Polite Guy Andrew Rannells Ready to Get His Hedwig On

Andrew Rannells
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Andrew Rannells attends 'The Leftovers' premiere at NYU Skirball Center on June 23, 2014 in New York City.

Andrew Rannells says he never dreamed of becoming a rock star while growing up. What he hoped for was a part on Broadway. Now he's getting both at the same time - and a load of mascara as well.

Starting Wednesday, the Tony Award-nominated star of The Book of Mormon on Broadway and HBO's "Girls" replaces Neil Patrick Harris in the title role of the show Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

First Look at Neil Patrick Harris' Replacement in 'Hedwig And The Angry Inch'

Rannells will be playing a German transsexual rock singer in a tale of obsession, glam rock and a botched sex-change operation. It requires a leading man willing to eat cigarettes, wear a miniskirt, lick the stage and spit at audience members.

Rannells, a very polite man who hails from Omaha, Nebraska, is no stranger to Hedwig, having played her in Texas for four months a dozen years ago when he was 23.

This summer, he managed to wrap up season four of "Girls" while also filming Nancy Meyers' new comedy, The Intern, starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway.

The Associated Press recently asked Rannells about inheriting the role from Harris, working with De Niro and if he'll be rude to people onstage this time.

AP: What's it like to return to Hedwig after 12 years?

Rannells: Now I feel more connected to the Hedwig that has more life experience, that has more time under her belt. It's interesting to go back and look at it now. The things that really resonated with me 12 years ago still do but in a much different way now.

Have you asked Harris lots of questions or just gotten out of his way?

He's been great. What a crazy summer and spring he's had. What an overwhelming experience, I'm sure. So I've sort of given him some space to wrap up this experience without breathing down his neck and twirling my wig behind him.

Is there pressure following him?

It's a very unique show. You see it and, I think, kind of lose the actor a little bit. You really do believe that there is this odd creature up there that you're watching and this is all happening in front of you in a crazy way. The show itself, and Hedwig, is the star. So even if you've seen it six times, if there's a new actor in it, it's going to be a completely different show to you.

Maybe like everyone has their favorite James Bond?

Right. Timothy Dalton is weirdly mine. That's my favorite Bond. He's the first one I saw. Then later I was like, "Oh, Sean Connery did it?"

Speaking of stars, what was it like to be around De Niro?

I learned pretty early in that process to not ask too many questions. He's very nice and he's very accommodating, but I'm sure he's been asked a million questions about King of Comedy and Taxi Driver and I'm sure he's exhausted at this point. I found it better to do small talk rather than get into, "Can we talk about The Deer Hunter?" That's not a good way to start the day.

Hedwig' and 'A Gentleman's Guide' Win Big at Tony Awards 

Back to Hedwig, when you were first approached about the role, what did you think?

My knee-jerk reaction was to say no. It seemed like a lot and I was like, "I don't know if I have that in me." And, then, as soon as I saw it, I was like, "Of course."

By intermission?

No way. During the first song, "Tear Me Down." I was like, "I'm doing this." I looked at my boyfriend and I sort of nodded and he was like, "OK, I guess we're doing this."

But are you going to be OK spitting on people?

The Nebraska part of me is not comfortable with that. It's really not. I remember doing it in Texas and being like, "I'm sorry!" I sort of decided I'm just going to go for it this time. Once you get that wig on and all that makeup, all of a sudden your politeness flies out the window.


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