Broadway, film and television actor Jonathan Groff, who is a life-long fan of Disney and their films, is starring in the studio’s latest effort, Frozen. Co-written and directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, the film follows sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), two princesses of Arendelle who are also best friends. Elsa’s inability to handle her secret power of being able to create snow and ice delights her younger sister. But when the magic gets out of control one day and injures Anna, Elsa’s fear that she’ll do more harm to her younger sister forces her to hide her secret and distance herself from their relationship.
As the two sisters grow older, Elsa gets ready to take her position as Queen. Still trying to hide her magical power, she accidentally plunges the Kingdom into an eternal winter during her coronation. Trying to protect Arendelle from any further damage, Elsa runs away. Determined to find her sister, Anna sets out on an epic journey with the help of rugged mountain man Kristoff (Groff) and battles the elements to bring back her sister and save the kingdom.
Groff generously took the time to sit down with us recently in New York City during a roundtable interview to talk about lending his voice to Frozen. Among other things, the actor discussed how became involved with the film, what his reaction was like when he found out that he had landed the role, his love of Disney and much more.
Check out the full interview below and enjoy!
How did you become involved with the film?
Jonathan Groff: I went to the audition about two years ago. Kristen (Bell) and Idina (Menzel) had already been cast at that point, so they were recording a bunch of guys to see whose voice sounded best with Kristen. They liked my voice with hers, so I think that’s a big part of the reason I got the job. For the last year-and-a-half, I would go in every month or two to record.
It’s crazy how they would develop this movie, from the beginning to the end. At one point, my character was a hoarder, with a sleigh full of my own belongings. (laughs) There have been so many different versions.
It was a lesson on how they make that impeccable storytelling at Disney. They really do workshop, and it’s like developing a Broadway play or musical. There’s a lot of effort that goes into the story and character. I was indirectly involved in that development, because we were doing a bunch of different versions. It was so cool to see it all evolve, and then after a few weeks, we got to see what the final product was.
What kind of image did you have of Kristoff in your head as you were filming?
Jonathan Groff: For me, the very first day I got there, the animators showed me a drawn picture of what he was going to look like. Then they put up video cameras as we were recording, and they animate to your own gestures and facial expressions. They would show me the storyboards of what was happening in the scene.
The animators went to Norway, and did a lot of research of what it looked like, and what people wore. Even for the guitar I’m playing in my song, they brought in about 75 different versions of these old Norwegian instruments. So the attention to detail was impeccable. There were all these images up all over the place as we were recording. I would look at them to understand the situation, and then let it fly.
When I was five, I would sit alone in my room and reenact Disney movies. It’s weird that now I’m 28, and I’m doing it for real. You feel like you’re a child at play when you’re recording one of these. That’s what I strive for in every acting job I have to feel the way I did when I was three and would dress up like Mary Poppins.
What other movies besides Mary Poppins would you reenact?
Jonathan Groff: I was really into drag when I was five. [laughs] I was also Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Then I was Peter Pan for Halloween, two years in a row, in a parade, and I was suspended on a float. My mom set it up so that when we did the Halloween parade, I was Peter Pan, and my brother was John. Then the next day we went to Disney World, and that was our big thing.
I’m from Pennsylvania, so going to Disney World when I was little was this huge thing. My mom videotaped us every day, from 50 days before we went to when we actually went. We would talk about what we were excited to do, and reenact a scene from a Disney movie.