What is Andrew Rannells doing now
Andrew Rannells, born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1978, moved to New York to study in the 1990s, where he quickly gained a foothold as a musical performer on Broadway. "The Book of Mormon" earned him not only a Grammy and a Tony nomination, but also his first major roles on television. Thanks to "Girls", "The New Normal" or guest roles in "How I Met Your Mother" and "Will & Grace", he has long been one of the most successful openly gay actors in the USA, and he was recently also in the Netflix film " The Boys in the Band "- together with his partner Tuc Watkins as a couple.
Now Rannells also plays one of the leading roles in the musical "The Prom", staged by Ryan Murphy and which has been on Netflix since Thursday (film review by Fabian Schäfer). We caught him on a video call in his New York living room - and after the interview we briefly indulged in memories of his favorite Berlin bar, the now closed "Sharon Stonewall Bar", where he celebrated Thanksgiving a few years ago.
Andrew Rannells plays the rather unsuccessful actor Trent Oliver in "The Prom"
Andrew, your new film "The Prom" is - the title suggests - about a prom. Did you even have anything like that at the boys' Catholic school you attended?
Of course there was such an event at our school too. But I don't really recommend having a bunch of straight boys plan a prom. In any case, I was always very busy during the ball season, because in addition to our school there were plenty of schools only for girls nearby. And for their proms everyone always came to us to win us over as dates. There was a lot of dancing for us boys.
Was your own date a girl back then too?
Yes, I took a girl with me to accompany both the junior and senior prom. Of course, I would have preferred to show up with a boy by my side, but I wasn't that brave then.
You probably could have used a film like "The Prom" in your youth in the 1990s, in which a lesbian schoolgirl wants to bring her friend to the ball, right?
For God's sake, of course. What would I have given for a film like this. I would have felt so recognized. Not least because of this, it was such a pleasure for me to be part of this project now. Because there are still enough queer kids who need a little hope and confirmation. Of course, "The Prom" isn't just aimed at them. But very special.
Of course, queer teenagers, especially in Western societies, grow up very differently than they did 30 years ago
Definitely. But even if coming out may be easier for us in many ways these days, it's still an incredibly personal experience. No matter what stories are told in the cinema or on television or what you've already read, it's still a big step that is never easy.
What was your own coming-out experience like?
Fortunately, my family was great. And no one was seriously surprised that I was gay. For me, however, it was by no means easy to recognize and accept my own sexual identity. I made a few experiences there that shouldn't have been in retrospect. But after high school at the latest, when I started college, I was on safe feet and knew who I am and what I wanted. I came to New York in 1997 and was out, there was never anything more to do with it.
Two lesbian schoolgirls Emma and Alyssa get their own prom in the movie (Image: Netflix)
You made your breakthrough on Broadway with musicals such as "Hairspray", "Jersey Boys" and "The Book of Mormon". "The Prom" basically closes the circle, right?
On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, I noticed that a film musical is a completely different matter. The energy in singing and dancing is just completely different if you don't have an audience and immediate feedback. The lack of direct reactions was something that I had to get used to at first when shooting. But with musical numbers, which you do not just once a night, but sometimes eight or nine hours in a row with a film, you have to know exactly what you are doing and how to divide your strengths. Especially when you - like I did on "The Prom" - shoot with kids who are half my age and who are really fast.
Where does your love for musicals come from anyway?
When I was a child, my father used to watch old Hollywood musicals with Betty Grable with me. The first stage musical I saw was a high school production of "West Side Story," in which my sister was in. That blew me away. From then on it was somehow always clear that I had to do something like this from time to time.
Musical performers are not always taken very seriously as actors. Was it difficult for you to gain a foothold in front of the camera?
Before The Book of Mormon was a huge hit, it was really damn hard to even be considered for television roles. But "The Book of Mormon" then drew so much attention, even beyond the usual Broadway audience and even in Hollywood, that a bit of it rubbed off on me. Without this musical, I would certainly not have gotten the role in Lena Dunham's "Girls" series or in Ryan Murphy's sitcom "The New Normal". Suddenly my career took a whole new direction.
Poster for the film: "The Prom" has been running on Netflix since December 11, 2020
Speaking of Ryan Murphy, how would you describe what makes him such an exceptional figure in film and television?
He just always seems to be two steps ahead of everyone else. I don't know how he does it, but he's always around the next corner while the zeitgeist has to catch up. The stories he tells and the characters he shows are always ones that you don't necessarily get to see otherwise. Especially from a queer point of view.
In fact, with his productions, he is making a significant contribution to the fact that LGBTI actors have more opportunities than ever these days. How do you experience the changes that have taken place in this regard?
Personally, I can definitely count myself lucky that I have had so many great opportunities and jobs in recent years than ever before. In general, the diversity and variety of stories told in film and television has grown enormously. Sometimes journalists - actually always heterosexual, by the way - ask me if I am not afraid of being committed to gay roles.
Then what do you answer?
That it sounds like there's only one type of gay role. As if all queer characters were always the same. And maybe even 20 or 30 years ago that was true for Hollywood. But today there can be no more talk of that. In fact, many of the roles I play are gay men. But the similarities between them are often limited. Elijah in "Girls" had nothing in common with Bryan in "The New Normal".
With Trent in "The Prom" it is never mentioned whether he is actually gay, straight or bisexual ...
That's right, that doesn't matter at all. But during the rehearsals it turned out that this little flirtation dynamic developed between Nicole Kidman and me. Of course, because how could you not flirt with Nicole. Even as a gay man, I had a crush on her, of course.
Your big act in the film is about the Bible. Does religion still play a role in your life today?
No, after Catholic elementary school and then Catholic high school, I was sort of through the subject by the time I got into college. Especially since as a gay man it is not that easy to find your place in the Catholic Church. There are so many very contradicting messages that come across. I am pleased that the current Pope just seems to be changing his mind about gay civil partnerships. But of course there was no question of that in my youth. Back then, being Catholic and being gay was somehow not an option, so at some point I left religion by the wayside. Much to the regret of my mother, who is still very religious and spiritual to this day. At least she understands by now why I can no longer do anything with this belief.
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