We don't get too steady a stream of celebrities here in the Bay Area, but we do get some gracing our theater stages here and there. And with that in mind we'll be kicking off a series of "exit interviews" with people here from out of town to tell us about what they love, and what they don't love, about staying in San Francisco. Starting us off is Jonathan Groff, star of the HBO show Looking, which just wrapped shooting on its second season this week.
SFist: You guys have been here a long time for this shoot significantly longer than last year's shoot, am I right?
Jonathan Groff: Yes. Well, last year the season was eight episodes but we'd already shot the pilot, so we were here for a period of time to shoot seven episodes. But this year we did a total of 10, and we've been here since the end of August, and I leave on Friday.
This is it, this is the end. I'm so bummed. Tomorrow's my last day of shooting.
Where were you living this time during the shoot?
I am living in like the Castro/Mission gray area. I love it here.
What was your most fun shooting day this time around?
There's been so many. The first episode was really fun because it was the first one back and we were all on location in Russian River. We were in canoes and hiking through redwoods and pretending to be on drugs at a party, and it was really beautiful. I'd never been up there before so that was really kind of an amazing experience.
Yeah it's beautiful up there.
Would you say that was the best location you discovered?
We shot outside of the city a couple of times this year. We were in Russian River, and then we shot in Modesto, we shot in San Leandro, and Oakland a little bit. We were kind of spreading our wings a little bit exploring the Bay Area, more than just San Francisco which was kind of fun. I don't want to give anything away but we're sort of exploring different character areas, like where they're from, and it's interesting to see how the different parts of the Bay Area sort of informed us about different storylines and different characters in the show. And it was cool to be outside the city a bit.
So, I saw you perform at Cleve Jones' 60th birthday. Had you ever met him before?
I met him when were here last year. Danny Glicker, the costume guy on Looking did the costume design on Milk, so he knew Cleve from that. So I got to meet him with Danny last year when we were here. And he told me that his birthday party was coming up, and I want to say in March he was planning it, and he said "save the date!" And I was planning on going to it and about a month before we had brunch and he asked me to sing at it. I was so excited. It was so cool, such a fun night.
Did you meet anyone else that night?
I met Armistead Maupin and his husband Chris and I'd never met them before. And we're all such crazy Tales of the City fans. So that was pretty thrilling. And he had us over for dinner at his house we had The Comeback premiere viewing party and Armistead was there.
Sidebar: What did you think of The Comeback re-premiere?
Ohmygod it's everything that I wanted and more. I'm a huge huge Comeback fan. I literally watch it so much that throughout the course of shooting this season they've had to tell me to stop saying my lines like Valerie Cherish. Like, "You're line's sounding a little Valerie Cherish can you just take it down a notch," and I'm like, "Oh, right. Sorry sorry sorry." Sometimes we'll actually rehearse our lines as Valerie Cherish while we're rehearsing a scene. We are all obsessed with the show.
I've seen you and Russell Tovey (especially Russell) out on the town a lot this trip. What have been some of your favorite haunts?
There's this bar that was recommended to me that I've now been to a couple of times this year... Zeitgeist. I love Zeitgeist, with that back area. I love it because it's like a mixed crowd, all different kinds of people. And because when I order a vodka soda and they're so giant and cheap! Really good Bloody Marys, too. I'm all about an outdoor space at a bar. Bourbon & Branch I went there for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and that was really good.
How about restaurants?
I always love Kitchen Story. That's like my go-to. I went to Foreign Cinema a couple of nights ago, and it was beautiful. The lighting was gorgeous. I'm at Bi-Rite like every day. Starbelly I enjoy but I've only had brunch there French toast. Tartine. Locanda I've been to a bunch of times. West of Pecos I love it there. There's so many good restaurants in San Francisco. You eat so well here.
It's true. It's hard to stay thin.
It really is!
Is it safe to say you've all fallen in love with San Francisco a bit?
More than a little bit. We are all so upset to be leaving. I love this town. It's been so good to us. It's been so generous and kind. Everyone's been really sweet. Almost all of our crew is from San Francisco and they've just been the best. This year is different going to to restaurants and bars because last year the show hadn't aired yet, and this year people have seen the show and there's just been an amazing amount of people coming up to us and expressing their love for the show, and it's been really awesome. Every week I go to Sit & Spin on 18th Street to do my laundry and get a coffee and learn my lines, and without fail somebody comes up all different kinds of people walking by somebody will come up and tell me something they like about the show, or talk about something they connected to, or they want to know about Kevin or Richie and they ask questions.
I noticed that night at Hi Tops when you were out a few weeks ago you were incredibly generous with your time talking to fans.
That was crazy! I'd never experienced anything like that before! I don't know what was happening that night. It was like non-stop love. It was really amazing. Everyone was excited too because that was the night the Giants were going to the World Series. So that was part of it.
The show means so much to us, and it feels so real to us. Andrew Haigh, our executive producer and head writer and one of the directors on the show, his thing is always about trying to make it as real as possible, and a lot of the writers' and actors' personal stories end up in the show. So it feels really personal. And when people come up and say that the show feels really personal to them that just means everything to us. Especially when it's people who live in San Francisco. That's the most important crowd [to please].
Is there anything that's annoyed you at all compared to life in New York?
Let me try and think. I guess it's a good sign that I'm having trouble thinking of something. We have such a romantic view of the city because we breeze in for three months, right when it's San Francisco summer, September, October, November, and then we breeze back out again. We're all in love with getting to do the show. We're lucky because we get this fairytale honeymoon experience of being here. I can list a hundred things I hate and love about New York City because I live there, but it's harder to do with San Francisco. Because we have such a rarefied kind of existence here.
Do you have a go-to karaoke song?
I never do karaoke. I love going to see people do karaoke. I hate doing it myself. BUT, I will duet on "Islands in the Stream" if someone will be Dolly for me. I will totally whip out "Islands in the Stream" if I have to.
What can we look forward to on this season of Looking that's different from last season?
Well, we've got 10 episodes instead of 8, so there's more of it. And I think last year we spent a lot of time teeing up the characters and setting up the stories, and it was only toward the end of the first season that the complications came bubbling up. And this season we certainly dive right back in where we left off. One of the things I got most excited about as the scripts came in was that the writers didn't avoid anything that was set up in the first season. They really dig and go deeper with all of the existing storylines. They weren't afraid to get right back in where we left off. I hate it when I watch a show and you come back to a new season and it's like they pressed the restart button. They certainly didn't do that with this. They really get into the complications, and the love triangle between Richie and Patrick and Kevin is further explored.
There's more story that happens this year versus last year, in a major way. There's a lot more Doris which is always fun, because she became a season regular.
What are you off to next, project-wise?
I'll just be trying to crawl out of the deep depression that I'll be in after this show is over. I don't know what's next. I leave San Francisco on Friday and whatever will be will be. I have no plans. Looking for the next job I guess. That's the thing about acting. You never really know what's coming around the corner. Hopefully it's Season 3 of Looking.
Well, you can always come back and visit. I hope you don't miss us too much.
I will miss you very much. And hopefully we'll be back again. Fingers crossed.
Season 2 of Looking premieres on January 11.