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Jonathan Groff thought coming out would make fame 'impossible.' Here's why he did anyway

Jonathan Groff on Coming Out
DEAN ISIDRO with DE FACTO

The Broadway veteran thinks that "everyone that was closeted at some point" can relate to his latest role in Merrily We Roll Along.

Jonathan Groff didn't expect to become famous after he came out as gay.

The Broadway veteran would not publicly open up about his sexuality for years after his breakout role in the hit 2007 musical, Spring Awakening. It wasn't until a 2009 interview with Broadway.com that the actor made himself vulnerable — after he had already earned acclaim for his performances, including a Tony Award nomination. Even after that, coming out was a decision he felt would have professional consequences.

“I felt like I was opting out of that [star] trajectory because of coming out,” the actor recently told Out Magazine for its May/June cover story. “And so everything that’s happened to me with the success of film and television has been a complete surprise to me because I thought ... by coming out that was impossible.”

Groff is now starring as Frank Shepard in the classic musical Merrily We Roll Along on Broadway. The actor said he felt he needed to land the part after hearing one key line of Frank's: “I’ve made only one mistake in my life, but I made it over and over. That was saying ‘yes’ when I meant ‘no.’” It's a quote that Groff personally relates to, and one he thinks will resonate with other queer people as well.

“That line went boom. It went through my body. And I thought that I have to play this part, because this is a mistake that I have made often in my life," he explained. "I think everyone that was closeted at some point can relate to a version of that, of saying ‘yes,’ when I meant ‘no.' This thing of presenting something that’s different than what’s happening inside felt super personal to me.”

Despite Frank being a heterosexual patriarch, Groff said that his character's journey "feels very gay" in that "no one wants to really make space for Frank’s darkness or his pain." That's also where the actor differs from his role, as Groff said that he has not let societal expectations dictate the path he takes, and has ended up much happier for it.

“Being gay has allowed me to forge my own path," Groff said. "I don’t feel at the mercy of the traditional Hollywood machine because I never really felt like I fit in there. That equation wasn’t where I lived. And so I’ve just been sort of over here following my artistic heart, which was a choice I made long, long ago. I sort of credit that for not buying into the stuff that Frank in the show kind of buys into.”

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Ryan Adamczeski

Ryan is a staff writer at The Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel "Someone Else's Stars," and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.
Ryan is a staff writer at The Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel "Someone Else's Stars," and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.