Jonathan Groff and I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, out in towns that were considered rural areas. In the predominately Amish town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Jonathan grew up, he also worked at a local theme park. No, it wasn’t Hershey Park, but Dutch Wonderland. In our area, this was the first theme park you were taken to as a kid and then you graduated to Hershey Park. Even though he didn’t get to sing and dance at Dutch Wonderland, Jonathan made up for it when he landed the role of Melchior Gabor in the Tony Award Nominated musical, Spring Awakening. He was also nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Lead Actor for the same role.
Photo: Jonathan Groff
Theatre fans will know Jonathan from other stage productions such as Claude in the 40th Anniversary and subsequent Shakespeare in the Park productions of Hair, the Off-Broadway production of The Submission, the West End production of Deathtrap and numerous others.
Lea Michele & Jonathan Groff in Spring Awakening
Photo: Joan Marcus
Jonathan is well familiar to fans of FOX’s “Glee,”as the bad boy Jesse St. James. The show reunited him and his best friend, Lea Michele, also an alumni from Spring Awakening. In 2012, he also starred with Kelsey Grammar in Showtime’s “Boss.” In 2014, Jonathan has two upcoming television projects. On January 19, he can been seen as one of the stars of HBO’s new series, “Looking,” a comedy-drama series about a group of gay friends living in San Francisco. Then, in the spring of 2014, he will be a part of star-studded ensemble in the film adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Tony Award Winning play, The Normal Heart, also for HBO.
Jonathan Groff as “Glee’s” Jesse St. James
Photo: FOX/Jonathan Groff
I caught up with Jonathan for an exclusive interview about his role in “Frozen” and what’s next for this insanely talented guy.
How were you approached about the role of Kristoff?
I auditioned about a year and a half ago. Kristen Bell had already been cast as Anna and they were looking for a male voice that they felt went well with hers. I recorded some scenes and sang a song at the Animation building, it was exciting just be auditioning in that building! You can feel the history there.
Image: Walt Disney Animation
Is this your first time voicing a character in an animated feature?
What was the process like for you? Did you record any scenes at the same time with the other actors or were you always solo?
When I was a little kid, I used to go to my bedroom and act out Disney movies completely alone and using my imagination… the big revelation I had is that actually working on a Disney movie is the same thing! It’s just you alone in a booth, I never worked with any of the other actors. Thankfully, Chris Buck and Jenn Lee, our directors, were there every step of the way and led all of us in the right direction.
How long did it take to record Kristoff’s dialogue?
I went in every 6 weeks or so for the last year and a half.
Jonathan Groff (Kristoff) and Kristen Bell (Anna) at the US Premiere of “Frozen”
Photo: The Walt Disney Company
How would you describe the Anna / Kristoff relationship?
I’m so excited that little kids will grow up watching this movie, because Anna and Kristoff aren’t your typical Disney couple . He isn’t her prince-charming-in-waiting. It’s a very unexpected romance…it starts as a business relationship, they morph into friends, and THEN they start to have feelings for each other. I think it’s great that kids will see them really getting to know each other before they fall in love.
Image: Walt Disney Animation
Your sidekick is a reindeer named Sven. Describe this unique relationship you have with him.
Kristoff is a loner, and his only friend in the world is Sven, his reindeer. In some Disney movies animals actually talk. We even have Olaf, a talking Snowman, in Frozen. But Sven can’t talk. Kristoff actually speaks for Sven in a really bizarre voice, that I think kind of acts as Kristoff’s conscience. I even sing a duet with myself!
Disney animators have been known to “borrow” and include some physical traits from the actors that voice characters. Did you see any physical traits of yours that are now a part of Kristoff?
Kristoff doesn’t have your usual “skinny jean” prince charming look. He’s a thicker guy, and I can relate to that. Other than that, I didn’t think that Kristoff really looked like me until I watched the movie and actually saw him making my facial expressions! They video tape you while you are working alone in the booth, so that the animators can watch it back and match what you are doing to the character. It is surreal!
Some who have seen a preview of “Frozen” have said, in their opinion, is better than “The Little Mermaid.” What are your thoughts on that?
Wow! The Little Mermaid is such a classic, any comparison at all is a compliment! I love Frozen because I think that it has all the elements of a classic Disney film, but it is also really progressive in its storytelling. It redefines what “true love” means in the usual Disney sense.
Composers Bobby Lopez and his wife, Kristen Andersen-Lopez
I was thrilled to hear that Bobby Lopez and his wife were writing the music for “Frozen.” Is there a song from the movie that has become your favorite?
Bobby and Kristen are incredible, and I think they’ve written a wonderfully tuneful and funny score. I think “Let It Go” is my favorite song in the movie. Idina’s voice is off the charts, I got chills the first time I watched it, and I think that it will go down as one of the classic Disney songs.
For those who have read the book or have seen Wicked on Broadway, it seems that “Frozen” has a similar feel, no?
Idina Menzel certainly plays a huge part in both of them! And I think that they are both a love story about two women, which is a beautiful thing. But obviously they take place in different worlds, with different story lines, characters, and music.
Without giving away too much, from the moment we first meet Kristoff to the end of the film, how do you think he changed? What kind of personal journey did he experience?
I think that when you watch the movie, you will see the journey of a young loner who is forced by circumstances out of his control to integrate back into society and learn to communicate and work with people again and it changes him forever.
This is Disney’s 53rd animated feature. If you could have voiced any Disney character who would it have been and why?
Peter Pan! I’ve always wanted to fly.
Like you, I grew up in Pennsylvania and of course we visited Dutch Wonderland. When you were working there did you ever want to work at Walt Disney World or Disneyland?
Haha! Oh boy, I honestly never dreamed that big. Hershey Park was my big ambition back then, I always wished that Dutch Wonderland had the stage show like Hershey Park did, because I wanted to sing and dance!