Look­ing

GT (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS RYAN BUTCHER

It’s been around 12 months since we first saw Look­ing – Michael Lannan’s com­e­dy­drama about a group of gay friends liv­ing in San Francisco. Sounds sim­ple on the sur­face, no? But this show brought mod­ern gay life to in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences in a way which hadn’t quite been seen be­fore. We laughed, cried and cringed along with Pa­trick, Dom and Agustín in se­ries one. But as you’re read­ing this, a big­ger and bolder se­ries two is al­ready well un­der­way on HBO – and is set to air on Sky At­lantic im­mi­nently. Nat­u­rally, we spoke to the cast and crew who’ve helped make Look­ing one of the most im­por­tant pieces of telly in re­cent mem­ory. Start­ing with the linch­pin character Pa­trick – AKA, the charm­ing, hand­some and quite bril­liant Jonathan Groff...

Jonathan Groff is teas­ing us about our ac­cent. We’re talk­ing with the for­mer Glee-turned-bona-fideHol­ly­wood-star mid-film­ing for the sec­ond se­ries of Look­ing, and he’s teas­ing us about our ac­cent.

“When I’m talk­ing to peo­ple from London who have Bri­tish ac­cents, I have a blind ear to what you’re say­ing,” he laughs. “I was on set last night with Rus­sell Tovey and he had to say some­thing like four times and I was like, ‘I can’t un­der­stand what you’re say­ing.’ But we’re gonna work through it.”

For those not in the know – firstly, shame on you – Look­ing is an Amer­i­can com­edy-cum­drama about a trio of gay friends in the Golden City, with the show ex­plor­ing their re­la­tion­ships, friend­ships, sex lives – even strug­gles with their own mor­tal­ity. Mod­ern gay life has never been brought to an au­di­ence on this scale be­fore, which is what makes Look­ing one of the most im­por­tant pieces of tele­vi­sion in the last decade.

“At the end of the first se­ries last year, it felt like we were just get­ting into a groove,” Jonathan tells us. “We were just start­ing to find our way with the sto­ries and the char­ac­ters. Ba­si­cally, the hon­ey­moon wasn’t over when we ended last year. So ev­ery­one – the crew, cast, writ­ers – we were all DY­ING to get picked up for a sec­ond se­ries. We just wanted to come back and con­tinue to make the show.”

But se­ries two isn’t go­ing to be an easy ride for Jonathan, who plays 29-year-old video game de­signer Pa­trick. The last time we saw him, he was caught up in a love tri­an­gle with his on-off boyfriend Richie and, urm, his boss Kevin, played by the UK’s own Rus­sell Tovey.

“When Kevin and Pa­trick met in the first sea­son,” Jonathan ex­plains, “he was try­ing to hit on him. And it was so awk­ward be­cause Pa­trick doesn’t have very good game when it comes to ap­proach­ing a po­ten­tial ro­man­tic in­ter­est. Then that was com­pletely squelched when you find out that, not only does Kevin have a boyfriend, but Kevin is

also his boss. So any sort of idea of ro­mance in Pa­trick’s mind went out the win­dow.

“But that al­lowed him to be open to a gen­uine con­nec­tion with Kevin. He wasn’t try­ing to im­press him or mak­ing him his boyfriend, be­cause he was his boss. Pa­trick re­ally got to be him­self with Kevin and that re­ally opened up a con­nec­tion be­tween the two of them that wouldn’t have oth­er­wise been there. It evolved be­cause the ro­man­tic at­trac­tion was un­de­ni­able at the end of the day.”

If you’re any­thing like us, you had mixed feel­ings about Pa­trick. On one hand, the re­la­tion­ship and life choices he made in­fu­ri­ated you – how could he do that to Richie?! – but on the other, you sym­pa­thised with him. The beauty of such a com­plex character like Pa­trick is you found your­self re­ally re­lat­ing to him; see­ing your­self in his shoes, mak­ing the same ter­ri­ble de­ci­sions. It’s some­thing that’s not lost on Jonathan. In fact, it’s partly what drew him to the role in the first place.

“I felt with Pa­trick, from the first au­di­tion, it was re­ally close to the bone,” says Jonathan. “He’s one of those char­ac­ters that feels in­cred­i­bly per­sonal. When I was at the au­di­tion with An­drew [Haigh], Michael [Lannan] and HBO, it felt very real. It’s thrilling to play a part where you’re not hid­ing be­hind any­thing, you’re just ex­pos­ing your­self in a very real way. The chance to work with An­drew and Michael was def­i­nitely the thing that brought me to the au­di­tion room, but once I started say­ing the lines, I started think­ing about Pa­trick and the scar­ily re­al­is­tic qual­i­ties the role had. We did a scene last night and af­ter­wards I was like, ‘I’ve lit­er­ally said th­ese lines in my life.’

“I feel like I see Pa­trick’s anx­i­ety and con­fu­sion about a lot of prob­lems for him­self, be­cause he over­thinks things and gets too into his head. He’s not liv­ing his life mo­ment to mo­ment – he’s out­side of it, think­ing about it, be­ing anx­ious about it. But there’s times when I’ll be talk­ing on a date or with a group of friends, and I’ll hear my­self and I’ll think, ‘Stop be­ing Pa­trick right now.’ He cer­tainly crept into my life, but in a good way. The aware­ness of over­think­ing.”

Sounds to us like Pa­trick is evolv­ing into Jonathan’s evil twin.

“I didn’t think about that,” Jonathan laughs. “I don’t think of Pa­trick as evil, so maybe my al­terego rather than evil twin! The so­cial awk­ward­ness that Pa­trick has, I feel like I know how to not act that way in my real life. But deep down inside, that’s how I’m ac­tu­ally feel­ing.”

Sex was a cen­tral theme run­ning through­out the first se­ries of Look­ing – and se­ries two is no dif­fer­ent. Whether it’s Dom com­ing to terms with his open re­la­tion­ship with his older boyfriend Lynn, or Pa­trick grap­pling with tak­ing a more sub­mis­sive sex­ual role. But what sep­a­rates the sex in Look­ing from, say, the US ver­sion of Queer as Folk, is that it feels vi­tal to the story. It’s used as a mech­a­nism to drive plot points for­ward, rather than to tit­il­late and tan­ta­lise. Not only that, but see­ing a kid-friendly star like Groff, whose other act­ing cred­its in­clude Glee and a lit­tle-known an­i­ma­tion called Frozen, get on down on prime time telly is ac­tu­ally quite a bold move.

“The sex scenes in the show are such a great op­por­tu­nity for character de­vel­op­ment and a great op­por­tu­nity to show gay in­ti­macy in a way that isn’t sen­sa­tion­alised,” says Jonathan, “which is An­drew Haigh’s spe­cial­ity.” If you didn’t know al­ready, An­drew is the cre­ator of cult Bri­tish gay in­die flick Week­end. “I’m al­ways so ex­cited about the sex scenes be­cause it’s HBO, so you re­ally get to GO there. And it’s An­drew Haigh, so you know it’s gonna be very true to life and the in­ti­macy is go­ing to feel au­then­tic. It’s the best ver­sion of a sex scene that I could jump into as an ac­tor.

“We’re re­ally try­ing to take this

op­por­tu­nity; this very rare air time that you get on a Sun­day night, on this time slot, on HBO, to shed some light on things. It shocked me after the first sea­son to know how lit­tle peo­ple knew about gay sex and gay in­ti­macy. Straight peo­ple have said to me that they didn’t even know un­til after our show that gay peo­ple could have sex while fac­ing each other!”

Which is what it all comes down to with Look­ing. It’s not a ‘gay show’ as such, and to call it so would di­min­ish just how bril­liant a piece of work it re­ally is. It just hap­pens to be a show about life, love and re­la­tion­ships, cen­tred around gay char­ac­ters. Jonathan even tells us a story about how dur­ing a trip to the movies, an au­di­ence mem­bered shouted to him how much he loved Look­ing, and when Jonathan turned around he was faced with a straight guy sit­ting with his girl­friend.

That’s, in part, the legacy of Look­ing – how it’s ed­u­cat­ing the hearts and minds of those who aren’t, shall we say, ‘au fait’ with gay cul­ture. But with se­ries two wrapped up, how does it rank in Jonathan’s own per­sonal legacy?

“This is the most per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve ever had,” he says. “Pe­riod. It means a lot to me. Ev­ery now and then, some­thing comes a long and it’s more than just a job, it’s more than just work, it’s more than mak­ing a pay cheque. That’s al­ways my goal when I’m look­ing for work, but once in a blue moon some­thing comes along where you’re in­volved in the ma­te­rial and you’re in­volved with the character. And it’s cer­tainly my favourite so far. It’s meant the most to me be­cause it’s been so in­cred­i­ble, and per­sonal, and be­cause I’m so deeply in love with the peo­ple I’m work­ing with. I’m desperately hop­ing we can keep that up.”

Jonathan, if what we’ve seen of se­ries two is any­thing to go by, you cer­tainly have.

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