For years, the Omaha-born performer was doing voice-over work while touring the country and performing on Broadway before he originated the role of Elder Price in Broadway's The Book of Mormon in 2011.
His comedic timing and overall stage presence was perfect for Elder Price, a role created and written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and it introduced him to a mainstream audience that might not have known him otherwise.
Rannells was 32 when The Book of Mormon lifted him to new heights. Since then, he's become a household name playing a string of unforgettable queer characters in TV and film, including starring roles in Girls, The New Normal, and most recently in Netflix's The Boys in the Band (directed by Joe Mantello) and the upcoming The Prom, both based on Broadway productions.
The Boys in the Band, written by Mart Crowley, holds a special place for the actor. Not only did he star in the 2018 Broadway revival, but it was also where he met his boyfriend, Tuc Watkins, who played his boyfriend in the play and film adaptation.
Along with Rannells and Watkins, the rest of the Broadway cast -- Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesus, Brian Hutchison, and Michael Benjamin Washington -- reprised their roles in the Netflix film.
"The fact that [The Boys in the Band] is about nine men locked in an apartment together for one evening is especially timely, I think," quips Rannells, who adds that transitioning his stage performance into film welcomed a slew of new discoveries.
"It's such an environmental show," he explains. "The fun part of the play was that once everyone arrived [onstage], we were all onstage together for that 90 minutes in real time. The movie allowed us, I think, to find some more intimate moments [and] figure out a different vocabulary with each other in a really great way."
As for when the love bug bit him and Watkins, Rannells says it was "pretty much immediately."
"It's a strange thing because their relationship, Larry and Hank, is so sort of fraught with a lot of troubles and they just bicker constantly. Larry in particular is, like, so mean to him. So it was it was a strange thing, falling in love with someone while you're also playing such a horrible boyfriend."
The sparks first flew during a photo shoot for T magazine, he explains, during which he remembers thinking, "Oh, now this is gonna happen, isn't it? This is gonna be a thing."
"Usually dating somebody you work with is not a great idea," he quickly explains. "But with him it just sort of naturally happened. And there we are."
Rannells, whose coming-of-age memoir Too Much Is Not Enough recounts his years going from being a sexually confused teen in the Midwest to pursuing his dreams in New York City in the late 1990s, credits his well-rounded career to simply saying "yes to everything."
"I think what I learned just from watching other actors and people I admire was just try to do as many things as possible," says Rannells, who this year wrote an episode of Amazon's Modern Love. "So whether that's doing, you know, if you're lucky enough to get to do theater, but then also work on film and do some TV and then, you know, I was presented with opportunities to write. So I just sort of said yes to everything. ... I guess that's always sort of been my goal. When I look at people's careers that I admire, there's a lot of diversity at play in terms of the different things they get to do. So I feel very fortunate that I would get to film Girls, and then every year I got to do a Broadway show while we were on our hiatus. I just feel very lucky that that's the way it worked out."
Being such a visible face also has its perks, including becoming friends with legends like Patti LuPone.
"I've sort of forced a friendship," he says when asked about his relationship with the Broadway icon. "I've gotten to know her over the past few years and she's so wonderful and so supportive and just could not be a cooler human, quite frankly. And so we, you know, started hanging out together, which blew my 12-year-old's mind. ... If you had told me when I was 12 years old lip-synching to Evita in my bedroom that one day I would have Patti's phone number, I would not have believed you."
If that weren't enough, Rannells is also starring in Ryan Murphy's The Prom alongside Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, and Kerry Washington.
"They're just fully team players," he says of working with Streep and Kidman. "They never made me feel awkward or nervous. When we started rehearsals, they were all just there rehearsing. I think because they both come from theater backgrounds, that is sort of a very natural thing for them to do, like, now we're in rehearsals, and now we're doing this."
As for Kidman, Streep, and Rannells, their chemistry started even before they began shooting. He shares a story about when he and a friend attended the Big Little Lies premiere in New York City.
"I saw Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and [my friend] was like, 'You should say hello. You should go say hi because you're gonna work with them.'And so I very nervously walked over and they saw me and they were like, 'Oh, my gosh! We're gonna do a movie together!'And they were so nice. They were so nice about it. I didn't even have to say, like, 'Hey, Meryl we're doing The Prom together.' Meryl Streep saw me and was like, 'We're working together next!' It was so fun and they were so cool."
Watch the rest of our interview with Andrew Rannells above and watch The Boys in the Band, currently streaming on Netflix. The Prom is set to be releaesd on Netflix December 11.