Andrew Rannells always knew he was going to be a star -- he just didn't quite know how. So when he moved to the Big Apple all the way from his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, fresh out of high school, he took the first piece of advice he could grasp. "Somebody told me, 'If you take your headshot to the stage door and give it to the stage manager, they'll call you when they have an opening.'" And so, off he headed to Broadway, with a batch of freshly-printed headshots under his arm.
Against all odds, the unexpected happened. "The fucking motherload," he calls it. Rent asked him to audition for the role of Angel, all based on seeing his headshot. His luck would quickly run out sometime in between noticing Wilson Cruz of My So-Called Life was also on the audition list, and being asked about his "mix" by the casting director, who mistakenly thought he was part Asian. Even though he didn't get that role, the very same company would cast him "many years later" in his Broadway debut, Hairspray: The Musical. From there, he'd go to Jersey Boys, then he'd break box office records in the history-making production The Book of Mormon (for which he'd receive his first Tony nod), and go on to join the similarly expectation-shattering Hamilton (for which he and his cast would win a Grammy).
Just as he predicted, he'd become famous. And as these things go, the stage could only keep him for so long before the screen called. Even though he'd won over audiences night after night on Broadway, he'd later steal the hearts of a whole generation for his role on Girls as Elijah -- despite being more of a background character than a star.
This year, though, his starring role arrives. On January 20, Rannells appears on the Showtime premiere of Black Monday, a new comedy series about the worst stock market crash in Wall Street history. Rannells plays Blair Shmerman, a fresh-out-of-Wharton graduate who holds the keys to an algorithm that he believes can game the market and win companies major dollars -- that is, until he (literally) bumps into Rod "The Jammer" Jaminski (Don Cheadle), causing a bag of cocaine to explode all over the floor of the Stock Exchange. (Even though Rannells was intimidated by his legendary scene partner, there was already a mutual respect there. "I saw Andrew in Book of Mormon and told him that seeing the play was one of my favorite nights in a theatre," Cheadle told us via e-mail. "I was already a fan.")
For Black Monday, we see a whole different side of comedic acting from Rannells -- one that borders a little on frat-boy humor -- but the true twist is that his character is, well, straight. "It's weird how once people know about your personal life it's all they can see," Rannells says, referring to the character he originated in The Book of Mormon, which has since been interpreted as a "gay role" in subsequent productions. "This little fan circle decided like, he's gay, so I guess the character's gay."
In a sense, it's interesting to grapple with this version of queer representation: For once, a gay actor gets to take a role away from a straight guy. For Rannells, it's a refreshing -- but nerve-racking -- change of pace. "I remember on Girls in the fifth season, Elijah finally got a boyfriend, and we had a sex scene, and I had to block it because nobody knew how gay sex worked," he says. "I decided to blow everybody's minds by showing missionary sex. Everyone was so baffled."
After Black Monday hits screens, Rannells will transition into yet another role: author. His memoir, Too Much Is Not Enough, will recall the time he spent trying to make it on Broadway (and the many men he met along the way). "When I arrived in this city, it was like there was a sign around my neck saying, 'This kid just came out and is kind of dumb!' It was crazy," Rannells says with a laugh. "So I'm hoping that for young people who read this, they can make different choices." In the meantime, his first review is already in. "My mother read it for the first time," he says. "She was horrified."