Last weekend, Andrew Rannells took his final bow in Broadway’s Book of Mormon—but never fear, you’re about to see a whole lot more of him. The 33-year-old Tony nominee stars in Ryan Murphy’s new NBC sitcom, The New Normal, this fall. Until then, you can catch him on HBO’s Girls and in September’s darkly brilliant indie comedy Bachelorette. He stopped by ELLE.com just in time for this Sunday’s Girls finale to talk about the anxiety of stage-slapping Allison Williams, shedding his Mormon missionary gear for a movie strip scene, and working with the soul of a Broadway grand dame trapped in the body of a little girl named Bebe Wood.
ELLE: This fall, you and Justin Bartha star in Ryan Murphy’s The New Normal as a gay couple who try to start a family with a surrogate, played by Georgia King. What did you think when you saw the final cut of the pilot before the upfronts in May?
Andrew Rannells: You know, you film it so many different ways that it’s hard to know what the final product will look like. It was nice to see that we took a heartfelt route that shows Justin and I as two men who love each other and just want to start a family.
ELLE: Ellen Barkin plays your surrogate’s wildly off-color grandmother. On a scale of zero to her character, how terrifying is she in real life?
AR: Not nearly as terrifying as you would think! We became friends last year during the Tonys because we were both nominated and went to all the same events. We hit it off. She was asked to be a guest on Watch What Happens Live, and when they told her the premise, she was like, “So, we just sit there and drink and say shitty things about Bravolebrities? I have the perfect person for that! His name is Andew Rannells.”
ELLE: Your small screen break!
AR: My big break! And that was actually right after I had been asked to do The New Normal. Ellen hadn’t been approached yet. So it was kind of a strange coincidence that a month or two later, Ryan called me to ask, “What do you think of Ellen Barkin for this?” I was blown away.
ELLE: Bebe Wood, the little girl who plays Georgia’s daughter, also played a mini-me Liz Lemon on 30 Rock.
AR: Oh my God, isn’t she adorable? Bebe Wood. She’s from Kansas City, not part of a showbiz family. I’m not exactly sure what the turn of events were that got her to New York, but I first met her at a party for the web series Submissions Only, which a lot of Broadway folks appear on. She just marched up to me and was like, “I’m not allowed to see [Book of Mormon]. My parents bought me the recording, but I can only listen to some of the songs. You’re very talented.”
ELLE: For the record, your imitation of this ten-year-old girl sounds like Bernadette Peters.
AR: It does! And then months later, we’re in Los Angeles, about to do the table read for The New Normal and in marches this little girl. She comes up to me and says, “We’ve met before. I’m Bebe Wood.” Later, we were sitting on set and she said, “Do you want to hear my Little Edie?” And I asked, “You do Little Edie?!” And she was like, “I do.” So she did the entire opening: “Mother wanted me to come out in a kimono, so we had quite a fight.”
ELLE: Can she get any more precocious?
AR: No! Ryan took us to the Château Marmont a couple times, and there’s Bebe Wood sitting there. I was like, “Somebody just give her a drink.”
ELLE: You also appear on HBO’s Girls, which airs its finale this Sunday. So here’s the question on everyone’s mind: Did you really slap Allison Williams three episodes ago?
AR: I didn’t! I was afraid before that scene aired, actually, because I did an interview and the first question started with, “You strike a woman in the next episode of Girls…” I was like, “Oh, fuck.” But after it aired, a woman stopped me on the street and said, “I would have smacked her too.” And I was like, “Uh… okay.”
ELLE: That’s… unsettling. Do people come up to you with strong opinions about the show often?
AR: It’s neighborhood specific. I live in the East Village, and occasionally people will recognize me there. When I’m in Williamsburg, I always get recognized. Midtown, not so much.
ELLE: We’ll see you in the finale, but will we see you next season too?
AR: Yes! We’re starting work on the second season now. So, the timing with The New Normal is just crazy.
ELLE: You have a small role in September’s Bachelorette, a hit comedy out of Sundance, alongside Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, and Rebel Wilson.
AR: Yeah, Leslye Headland, the director, asked me if I wanted to be Manny the part-time stripper. I’d been doing the Book of Mormon for seven months and wearing my Mormon missionary gear every night, so I was like, “Yeah! I’ll put on a Speedo and wiggle my butt around.” Then I actually had to do it, and I was surrounded by these movie stars and about 20 extras, getting lotioned up…
ELLE: Do you have an appreciation of what every woman on Game of Thrones goes through, like, every week?