Andrew Rannells on Stepping into Broadway’s Highest Heels in ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch:’ INTERVIEW



Tony nominated in 2011 for his turn as an eagerly pious missionary in The Book of Mormon, Andrew Rannells returns to Broadway this week playing the glam-rock trans goddess in Hedwig and the Angry Inch for an eight-week run. Earlier this summer, the cult 1998 musical brought home Tony Awards for Best Revival and for performances by Lena Hall and Neil Patrick Harris, whom Rannells replaces in the show.

From his breakout role on Broadway, Rannells, 35, jumped quickly into TV with a recurring role on Girls, where he plays Lena Dunham’s now gay ex-boyfriend. He also went on to star as a young gay dad in Ryan Murphy’s series The New Normal, which ran for one season on NBC.

AR - hedwig1With his career taking off, the star returns to the stage in a role he’s been primed to play since he was a college student in Manhattan. I talked to the actor about his history with Hedwig, his jump to the screen, and Anne Hathaway’s best advice to him for walking in heels.

Naveen Kumar: Your last role on Broadway had you all buttoned up, so this time’s a little different…

Andrew Rannells: [Laughs] Yes! Yes it is.

NK: Are we watching a drag pro or a novice? Tell me about your history with heels—because they are sky high in this show.

AR: Well, I did a production of Hedwig in 2002 in Austin, Texas, at a theatre called the ZACH Theatre. It’s been a long time. This is obviously a very slick production, and there are things that I don’t have to worry about, like in Austin I had to do my own makeup and put on my own wig. On Broadway, there’s a whole staff of amazing designers who do that for you, which takes a lot of the stress away. I just have to show up! So that’s very nice.

The show itself, weirdly even though it was 12 years ago, I still remembered big pieces of it. Songs are a little bit easier to remember, but I was really surprised by the chunks of the script that I remembered, somewhere lodged in the back of my brain.

NK: So, jumping around in heels: not a big deal?

AR: One of the first things they did was give me a pair of rehearsal heels, and I was a little nervous about it because they were like 5-inch high heels.

I had just stared working on the Nancy Myers movie The Intern this summer in New York, and all of my scenes were with Anne Hathaway. I was telling her about it and she said, “You know what? Just don’t think about it. Women don’t think about it. They just put them on and do it.” That was her big advice and it was actually very helpful, because I just thought, I’m not going to stress about this, I’m just going to put them on and see what happens. Knock on wood: I have not fallen yet.


NK: What was your first encounter with the show? You were in a production 12 years ago, had you seen the movie? Were you a cult fan?

Andrew Rannells 2010 headshotAR: I remember when it opened Off Broadway, it was a few months after I moved to the city. John Cameron Mitchell was everywhere—on the cover of every magazine, he was just every place. Unfortunately, I was a freshman in college and didn’t really have my sh-t together, didn’t know where the hell the Jane Street Theatre was—I was very confused as to how one would even get there. So I never saw it, but I had the cast album, which I completely fell in love with.

And of course when the movie came out, I saw that. But I remember it very much being such a huge, huge thing in New York at the time that it opened so it was definitely in my psyche.

It was never really anything that I thought I would do or get a chance to do, and then I got a chance to do that production very far away from New York, in Texas. I thought that was it, I never would have dreamed I’d have the opportunity to do it again. It’s pretty crazy.

NK: Did you ever fantasize about becoming a rock star growing up, like Hedwig?

AR: I wish I was cool enough to say that! [Laughs] But, what I always dreamed of doing was being on Broadway. That was my dream. So I never had fantasies of selling out a stadium or anything. But, a good friend of mine came to see a rehearsal the other day and she saw the very end of the show, and she was like, “It’s so cool, at least you get to pretend to be a rock star in the show!” There’s this huge built-in moment where you’re very much playing a rock star. So that’s pretty satisfying.

AR - hedwigNK: You jumped from The Book of Mormon to working in TV, how do you find it?

AR: It was a great change. Girls was the first show I ever seriously got to work on, and when we started that I was still doing The Book of Mormon. So there was a little bit of safety there, like I was exploring this idea and it was very low pressure because the part was sort of small. Then, by the time the second season of Girls came around, I had just left The Book of Mormon and was thrust into the show in a big way. I was like, Oh, shit—I guess I’m on a TV show now!

Then The New Normal happened, and that involved me moving my whole life from New York to Los Angeles. But the transition wasn’t quite as difficult as I would have imagined. I also feel really fortunate that I got to work with writers, specifically with Lena Dunham and Ryan Murphy, who were writing for me in a really great way.

I felt really happy with the stories I got to tell, particularly in The New Normal, Ryan and I talked a lot about what those stories might be, and we had an amazing staff of writers coming up with ideas for me and Justin [Bartha] that felt very natural… Even though, you know, I don’t have a baby! So, it felt like a very natural next step.

AR - hedwig2NK: What’s next for you? Any dream roles out there you’re living to play?

AR: Well we just finished the fourth season of Girls, and I’m happy to have a role in this Nancy Meyers’ movie, to get to work with Nancy and with Anne Hathaway and it was really a dream come true to get to stand across from Robert De Niro. That’s pretty nuts.

I didn’t know when I’d next be back on Broadway, and it was something my agent and I talked about a lot, especially in the last couple years while I was out in LA, looking for something to bring me back to New York and to Broadway, because it was definitely something I wanted to do and it was so hard to find the right show at the right time, with my schedule on Girls. When we talked about the specifics of this, it just seemed too good to be true—perfect timing and a perfect project.

When I finish up in October I head back to Los Angeles and I have a coupe fun projects that I’m in the middle of developing as a writer, which is really sort of exciting. So we’ll do that and then before you know it we’ll be doing Girls once again next spring. I feel very fortunate to have some things lined up that will keep me very busy for the next year or so. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:joan marcus)


  1. Dback says

    I adore NPH, but Andrew Rannells is almost as sexy and talented in a different way, with a sweet vulnerability that “The New Normal” utilized really well. NPH may have left big heels to fill, but I think Rannells is going to make the role his own and leave audiences more than satisfied.

  2. SFshawn says

    He is really good at acting.
    I watched him on ‘girls’ and thought he was gay in his personal life but I saw James Franco’s ‘Inside Gay Bar’ and Rannells is interviewed and makes it very clear he is straight and not even bi.

  3. SFshawn says

    He is really good at acting.
    I watched him on ‘girls’ and thought he was gay in his personal life but I saw James Franco’s ‘Inside Gay Bar’ and Rannells is interviewed and makes it very clear he is straight and not even bi.

  4. Steven says

    @SFSHAWN I know exactly what you are referring to from Interior: Leather Bar. There is an actor in that film who goes by Collin Chavez and looks uncannily like Andrew Rannells. Andrew is indeed openly gay as @ANTISAINT said. Not 100% sure what the deal with “Collin Chavez is…Interior: Leather Bar is his only film credit on IMDB. It is possible James Franco’s “documentary,” included some fiction…

  5. Rick says

    Without even watching the video, I can safely say that this will do nothing to further gay male equality. Gay guys have internalized the idea that heterosexuality and masculinity are synonomous and that homosexuality and masculinity are incompatible and mutually exclusive.

    This is why effeminate gay men refuse to acknowledge even the POSSIBILITY that a gay man can be as masculine as a straight man–and why they routinely attack (verbally) any one that is (on this blog and others like it)….it is just too threatening an idea to them because it implies (rightly) that their own effeminacy is not caused by homosexuality (it isn’t), but is simply a reflection of their own low self-esteem.

    And the only solution to all of this is for gay men to eradicate the culture of effeminacy and decide to become men like other men.

    Plain as day. Men like Rannells are holding us back, not moving us forward

  6. UFFDA says

    There is a grain of truth (more than a grain) in what RICK says – still he is too extreme. There are wonderful, naturally effeminate men, just as their are tomboys among females. But his phrase “the culture of effeminacy” is as resoundingly accurate as it is contrived by gay men and “gay culture.” It’s pathetic, RICK knows it and I welcome how insistently he calls it out. The rest (the intentionally subversive gender non-conformers) can writhe and squirm as much as they want while they continue to shoot gay equality in the foot. When they finally get healthy and love themselves as men we will see a better day. Until then Hedwig and its ilk will perpetuate us in the freak category.

  7. Tyler says

    Uffda and Rick: if you hate gay male culture as it exists today, you’re more than free to leave. We won’t miss you. It’s not like we cared you were around in the first place. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  8. says

    Rick/UFFDA (same sh*t, different name, same worthless troll)

    kudos to your insecure learned prejudices and internalized homophobia! because of what you just wrote here, an 8 year old boy spent years being abused and beaten by his parents, and then murdered

    that’s why he’s dead. because they thought he was effeminate.

    sit and think on that you worthless trolling piece of s**t.

    you come in, like you do every day, and anonymously type out your prejudiced misogyny and internalized homophobia. and you express the very things that caused those two parents to BEAT THEIR EIGHT YEAR OLD SON TO DEATH.

    you are part of the culture that tortured and murdered that young boy.

    and the proof, as always, that you’re full of s**t – you say it anonymously. still not man enough to be real and visible.

    behind every gay man that denigrates and mocks perceived “effeminacy” are the parents who made it clear that they resented having him for a son.

    as for HEDWIG – kudos to rannells, and this show is remarkable. the film version came out in cinemas the year after I came out. it was something i got to share with my family.

    ain’t that nice? i was a teen in high school, i came out to my family, the first words from my father’s mouth when i said i was starting to see a guy were “That’s wonderful, when do we get to meet him?”

    and they started, as my family, to read and watch more gay and queer-themed art and literature: Hedwig fast became a family favourite. the greatest songs, dialogue so good you want to carve it into your arm, and an incredibly touching story.

    my point? if “Hedwig” holds us back, then how come Hedwig was something that my family and I bonded over and love so much? TROLL – whom you know is sitting here excited to get to interact with people today, anonymously, as that’s all he has to life for (btw, i don’t care which name you choose to respond with next, we all know it’s you) …. how come my family loves Hedwig and also loves gays?

    my truth negates your lies. some come on UFFDA/RICK – if Hedwig holds us back, how come my family and friends love it, and my family and friends sure do more for the LGBTQ communities than yours ever have, or ever will.

    can you, through either of your anonymous screen names, show any great work you and your family and friends have done for the communities? No. You can’t. And it’s not because of Hedwig, or any other gay men “holding you back” – it’s because you’re the coward your crap family knew you to be.

    and you come here, daily, to regurgitate their hatred, and type out your pathetic loathing of “effeminacy” like a coward – while those very same mindsets are the reason that 8 year old boy was beaten to death.

    stay closeted for the rest of your life. you’re of no worth.

  9. says

    John P. – both. UFFDA is the same guy. it’s not just sad, it’s truly pathetic.

    closeted gay man anonymously typing out his learned hatred every day – the same hatred that was in those parents who beat their 8 year old son to death. he’s dead because of people like “RICK/UFFDA” and their hideous, cowardly perpetuation of bigotry.

    fitting that they’re too cowardly to make their comments from a place of visibility.

    self-loathing trolls. this site needs to update it’s comments section and get that worthless hack off of this thing, for good.

  10. JackFknTwist says

    @ RICK & UFFDA:

    What you say is preposterous.
    It is just wrong.
    The reason you equate effeminacy with being gay is because that is how you identify gayness.

    There is a vast majority of us who are openly gay in various professions, but not showing effeminate behaviour because that is not the way we feel comfortable in our gayness.
    I’m gay, not effeminate, ; I’m masculine , I like masculine things. I do not look down on gays who live their gayness through their effeminacy and who prefer exuberance over conservative behaviour… what, that’s how they enjoy their own personalities.
    Without being patronizing I enjoy their company and especially their creativity and flair in many areas……not least the incredibly talented Andrew Rannells. I envy their abilities.
    Gays are s diverse as the rest of the world and in my opinion astonishingly versatile and creative for a minority of society.

    But I like being conventional, conforming to social norms to a certain degree. That gives me my own security.
    But not when those norms conflict with my gayness.
    I don’t let anyone in the straight world say a word against us……and I attack anyone who denigrates our rights.
    I’m proud of the diversity of our tribe…..
    As for our more effeminate brothers, we have to be more protective of them, because they make easy targets for bullying straights and bitter gays……it happens in school yards and in employment.

    Watch for discrimination; use examples and facts to bring litigation against sneaky employers…..that’s one way we can support any brother discriminated against.

    OK; I’m rambling !

  11. Crays says

    Kiwi, do you seriously have NOTHING better to do than feed the troll(s)?

    Are you seriously that stupid not to see that they only post the exact same type of arguments on every article to get a rise out of you? And like clockwork, you always retaliate with your trademark freakouts. Obviously it works every single time.

    YOU are the only reason they keep posting. Stop feeding them!!!

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