Andrew Rannells on His Rise to Fame: "It Did Take a Little Longer Than I Expected It To"

National YoungArts Foundation Andrew Rannells - Publicity - H 2019
Em Watson/Courtesy of the National YoungArts Foundation

'The Book of Mormon' and 'Black Monday' star said if he had known his first major break would be at 32 years old, he would've gone to journalism school.

Seeking out acting opportunities while growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Andrew Rannells turned to his hometown community and children’s theaters to hone his acting chops. He says it wasn’t until his week in Miami with the YoungArts program — then called the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (NFAA) — did Rannells meet other teenagers also hoping to make their way to Broadway.

Several decades of theater credits, leading roles and TV series later, Rannells calls it a turning point for his career. “I was just really blown away by the fact that it was all these people my age who wanted to do the same thing,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. "I wasn't having that experience at all where I was from. To be with other people who are as ambitious and also unapologetic about it was exciting and empowering.”

Those connections and his struggles in breaking through in the industry were the focus of The Book of Mormon star’s address to the winners of the YoungArts Los Angeles program on Sunday morning. YoungArts is a national foundation that aids rising young artists in creating networks, mentorships and other partnerships to push creative and professional development.

"I want to tell some of those stories about what it was actually like to start your career for real and not the fancy TV part of it, but what it actually is like," the actor told the crowd, "because it's hard — obviously you're rushing to do the thing you say you want to do, right? But it did take a little longer than I expected it to."

The actor began his address speaking about what he said he cherished the most from his weeklong experience: his lasting friendships. He said he met the likes of Zuzanna Szadkowski and Michael B. Washington, during his time at YoungArts. Rannells told his audience these friendships were what helped him stay passionate about pursuing acting professionally.

“I was really surrounded by people my own age who also said they wanted to do the thing that I wanted to do, … where you look around and everyone around you is your peer who also has the same dream that you have,” he said.

Rannells also shared stories about his early experiences in Manhattan, from his first awkward Broadway auditions to his homesickness, which he also discusses in his memoir, Too Much Is Not Enough. When asked about moving to New York from Nebraska to attend college and pursue acting, Rannells told the young artists that he did not anticipate missing his family and his hometown so much. Despite this, he didn’t want to call home, he said.

“Any time I would talk to them I would feel more homesick, so it was a weird cycle where, 'Maybe I shouldn't call them?'” he said. “I should have just been in touch, and I should have just been brave enough to say, ‘I'm scared to be here.’ I thought that if I had said that out loud people would think, 'Then just come home.’”

Another student asked Rannells about his experiences going from a Broadway lead to a TV star. The actor spoke about his character on Showtime's market-crash comedy Black Monday, a newly minted MBA named Blair Pfaff. “He sees [working on Wall Street is] going to be much harder and much different and much more nuanced than he thought it was. It's not so black and white. And I was really excited to get to play that guy again,” he said.

Rannells also spoke with THR about the popularity of social media and how it has increased artists’ exposure. “It's tricky because there's so much more visibility in terms of what your actual human personality is, and I sort of struggle with that — particularly with social media — that actors, traditionally, the goal was to kind of disappear into a role,” he said. “Sometimes I worry that because of social media — because you're not playing character; you are your yourself — you're letting people into your lives.”