Off Script: How Jonathan Groff Created That King George Accent for 'Hamilton'
The Tony nominee tells THR of being onstage for nine "exposed" minutes and what dressing-room item he values most: "A shirtless picture of Daveed Diggs."
It only took nine minutes onstage for Jonathan Groff to make a major impression as the foppish monarch King George III in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton. Besides spurring laughter throughout the Richard Rodgers Theater with just a lifted eyebrow, the actor also nabbed his second Tony nomination for the featured role. THR's review called Groff — who starred in HBO’s Looking and originated the lead role in Spring Awakening — “enormously fun in his brief appearances, fully milking such melodically rich numbers as ‘You'll Be Back’ for all their sardonic humor.”
Groff, 31, goes Off Script with THR to explain the roots of that carefully crafted British accent, the fan-made item in his childhood home and the reason he was often weeping backstage.
What’s the best part about playing King George?
Playing the king, you get to speak directly to the audience, and you can do anything you want. I didn’t get to have a lot of stage time with my fellow castmates, but I got to build a relationship with the audience every night.
I also learned about how you can do a lot with very little — as in, it’s nine minutes of stage time, but also, it’s the little eye movements, eyebrow movements, hand movements. You could do one small thing and have a huge impact in a 1,300-seat Broadway theater, which is such a surprise. I could just [pout] with my lower lip and get a big laugh.
And the toughest?
Vocally, [“You’ll Be Back” and “What Comes Next”] are challenging for me to sing. And it’s very exposed — I walk out there on the edge of the stage alone.
Jonathan Groff as King George in 'Hamilton.' Photo credit: Joan Marcus
What new habits did you adopt?
Halfway through the off-Broadway run, I decided that I wanted to do a very specific King George accent. I started slowly filtering it in, and it became my alter ego backstage. So right before I went onstage, I’d read a page from a book out loud in the accent to get into the mindset.
This young new author Isaac Oliver sent his book Intimacy Idiot to the Public Theater before it was published, and at first I thought, “Whatever,” and put it with this stack of other books. But when I started the accent, I pulled it out and it was hilarious. I read a page of it every day.
What did you given up to play the role?
Nothing. That’s the great thing about being King George. I could get as fat as I wanted to in that costume because of the giant cape.
What time did you wake up on a show day?
I’d wake up at 10 and run at Equinox or Chelsea Piers, or outside.
What did you eat for dinner?
I went to Jo Allen a lot because it’s a block away, and I’d get a hot toddy and the La Scala salad with the creamy Italian dressing. I also ordered Just Salad to the theater.
What was something special in your dressing room?
A shirtless picture of Daveed Diggs.
Diggs mentioned that the cast is often dancing backstage during the show. What else did you do when you weren’t onstage?
I read all the books I always wanted to read but never did: The Agony and the Ecstasy which is a biographical novel about Michelangelo, [I reread]To Kill a Mockingbird and then Go Set a Watchman, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. That one, I was weeping in the dressing room, my mind was so blown, and then I had to go out and play this white king, and I thought, “Oh God, I am white supremacy right now,” and it seriously affected my performance.
Another time, I finished [Hanya Yanagihara's novel] A Little Life in the middle of the first act and was crying so hard, and I went down to Leslie Odom’s dressing room because he was also reading the book. I embraced him and cried into his neck and then had to come back out and be King George!
It’s an exciting show. Did you have trouble sleeping afterward?
I’ve never had trouble sleeping in my life.
What did you do on your day off?
I love going to the movies. My favorite day was when I had an Old Fashioned at the Plaza Hotel and then went to the Paris Theater and saw Carol by myself.
Favorite backstage guest?
Best stage door reaction so far?
There was this one fan who drew this amazing picture of King George and framed it, and my mom saw it and said, “This is amazing!” So now, that picture is in my childhood home, hanging on the wall in the kitchen.