Andrew Rannells' Industry Advice for Young Actors: Eye Longevity, Not Instant Gratification (Q&A)

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Andrew Rannells in 'The Intern'

The actor tells THR about his life-changing YoungArts experience: "You start to learn about what a life in the arts might look and feel like. It's not for everyone, but you won't know unless you try."

Andrew Rannells may man a desk steadfastly in Nancy Meyers' film The Intern, opening Friday, but Thursday night, he's hitting the stage at 54 Below in a cabaret for the National YoungArts Foundation, an initiative that encourages adolescents who are aspiring artists. His own weeklong scholarship experience in 1997 is what helped him establish a career in the arts, including his Broadway breakout role in The Book of Mormon and his recurring role on HBO's Girls.

"It might seem like a small thing, but at that age, when sometimes confidence is sparse, being called an 'artist' really boosts your belief in yourself and makes you take your work more seriously," he tells The Hollywood Reporter of YoungArts. "They allow you to think of art as a vocation, not just a hobby."

The following is THR's edited chat with Rannells about the evolution of his commitment to a career in the arts, what he's learning from young emerging creatives and the best (and worst) part about being a Hollywood hopeful in today's digital age.

How did you join YoungArts?

I heard about it as a senior in high school. I went to an all-male, Catholic high school in Omaha, Neb., that didn't exactly have the best arts program. It seemed like a real stretch that I would get in, but I made a video and sent it in, and a couple months later, I got a letter that I had been accepted. I couldn't believe it! But I took a risk and went to Miami — and I am so grateful that I did.

What's something you learned there that you value today?

The big takeaway for me from that week was the emphasis all the administrators put on treating you like an artist. From the moment you arrive, you're referred to as an "artist." It might seem like a small thing, but at that age, when sometimes confidence is sparse, being called an "artist" really boosts your belief in yourself and makes you take your work more seriously. They allow you to think of art as a vocation, not just a hobby.

Plus, I had never been surrounded by so many people my age who felt the same way I did about acting. It made me feel like I had found my people. I met my best friend, Zuzanna Szadkowski [who is directing Thursday's cabaret], at YoungArts that year, and we're still very close friends today. We were both kids from the Midwest who were not from families that had careers in the arts; we were just kids that had this drive to attempt a life in the arts.

The combination of getting that confidence boost and meeting friends that were going through what I was going through — I think that was the only reason I felt that I could move to New York and really give this dream of mine a chance. I have a very supportive family, and I knew they believed in me, but I think I needed a little extra boost from outside to get me moving. YoungArts more than provided that.

What is it about the YoungArts age group that's so particular to an artist's life?

At 17 and 18, you're on the cusp of becoming an adult. You have to start making choices that will affect the rest of your life — not that you have to lock yourself into a career at that age, but you do start moving toward possibilities. Through YoungArts, you start to learn a little bit about what a life in the arts might look and feel like. It's not for everyone, but you won't know unless you try.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists who are younger than this age range and are about to enter this period of their lives?

I fear that there is a lot of emphasis on instant gratification these days. In my opinion, careers take a long time to build, some longer than others. But the goal should be longevity. As hard as it is, you have to be patient. Opportunities will come, just maybe not when you expect them or when you want them. You have to always be ready to seize them whenever they arrive.

What's something you've found yourself learning from today's emerging artists?

You can instantly reach a much larger audience these days. One tweet or Instagram post can be seen by someone on the other side of the world. There is power in that, but it works both ways. Once you put something out there, it lasts forever. I think people forget that sometimes.

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