Note: Since the publication of this interview, Andy Mientus and Michael Arden have married.
Andy Mientus and Michael Arden have had a 10 year relationship that's traveled across the country, moved seamlessly on stage, and most significantly, transitioned from platonic to romantic. The Broadway stars--who recently collaborated on Deaf West's revival of Spring Awakening, in which Arden directed and Mientus played the gay, seductive Hanschen--flourish whether they are working on opposite coasts or are cuddled up together in a Manhattan theater. No matter where they are, Mientus and Arden's connection is testament to the possibility of being in love, while also loving your craft.
Out: Let's start with the obvious question. How'd you first meet?
Michael Arden: We met officially at the opening night party for a show I was starring in on Broadway called The Times Are a-Changin'.
Andy Mientus: I was there--and I was in college the time--because my roommate and best friend had left school to be the swing in the show.
MA: Needless to say, the show was a huge flop. The best thing to come out of it was me and Andy.
What year was this?
Take me through that first night.
AM: I'd not had any kind of romantic situation with a boy. I was actually chasing a girl around the party that I wanted to ask out. I was looking forward to meeting Michael, but he was very busy--he was the star of the show and I was just with my friends being silly. I remember when we were leaving Michael flagged me down. We both said hey and I have a very vivd memory of that moment. Even if I didn't know we were going to end up together and get married, I could tell that this was a person who would be significant in my life.
MA: It was all very proper. I remember we shook hands and nodded. I thought he was very cute, but it wasn't on the table and I was dealing with a musical that just opened. So it wasn't on my mind, but I remember the exact moment.
So what was the process like from this formal meeting to dating?
MA: We kept in touch after that and our friendship grew over the next five years. From Friendster to MySpace to email. That was sort of the progression.
AM: And then phone numbers along the way.
MA: We both led separate lives and I had another long-term relationship and so did he, but we were friends through all of that. We both found each other again in person when I was doing Pippin for Deaf West in Los Angeles and Andy was in the first national tour of Spring Awakening. We were basically across a hallway from one another.
AM: That really tells you something about where the idea for Deaf West's revival of Spring Awakening came from.
MA: Some of the Spring Awakening cast came into watch a run-through of Pippin one day and we reconnected then. But then Andy was on tour and I was in L.A. We saw each other once in a while when I was in New York shooting something. We'd meet up and go walk in Central Park. Our friendship grew that way and our corresponding started to increase exponentially. We began Skyping a lot.
AM: And we were both single.
MA: Yes, he had just broken up with his girlfriend and I had just broken up with my boyfriend. We were talking a lot and I didn't think much of it, but my friends were all like, "Why is this straight guy always Skyping you? That's weird." I was like, "Oh, he's my friend." Then one day I remember Andy texted me something like...
AM: "I think I like you."
MA: Yeah, and said, "I think I like you too." And he was like, "No, I think I want to kiss you." I remember dropping my phone into the toilet kind of thing and saying, "Oh my god, this is real. Do you realize what you mean by that? Are you sure you mean that?" I didn't want to be disrespectful. I was in L.A. and he was in New York, but I was coming there because I was asked to present an award at the NYMF Gala. Once I got there they said I'd be giving this award to an actor named Andy Mientus. I was like, You have to be kidding me.
AM: It was really the best way to set up a relationship.
MA: Yeah, it set up a nice dynamic for us. So we met at the ceremony and it was very awkward. We were used to being buddies. We were pretending to be these platonic friends in person and then texting each other under the table. Things like, "I'm sorry I'm so awkward right now." A few drinks into the evening we loosened up a bit, and after a long conversation, shared our first kiss. We've been together ever since.
It's refreshing to hear that you two were solid friends before you became romantically involved.
AM: We talked a lot about how it really set us on the right foot because we got to skip that part where you try to be the best version of yourself toward the person you want to impress. We both already knew each other's craziness and each other's insecurities, all the stuff you typically hide when you first start dating.
Andy, was your relationship with Michael a sort of impetuous to come out?
AM: Definitely. I feel like I had a unique situation growing up, a unique bisexual experience. There's a common story in which kids experiment and then they're confused and then they choose one side or another or don't. There's a lot of experimentation back and forth in the formative years. I honestly never had that. Not because I didn't want to--I grew up in a very supportive household--I was just a late bloomer. I was not a sexualized young person. I'm still super into video games and nerdy things. But I wasn't trying to date until I was a little older, and then all of my formative romantic experiences were with girls. I never pined for any of my male friends. There were times when I recognized I was attracted to guys at school or guys in the media, but I honestly thought I was just kind of progressive and cool. I think it's a fine line between desire and envy. Do I want that guy or do I want to be that guy? It's hard for some people to know the difference. After meeting Michael, I didn't have any doubt about it. I didn't tell everyone on day one just in case it didn't take, just in case I tried it out and it wasn't for me or it wasn't a match. I think there is a double standard for bisexual men. That was just for a second though. I didn't want to have a proper coming out because I didn't feel like there was anything to announce. I was just dating Michael now. That's what I told people without any context or greater reading. The big deal for me wasn't that Michael was a man, but that he was awesome.
Unlike so many other coming out experiences, yours was a smooth progression. What then made you decide to get married?
AM: We were going through some big life events. We were reassessing and reevaluating everything. I thought it would be really valuable to have a concrete, new family identity to grab onto. To get married was a tangible expression of that. Also, at the time, we were doing a major bout of long distance. I had one day off a week and I was flying to L.A. for just one day a lot. So it seemed like a good time to reaffirm how important and permanent this relationship was.
MA: It's a very traditional thing, but it felt really right because I just wanted to lock it in--we were seeing each other so rarely. It was the kind of thing that once it was actually done I realized how important it was.
I hear you have a pretty entertaining engagement story. Do tell.
MA: When we got engaged we both tried to propose on the same day. We were in England in Baths, and I had gone through several deaths in my family and it had been this wild year, but we finally got to take this vacation together. It was a beautiful day and I had been planning a scavenger hunt that would end with Andy entering a chapel on the hotel property and I would propose to him. So I had developed this whole idea and the staff at the hotel knew. We had spent the afternoon together and then I went to the front desk to get the key to the chapel, so I could begin the whole thing, but when I got back that was the moment Andy proposed to me. He beat me! I said, "Of course. Yes, I'll marry you. But I can't believe you beat me!" It's very telling about how we were both ready for that moment.
Did you still go through the motions of your big plan?
MA: We drank champagne and I just read him all the clues out loud.
AM: We cut right to the drinking.
MA: What was also funny was that Andy's proposal involved all of our friends making videos for us. But I had also told them about what was going to happen with my plan. They were biting their nails. Once it was over everyone was so relieved. We really stressed them out!
I'm happy your friends kept the secret though. That's so much pressure.
AM: I know. I'm surprised no one accidentally let it out.
From left: Josh Castille, Andy Mientus, Daniel Stewart in Deaf West's Spring Awakening | Photo by Joan Marcus
So you were onto Spring Awakening together after you got engaged. What was it like finally getting to work with each other?
MA: It was wonderful. We were supposed to co-direct the show, but Andy ended up getting Les Miz on Broadway, so I ended up taking the lead directing-wise. So when an opportunity came for someone to play Hanschen, Andy said he'd do it. It was a role he played on tour several years prior. It was sort of born out of necessity that we ended up working together on it. It was great. Not only was my favorite person in the room, but also the smartest. I think we were both nervous about being in a rehearsal room together, but it was great. He pretty much behaved the whole time! I don't think it's hard to work with someone if you respect them. I respect him more than just about anyone. It was a breeze and I can't wait to work with him again.
AM: He's a tyrant! No, he hit it on the head. The fact that we brought the project to Deaf West together made it easy. We were working with the same goal in mind.
MA: We're both pretty good at letting the best idea win. We love each other as people, but we also love each other as artists.
AM: That's what allowed us to do long distance. We knew we were signing up to date each other's careers.
MA: We signed up to help achieve each other's dreams more than anything.
Let's get weird. What's your language of love? There are five: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch.
AM: Thai food!
MA: I would say words of affirmation and physical touch because we spend so much time apart and so much time on the phone supporting each other. That's how we tell each other we love each other. Then the time we are together we need all the touch. It's the ying to the yang.
AM: ...and Thai food.
Okay, words of affirmation, physical touch, and Thai food. Got it. What advice would you give your single self 10 years ago?
MA: More important than anything else is to discover who you are and to accept who you are and to live truthfully. The type of person you want to attract needs to see and accept and love the genuine part of you. Trying to be what other people want you to be is a waste of time and a smothering of your spirit.
AM: I would tell myself: "You're on the right track, it's all going to turn out great, so don't be terrified. Burn brightly."