While Andrew Rannells may be famous for playing Hannah (Lena Dunham)’s best friend Elijah on HBO’s Girls, and for being a part of the original cast of The Book of Mormon, the actor says one of the biggest moments of his career was actually landing a much, much smaller role.
At the age of 26, in 2005, Rannells made his Broadway debut in the chorus of Hairspray. “Even though it’s not the thing that people know me from,” the actor said, the minor theatrical role was “a huge moment” in his life that has shaped the rest of his acting career.
“My dream was to be on Broadway,” Rannells said in an interview Tuesday on BuzzFeed News’ Twitter morning show AM to DM. “I just wanted to be in a Broadway show. I never got more specific, like, I want to be the lead or I want to open a show. I just wanted to be on Broadway.”
“[Landing the Hairspray role] kept me sort of on the right path and kept me focused,” Rannells said. “Of course, then when you achieve a dream you swap it out with a new one…but I didn’t want to minimize the fact that was also a big deal and sometimes those wins don’t always take the shape that you think they’re going to.”
“It’s not always like holding an Oscar in your hand,” Rannells said, speaking about how he achieved his goal of performing on Broadway. “Sometimes it’s something that’s a little smaller and a little more contained and personal.”
In a recent New York Times essay, the actor revealed that his then-boyfriend dumped him out of jealousy that Rannells landed the role and not him.
"I’m happy for you, but that was my dream, too," Rannells said his boyfriend told him via voicemail. "I don’t think I can watch someone else do it before me."
While he may have lost a boyfriend, landing the chorus role in Hairspray proved to be a big break for Rannells. He went on to star in The Book of Mormon and was even nominated for a Tony Award in the Best Leading Actor category. He has also appeared in How I Met Your Mother, Sex and the City 2, Glee, and The Romanoffs.
The actor, who just released a memoir titled Too Much Is Not Enough: A Memoir of Fumbling Toward Adulthood, also landed a role in Showtime’s new series Black Monday. The show is about a group of employees who work on Wall Street leading up to the 1987 stock market crash and includes a stacked cast featuring Don Cheadle, Regina Hall, Paul Scheer, and Casey Wilson.
“It’s a great show, it’s an odd combination of sort of a serious drama...but then it’s also very broad comedy,” Rannells said. “So it’s a really fun challenge to sort of find the balance between that.”