Andrew Keenan-Bolger won our hearts in Broadway's Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins and as Crutchie in Newsies, but now he's about to make a very un-Disney cameo. In the second episode of HBO's new series Looking, cheekily titled "Looking for Uncut," Keenan-Bolger plays Alex, an eager hookup on the gay dating app Grindr. And yep, there's a sex scene. Broadway.com caught up with him to learn more about what it's like pretending to do the dirty on camera, hanging out with Jonathan Groff in San Francisco and more.
Your character Alex pops up when he and Dom hook up on Grindr—what's your take on dating apps?
You know, we live in a different world. People are not just going to bars and meeting people; they’re connecting through social media. There isn’t a way to depict the gay community without at least mentioning the existence of online dating apps like Grindr. I’m very proud to be the person to represent that. I think it is something that is true and honest about the community. I’ll leave it at that [laughs].
You give us one of the show's laugh-out-loud moments when Alex sings "Defying Gravity" in the shower. Was that your idea?
That was actually written into the script! I read the script and I was like, “I clearly have to play this part, right?” It was crazy, too, because I found out I got put on hold for the role while I was having dinner with [Wicked composer] Stephen Schwartz and a couple other friends. I was like, “Uh, Stephen, I think you might be getting a residual check or something in the mail soon because you’re definitely being represented on HBO.”
Is "Defying Gravity" one of your go-to shower songs?
Oh, I mean, absolutely! I’m such a total theater nerd and they had me do it a bunch of times, so I was giving them all of my favorite “Defying Gravity” options. I was doing my Eden Espinosa, my Shoshana Bean [laughs]. I’ve only seen the episode once at the premiere so I’m not sure which one they chose. But I definitely, definitely did some Wicked YouTube trolling and gave them a wide variety.
Were you nervous about filming a scene like that?
It was a little bit terrifying. I’d never even had an on-screen kiss! But I’m such a huge fan of [Looking director] Andrew Haigh and his film Weekend, and I thought the sex scenes in that were beautiful and it wasn't sex for the sake of sex. In our case, the sex scene is to highlight the character of Dom and how he’s having this random empty sex that is, ultimately, unfulfilling and makes him feel bad afterwards. It ended up being so technical that nothing felt explicit or manipulative. Also, I think this is exciting for the gay community because it’s not depicted in a way that’s like, “And now the raunchy gay sex scene!” Gays haven’t had the chance to have love scenes that are awkward and clumsy but also beautiful and realistic.
Be honest: Did you hit the gym before filming?
[Laughs] Believe me, I definitely worked out. I went on a juice cleanse the week before. I was really happy when I saw the finished product.
The reviews for the show have been mixed. Should people give it more of a chance before criticizing it?
Any show that has a completely gay ensemble has the very difficult task of trying to represent the community. What I think is unique about the show—and one of the things it’s getting flack for—is that it doesn’t cover big gay issues. Like, no one is coming out, no one has AIDS, no one is being discriminated against—it’s really just a story about three guys who happen to be gay rather than the whole community. I think it’s a far bigger step that we’re able to have gay cinema and gay TV that isn’t about being gay. It’s about being a human being. It was a little scary when I first read the pilot to see how much I related to these characters and had moments where I was like, “Oh God, they got that one right.”
Sadly, you and Jonathan Groff don't have any scenes together. Did you two get to hang out on set?
I did! I was so lucky because I went out to San Francisco not knowing anyone except Jonathan and, right away, when I got into the city, he was like, “I’m going to take you out to dinner!” And he had me meet Murray Bartlett so that the first time I saw him it wasn’t in my underwear. The now-famous Jonathan Groff [laughs] really is such a sweetheart and I’m so thrilled that this is going to blow up for him.
Will we be seeing Alex again soon?
Anyone who’s worked on the show is keeping his or her fingers crossed that it gets a season two pick-up, and Alex does live in the same building as Dom… So, I’m hopeful that there’s some sort of awkward run-in with us either in the laundry room or the elevator or by the mailbox [laughs]. We shall see!
Catch Keenan-Bolger January 26 on HBO's Looking.