(from August 13, 2011)
Nebraska born Andrew Rannells has taken Broadway by storm as Elder Price in the Tony Award winning musical “Book of Mormon.” The edgy, irreverent musical by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, of South Park fame, and Avenue Q’s Robert Lopez, won just about every other award including Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and more. Tony Nominee Rannells has more than his fair share of tongue-in-cheek humor, adorable charm, soaring vocals and also a winning, ultra white smile that can turn a sour lemon sweet.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Andrew backstage at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Broadway’s West 49th Street to talk about his role in Book of Mormon, his life, his hopes, dreams and his white teeth.
SD: Matt Stone and Trey Parker have such definitive perspectives and agendas. How did that influence any pre-conceived ideas you may have had about the role of Elder Price?
AR: I didn’t really have too many ideas. It was the first time I auditioned for anything where there was a lot of secrecy involved. I didn’t get to read the full script just a couple of scenes. I got to create a lot with them; very exciting. They were extremely generous. I felt they were writing for me.
SD: What were you doing when you found out you got the role?
AR: I had just left the gym and weirdly enough I was on this block! My agent had been calling about another project so when I answered I expected it to be about this other project I was waiting to hear on. So when I answered the second time, it was this and not the other thing.
SD: What was the other thing? Was it something you wanted?
AR: Oh no. It was something in Singapore, an industrial.
SD: Did you find it overwhelming when you were offered the role?
AR: You know what? No! I felt very ready. I had replaced in a couple of shows on Broadway; I replaced in Hairspray and Jersey Boys. I had spent a year prior to this doing new musicals, going out of town; did a lot of readings. When this came along, I felt ready for the challenge!
SD: What’s your favorite part of being Elder Price every night?
AR: I believe it’s singing that song every night! (referring to “I Believe”). That’s by far my favorite.
SD: You’re now a Broadway celeb. How has life changed? Is it easier, harder?
AR: I don’t know about that, but it’s more exciting. It’s great, fantastic.
SD: You’ve had a lot of celebrities come backstage. Who has been the most recent one that’s impressed you the most?
AR: There have been some really famous people who have come see the show who we got to meet. Like Oprah comes back stage and she said my name and I got to hug her a bunch of times. That’s really an eye-cross moment, I couldn’t believe it was happening. That’s on top of the list. When Bernadette Peters came to see the show, that was a really great moment. When I became aware that musical theatre was what I wanted to do, I had seen “Into The Woods” and remember being blown away by her performance and now I was going to meet her!
SD: You’ve had all the excitement of landing the lead role to the most popular show on Broadway, but what happens when the excitement wears off and then it becomes a job like any other. How do you keep it fresh and new?
AR: The audience is the key. We’re in about our 6 month mark, I guess. It’s not hard to keep it fresh because it’s a whole bunch of new people coming to see it for the first time. I’m really invested in the material and it’s a real treat to present it.
SD: You grew up in Omaha, Nebraska – what did your parents do?
AR: My mother was predominately a stay-at-home Mom. There were 5 kids so there was a lot of Moming to be done and then she went to work later on for Catholic Services. My father was a salesman; he passed away in 2001. He had a business in advertising specialties. Not necessarily an artistic family. My sister took dance classes and we were exposed to a fair amount of theater, but no one else is in the business.
SD: Is there something special that you do before you go on stage? A mantra or exercise thing?
AR: The typical vocal warm up, all of those things. Then once I get down to the deck we’re ready to go. I make my entrance from behind a scrim; I’m back there alone, it’s a small space and I prep myself and get ready to smile.
SD: With those beautiful teeth!
AR: White strips!
SD: White strips?
AR: Just white strips, they really do work!
SD: When you were a kid, is that when you decided “I’m gonna be a performer.”
AR: Yeah. I was 9 years old and I decided that’s what I was going to do. I literally only wanted to be an actor. Just crazy.
SD: Where did you study?
AR: As a kid, I was fortunate that we grew up near a children’s theater, with all different classes and things; so as a kid I took classes there and as I got into high school I did all the community theater stuff. Then I came to college here in New York, going to Marymount Manhattan, and studied acting there. But most of the training I got was from working. Working with really great people.
SD: So it kind of flowed naturally for you.
AR: You learn how to do a few things. But I guess what I learned early on was to develop what my natural skill set was. So much of being an actor is trying to force yourself into these roles and sometimes it’s a good fit, and sometimes it’s not a good fit. I guess when I seriously started acting here in New York, you have to get clear about what it is that you do and not try to be a bunch of other people. Not try to be that guy or try to play that part; find the roles that you do well.
SD: How about outside the realm of musical theater; any roles you’ve played or would like to play?
AR: Outside musical theater? I’ve been fortunate that just in the past for months I did some work on a series that HBO is doing, that Judd Apatow is producing. Very exciting. My first foray into television. I look forward to exploring that a little more. It’s been an exciting few months. What I learned from this process is that I couldn’t have imagined that this opportunity was just created and I was lucky enough to be the one to originate it.
SD: You were in the right place at the right time.
AR: Yeah. So I don’t know as far as other roles go. They’re yet to be discovered.
SD: So, if you weren’t an actor what do you think you’d be doing.
AR: Oh, I have no idea. Oh, I’d probably be living in some poor town, running a . . .
I don’t know. Always my fallback is – I’m gonna move to a poor town and open a scone shop. You see I live by Amy’s Bread and I’m always “let’s make some scones.” Sometimes after some bad auditions I think, you know what – time to open that scone shop! Let’s start baking.
SD: Do you bake?
AR: No, I don’t even cook but I feel like – I’d just do that.
SD: What I really want to know – is there something you can tell me, and your fans, that you’ve never told anybody else?
AR: Oh geez.
SD: I want you to tell me something that’s been inside you that nobody else knows.
AR: Oh boy! That’s a tough one. I’m pretty open and I share a lot. I am mildly addicted to Mucinex-D. I feel like I should just come clean about that. I take a lot of Mucinex to get through the show and I should probably come to terms with that right now. That I have a problem. And I just saw this thing on Good Morning America! Bleach-a-rexia where people over bleach their teeth.
SD: And then what happens?
AR: They get brittle. I mean, I do the white strips, umh, but I do get nervous sometimes. What if – are they porous, will they chip, are they just gonna crack. I don’t know.
SD: I don’t know.
AR: Am I bleaching my teeth too much?
SD: Well let’s ask. You out there, can we find out if Andrew is bleaching his teeth too much? I mean, look at those teeth, those are glorious teeth.
AR: Thanks, thanks (as he gives a BIG white smile into the camera). I think they’re pretty healthy.
SD: They look pretty good to me. Have a great show tonight!
AR: Thank you very much, thank you! ! !