Andrew Rannells plays one of the funniest characters on Girls. Thank goodness he’s around because his presence is big and it’s key to have some of his zing and that distinctly high hair to liven the show up when you have Jessa lending a hand in someone’s suicide. Rannells makes this incredibly 2014 show and its antsy twentysomethings more exciting. His character is one of the most fun to watch, but the jokes are draped over Elijah’s lackluster life. His pastimes might include selling gloves at Barney’s, improvisational dance, or masturbating the days away, so it’s not all gravy. Or as Rannells puts it, “He’s not just there to make the girls laugh. He’s going through his own stuff, which is amazing.”
For the fourth season premiering this January, Girls has wisely made Rannells an official cast member. Improvisation is a trademark of Rannells’ approach to the show, and he doesn’t just do supporting roles. On Broadway, he starred in “Book of Mormon” to choruses of praise, and he took over for Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” We spoke to him while he was hosting the Canon #BRINGIT Tour about how his friend and Girls co-star Allison Williams is handling “Peter Pan Live!” pressure tonight, what it’s like to play the brutally honest friend, and why he also wanted to get in on whole being naked thing on Girls.
When it’s an Elijah episode, it’s more fun, but he’s going through a lot. What’s it like to play the comic relief guy who is also in a tough spot?
I’ve been so fortunate over there at Girls. It’s such great material, but he does have his own set of problems. He’s not just there to make the girls laugh. He’s going through his own stuff, which is amazing. Lena and Jenni Konner have been generous with me so I’m happy to be over there. I’m still excited. It’s a little weird. We vanished in August so I haven’t seen any of it first time I see it first time.
Yeah they don’t sneak a little viewing in so it’s kind of crazy.
I see you’re shirtless in the trailer, but that’s not really explained.
Yes I take off my shirt few times, and why not? Everybody else gets to be naked, and I don’t I want to be left out.
So were you a theater geek as a kid?
As a kid, 100%. I’m from Omaha, Nebraska where there’s a surprising amount of local theater. I had a good outlet, and hell yeah I listened to Broadway cast albums. I never made it to New York [as a kid.] The first time I came here, it wasn’t terribly unusual, being from the Midwest. I was seventeen years old and I saw Rent, and that changed my whole life. Once I saw people up on stage, I immediately fell in love with the city. I was too young to know better and too stupid to know I should have been realistic, so I plowed right into it. I don’t know if I would ever have the bravery to do that now. I’m glad I did that when I was young.
Interesting payoff. So in Girls, your character unloads a huge amount of Broadway advice on Adam Driver. I read some of that was real.
(Laughs.) Yes! Well, we made up that scene on the spot. Richard Shepard, the director, said, “I think there should be a moment when you give him some advice,” so we sort of made up a bunch of bullshit. Some of it was nonsense, but I do love the Glass House Tavern. That’s a bar with Broadway performers so I was happy I got to give them a little shout-out.
Have you ever actually had to help any performers who got blackout drunk there?
I’m sure. Sometimes I have been that person. There’s no judgment there.
It seems like Allison Williams supports your theater gigs on Instagram a lot.
She has been incredibly supportive of me. It’s been really great. I feel like Allison and I really hit it off. She’s become a good friend so I’m always happy and supportive of all the stuff she does.
Did you have any theater advice for her with Peter Pan Live!?
She’s in great hands with Rob Ashford, so she has him first and foremost. I’m excited about her doing it. Well, I was so excited to be with her when all of that was brewing. It’s exciting to watch her get so happy. It seems like it’s been a really amazing process, and it sounds like she’s having a great time from all of the footage from backstage. It looks fantastic. I’m so excited to see it on Thursday. She’s the real deal, that girl.
You’ve been Hedwig, so you have experience with the strong reactions people have when you play a really cult figure. What are thoughts on how people have reacting to her being cast in “Peter Pan”?
It’s hard to have last year’s be “The Sound of Music.” It was 44 million viewers, when all was said and done. That’s a lot of eyes and a lot of expectation. Allison is great because she’s incredibly confident and knows how to protect herself from the bullshit people say. A lot of social media is that people feel free to sound off. That oftentimes is unfair and unwarranted, but she’s protected with social media. She’s a smart lady.
It seems like the Girls cast has a lot of fun offscreen. What kind of ways do you guys joke around?
Um we do have a lot of fun. My only ongoing bit is with Allison and Lena. It’s my straight boy at a bar. I will walk up to them, and say, “what’s your deal?” That’s that. They just laugh in my face.
Elijah always has these huge blow ups with Hannah, but he always has a place in the group friendship. Why is that?
Well I think you know there’s usually one friend in a friends group who is the most honest or the most straightforward and calls people on their bullshit. Weirdly, it always comes from a place of love. He thinks he’s being helpful by being so straightforward, but he needs to work on his tact. I have been that friend.
It’s interesting that this show is about characters who had higher hopes for themselves. People love to use it as the example the millennial generation. What are your thoughts on that?
I think that the reason that it’s a successful show and that it speaks to people is because of that honesty. At the best of times, it’s a really good representation of the messy and flaily person that one can be in that time in your life. I certainly went through it post-college living in Ne York City. You feel very young at the time and ambitious. I think it’s a very honest portrayal from my experience. It feels very truthful, and people find themselves in that and see themselves in that. I certainly do.
You’re writing for the show as well, how was that?
For this upcoming season, this was my first season as a series regular, which was really very exciting. They’ve been generous. I’ve always felt like I was part of the cast, but now I’m an official cast member. It was a fun season. It was fun to be included and get to do more really great work with Lena Dunham. I think the scripts were fantastic, but I haven’t seen it. They don’t even give us a little sneak so I’ll be watching like everybody else.