Andrew Rannells is entering a new chapter — and breaking down stereotypes
Andrew Rannells was 19 years old when he left his hometown of Omaha behind for New York City. His journey to becoming a Broadway star was long and peppered with small victories: landing bit parts around town, finding the right nearby deli, mastering the subway system in a pre–Google Maps era. “Navigating a commute sounds so mundane, but coming from Nebraska — that was a big win for me,” he reminisces. Fast-forward 21 years and Rannells now descends the subway stairs with certainty and catches trains as he’s done near-daily for decades, only to see ads for his new ’80s-set Wall Street series, Black Monday, decorating the cars from top to bottom, side to side — and seat to seat. “People are literally sitting on my face,” he says. “It’s very strange.”
Things don’t get quite so surreal in Rannells’ witty and candid new memoir, Too Much Is Not Enough. Instead, the actor keeps the book’s focus on his small-town childhood; his coming to terms with his sexuality; and his years of grinding in New York, up to his 2005 Broadway debut in Hairspray. There’s nothing on Rannells earning a Tony nomination in 2011 for The Book of Mormon, or steadily stealing scenes through six seasons of HBO’s Girls, or sharing top billing with film stars Don Cheadle and Regina Hall on Showtime’s Black Monday. Indeed, you don’t read Too Much for dirt on Lena Dunham or meditations on the trappings of fame. You read it for an honest, detailed account of one man pursuing his dreams.
“Yes, I was poor. Yes, I was jobless,” Rannells, 40, writes. “But I had everything to look forward to.”
A series of essays, Too Much tells a showbiz success story unlike those that typically score splashy book deals. For Rannells, this was very much the point. “Sometimes when I was [facing] a lot of rejection, I [felt] incredibly lost or not good enough to make it,” he says. “All these years later looking back, those little wins that I got were what kept me going. But it’s always the stuff that gets skipped over.” (He provides an example: “I got my Equity card doing Grease at the Westchester Broadway dinner theater. That’s never included in my bio!”) Rannells also writes directly to theater kids through what he calls a “coded language,” employing the referential shorthand that he grew up with — the book title alone comes from Fame — and that a new generation has since inherited.
The two-time Tony nominee examines his coming up as a gay actor, too. Even as Hollywood has improved in its treatment of queer artists, Rannells feels like an anomaly — his sexuality uproariously apparent in some parts, and utterly beside the point in others. When he auditioned for Girls days after Mormon opened on Broadway — a seminal moment for Rannells — his character, Elijah, was intended to appear in just one episode, as a gay ex-boyfriend of Dunham’s character. But, as co-showrunner Jenni Konner recalls, they “couldn’t let him go” after watching him on set. “The part wasn’t written as the Gay Best Friend until Andrew came in, and we might not have written it [that way] if not for him,” she adds. “It can be a cliché, but Andrew brings so much authenticity and so much specificity to [Elijah] that he’s, to me, a character you’ve never seen before.”
Rannells caught Hollywood’s eye — to a point — after first appearing on Girls and Ryan Murphy’s short-lived sitcom The New Normal. “I started to get offered a lot of Gay Best Friend parts, but they were just sassy one-liners — they weren’t really fleshed-out people,” he says. The tide has since turned: Rannells regularly reads scripts featuring well-rounded queer lead characters, and on Black Monday, he’s playing someone totally unique: a fresh-faced, good-hearted Wall Street up-and-comer named Blair. After an initial chat with creators Jordan Cahan and David Caspe about the part, Rannells once again gave a role new dimension. “He really informed the way we changed, wrote, and even approached it,” says Caspe.
Yet what Rannells’ colleagues bring up most is his work ethic — that “he will try anything and he will do anything,” as Konner puts it, until he gets it right. This fits with the story of ambition, patience, and dedication that Rannells tells in Too Much. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that kid who moved here in ’97, what his dreams were and what he wanted to accomplish,” Rannells says. “It’s really humbling and satisfying to look back at him and say, ‘It’s going to take a lot longer than you thought, but you are going to do it.’ ”
Too Much Is Not Enough is now available for purchase. Black Monday airs its season 1 finale this Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on Showtime.