A conversation with the star of the best Netflix drama of 2017.
Innocence lost, as a narrative device, has been pretty good to Jonathan Groff in his 32 years on Earth. He’s got all the nice-boy bona fides: a wholesome, almost evangelical smile; that big-talent-from-a-small-town enthusiasm; a few earnest cameos on Glee. His acting break was the teen-sexual-discovery Broadway musical Spring Awakening—think a 19th-century Riverdale with singing, minus all that murder. On HBO’s Looking, he played a younger man, new to San Francisco, learning about love and relationships (and cruising in the park) from older men. At the beginning of Mindhunter, David Fincher’s incredible new Netflix series about the guys who figured out how to hunt serial killers, Groff’s FBI agent character literally drinks from a bottle of milk to calm his nerves. By the end of the show, he’s talking dirty to murderers and staring down rapists. So, yeah. Naïveté and youth confronting the cruel realities of the world—that’s kind of Groff’s thing.
Maybe that’s because he came from one of the foremost American stereotypes of wholesomeness—Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a.k.a. Mennonite and Amish country—then skipped college to become an actor in New York City. Which means he had to grow up fast to find the kind of success he’s had—including playing the fussy, tax-happy King George III in Hamilton. So it makes sense that Groff’s attuned to the emotional fallout of the prolonged crash landing that is leaving adolescence for adulthood.
GQ posted up at a coffee shop in Tribeca to talk about working with David Fincher and living offline. We also brainstormed serial-killer names for him, in case this acting thing doesn’t work out.
GQ: I tried to find your social-media accounts. Nothing, huh?
Jonathan Groff: I did have AOL Instant Messenger when I was in middle school. But the idea of curating my life just seems like so much work. The one time I almost did it was when I was doing Looking on HBO. But then I thought about all the people with millions of followers that have flop projects.
You’ve been working basically nonstop since you started. Do you feel like you missed out on some non-work stuff that you wanted to do, like bumming around Europe?
I got cast for Spring Awakening when I was 20. Every dream I had came true in that moment. But I was closeted—I’d kept a journal every day for years, but I never journaled about the real stuff, because I was always afraid someone would read it. I left Spring Awakening and went to Italy by myself for two weeks. I was journaling in Florence, and I was like, “Oh, I have to come out of the closet. I have to break up with this guy”—he was my “roommate.” So that was my awakening moment, when I stepped into my own skin while in a foreign country by myself and had a very stereotypical moment of revelation.