Beverly Hills, Calif. • Andrew Rannells’ new sitcom role feels a bit closer to him than his Tony-nominated turn in “The Book of Mormon.”
On Broadway, he played a Mormon missionary. In NBC’s “The New Normal,” he plays a gay man who, along with his partner, wants to have a baby.
Despite The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ stand against gay marriage, Rannells said it “didn’t feel weird” to be an openly gay man playing a Mormon.
“It was just such a great opportunity and such a great character, and I related to him on so many different levels that I was just thrilled to get to do it,” Rannells said. “But I never really considered that aspect of it.”
And while “The Book of Mormon” dealt with real aspects of LDS theology in a humorous way, Rannells said he never saw “The Book of Mormon” as being anti-Mormon.
“Bottom line is that if you break down any religion into sound bites, it all sounds crazy,” he said. “And we happened to set it to music and highlight that stuff. It’s not specific to Mormonism. If you break down anything, you could get some hilarious one-liners out of that.”
In “The New Normal,” Rannells stars as Bryan, a flamboyant gay man. He and his partner, David (Justin Bartha), want to become parents. They contract with Goldie (Georgia King) to be their surrogate mother — and they end up as part of a family that includes Goldie’s young daughter, Shania (Bebe Wood); Goldie’s brassy mother, Nana (Ellen Barkin); and Bryan’s fierce assistant, Rocky (NeNe Leakes).
Not surprisingly, the show has already created controversy. An organization called One Million Moms — the same group that attacked JC Penney for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as a spokeswoman — is calling for a boycott of “The New Normal.”
‘I was very excited that I was mentioned by first and last name in the boycott,” Rannells said. “It was a real honor and a real treat. It’s my first boycott.”
Executive producer Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “Nip/ Tuck,” “American Horror Story”) said he wasn’t surprised by the boycott. “I think every person in a group has a right to sort of protest something and not like something,” he said. “I always find it to be interesting when people take that position before they’ve seen it.”
The show is “loosely based” on Murphy’s life, with Rannells cast as the TV version of Murphy. “I had seen ‘The Book of Mormon’ twice, and I just was like, ‘I want to work with Andrew. I don’t know how. I don’t know when,’” Murphy said. “I heard that Andrew wanted to do television, and I knew that he would be snatched up like that. You know, if somebody’s loosely playing you — you want them to be much better-looking than you,” Murphy said.
Bartha, who plays Rannells’ partner in the show, said that when he read that Murphy and Rannells were doing a show together, he was immediately interested. He’d also been impressed with Rannells’ performance in “The Book of Mormon.”
Rannells said he felt instantly close to the character, that was obviously very exaggerated from Ryan’s life. And he felt confident about the way Murphy would tell the story.
Gay characters in TV shows aren’t always fully developed, beyond the stereotypical best friend or bitchy boss. “And certainly the gay is a big part of it, but the gay is also just a fraction of what I get to do in the show,” Rannells said.
Not that his character is exactly like him. Rannells said he hasn’t really considered becoming a parent.
“I have seven nieces and nephews, and that’s awesome,” he said. “They’re all great. But I, quite frankly, have not really found myself either in a relationship or in a position financially to undergo that. Because for homosexual couples, you’re not going to accidentally get somebody pregnant. It’s a lot of planning. It’s a lot of expense.”
If “The New Normal is successful, eventually his character will end up with a child. And Rannells will get to rehearse being a father. “That could make or break this whole thing, once that kid shows up,” he said with a laugh.
The new family math
Couple plus surrogate (and family) adds up to a new kind of family in the sitcom “The New Normal,” which is sheduled to premiere Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 8:30 p.m. MT on NBC/Channel 5.