, I’ve been to visit a couple of times but this is my first time living here, and I love it, I love it so much. It’s a beautiful city. We’re shooting on location pretty much entirely in San Francisco. The city is a whole other character in the piece and has been a beautiful backdrop for the story.
My character is a video game designer—so that’s the reason that he moved to San Francsico. I don’t want to give too much away, but they’re all different ages and in different places in their lives and their careers and their romantic lives, so it follows these different paths.
We saw on Instagram that you shot during Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco’s annual leather pride festival.
They told us to be prepared for complete insanity, but nothing could prepare us for the day of shooting at Folsom Street Fair. A lot of naked people. This isn’t what necessarily ends up in the show, but just being at the fair—there was just so much nudity and so much leather. I saw a man suspended by hooks in his back, and it was really, really intense.
But what was crazy was the fact that we were shooting something was the most unremarkable thing there. Someone walking around with a camera was not drawing any attention compared to the other things that were happening. I think we ended up getting a lot of really great footage.
You know Folsom is considered the more tame street fair, at least in comparison to Dore Alley.
Yeah, I’ve heard about Dore Alley—people ejaculating out of windows.
Yep, that sounds about right. The show is on HBO. Do you have sex scenes?
I have shot some sex scenes. The sex scenes in Weekend were beautiful and sexy—in addition to, and most importantly, feeling really authentic and real. So I hope that our sex scenes are sexy—and I think that they are—but I think even more than that what we’re trying to display is a reality of gay sex as opposed to the salaciousness of gay sex. We’re trying just to keep it real—which means humor. Some of our sex scenes are very emotional and very beautiful. Some of our sex scenes are awkward. We’re trying to get as close to reality as we possibly can. Hopefully, when people watch it, you’ll think, Oh, I’ve had that exact experience. I know what it feels like to be intimate with someone in that way.
As far as the acting is concerned, I feel connected to it, because it’s coming from a sense of intimacy and a sense of character. Sometimes sex scenes in TV shows feel like they’re thrown in there, and I think ours are pretty character connected and character-driven.
The show’s been getting a lot of buzz already.
They just announced the air dates [in January], and it felt so exciting and so crazy. What we’re making is going to be on TV! It’s felt like summer camp, being here in San Francisco, and it’s totally surreal that it’s going to be out in the world.
The Normal Heart is also coming out in 2014 on HBO.
I’m a huge fan of HBO, and obviously we’re really lucky to be there. The Normal Heart was an amazing experience on so many levels. I’d worked with [director] Ryan [Murphy] before, so that was exciting, to get back together with him. I’m such a fan of that piece and that play. It’s such a gift to get to be in that world for a while.
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