With Frozen 2 now playing in theaters, I recently sat down with Jonathan Groff to talk about making the highly anticipated sequel. During the wide-ranging conversation, Groff talked about when he knew they were going to make the film, how the film pushes away from the norm by not having a “villain” and instead features the main characters grappling with their own growth and change, Kristoff’s ‘80s inspired song that has adults laughing out loud, how the filmmakers have flipped what the male love interest is going through by having him struggling with how to communicate to the woman he loves, what it will take to get the cast to perform all the Frozen music on tour, what song he was sad to see not make the finished film, and more. In addition, he talked about the status of Mindhunter season 3, if he’s had any pressure to get on social media, if he thinks Frozen 3 will happen, the difference between the West End and Broadway theater audiences, and a lot more.
As most of you know, directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck and produced by Peter Del Vecho, Frozen 2 takes Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa (Idina Menzel), Kristoff (Groff), and Olaf (Josh Gad) on an all-new adventure that finds Anna and Elsa investigating the truth behind their parents—and possibly Elsa’s powers. The sequel also features the voices of Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Ciarán Hinds, Jeremy Sisto, Alan Tudyk, and Rachel Matthews.
Check out what Jonathan Groff had to say below.
Collider: So let’s jump into the most important question.
JONATHAN GROFF: Okay.
When do you start filming Mindhunter season three?
GROFF: (laughs) I don’t know. TBD.
I know [David] Fincher’s making a movie, so that’s going to take him out for at least eight months.
GROFF: Yeah, we couldn’t do it ‘til after he was done with that.
Yeah. It’s still not fast enough. I saw Holt [McCallany] recently and mentioned that to him as well, and I basically have said repeatedly I need 50 episode seasons.
GROFF: Oh my God. And you know that he and I would be so down. We’re ready. We’re ready. Whenever the call comes, we’re ready to jump.
Yes. I just want to start the interview off with the most important thing.
GROFF: I love you for that.
Yeah, listen. I love that show, and all of us on the site love that show.
GROFF: Oh, good.
It’s so good.
I can keep on going, but I’m going to stop. So, jumping into why I get to talk to you, first, let me start by saying congratulations. The pressure, or the difficulty of making a great sequel to such a beloved movie is really hard, and you guys did it. Do you know where you are today and what day in the promotion process it is?
GROFF: I do.
Because you guys have been going nonstop.
GROFF: I jumped on. So the group went to Toronto, but I’m actually doing a revival of Little Shop of Horrors right now off-Broadway, and so I know that this is day three of my promotion experience, because I left the show on Sunday. I got here on Monday. Our first thing was on Wednesday… Oh no. So, it’s day four. I already messed it up. It’s day four. (laughs)
So you must’ve put it in your contract for Little Shop that you… Disney must’ve said you have to be able to promote?
GROFF: Yes. In May when the director of Little Shop, Michael Mayer, called and asked me to do it, I said, “Oh, I’m not doing anything this fall, except I have to have off for these two weeks.” And they said yes, so they knew it from the very beginning. They hired an amazing actor named Gideon Glick, who I did Spring Awakening with back in the day, to replace me for these two weeks.
Have you done anything on the West End?
GROFF: I have, actually.
My question is, and I’ve been asking this of all the actors I talked to who do theater, do you notice a difference between the audiences in the West End and Broadway?
GROFF: Yes. The biggest, I think, difference [in the West End] would be less vocal, less standing up, less standing ovations. It’s just a cultural difference in that Americans are more apt to jump up and clap and be more vocal throughout the course of any given performance, and the Brits are a little more reserved.
Do the Brits ever do the standing ovation at the end?
So when they do it, they mean it?
GROFF: A hundred percent, and the two times that I’ve been in the audience of a West End show where it’s felt like an American audience was The Book of Mormon and Hamilton.
And you felt that energy?
GROFF: Yeah. I was like, “Well, I could it be in New York right now. This is how crazy these shows are making the audience, even in London.” I remember also Lin [Manuel Miranda] telling me that the difference between — because I did Hamilton on Broadway for almost a year. And then they took it to London, and he said that it was the same reaction except when Aaron Burr sings, “I’m keeping her bed warm while her husband is away” randomly in his song Wait For It, it gets a huge laugh in London. Never had a laugh in America. There’s the one difference between the British and the American audience.
That’s so interesting.
GROFF: So bizarre, right?
It’s also very bizarre.
GROFF: I know.
Switching gears completely — I appreciate you sharing the theater stuff — how early on did you know that the sequel was going to get made, and how long did you have to keep it a secret?
GROFF: I didn’t know early on at all. Probably a year and a half after the first one I found out that they were making a second one, and it was sort of like, they announced that they were making, they asked us to do it and they announced it sort of all at the same time, so I never felt like I was really keeping a secret.
Oh that’s not bad.
GROFF: No, not bad at all.
My favorite part of this movie is, besides the animation and everything, I love that there’s just no villain, that there’s no guy or girl trying to get her powers or come between them.
It’s so refreshing.
And it’s really so well done. Can you sort of talk about that aspect of the film?
GROFF: Yeah, I think that really, ultimately, the biggest challenge sort of that each of the characters have in kind of a general way is grappling with their own self growth and change. So Idina [Menzel] is scared of, but excited to follow, the voice that’s calling to her, and that sort of trickles down then into all of the characters. So Anna’s learning how to let her sister go, and let her sister do her own thing, and leave her to her own devices to survive. Olaf is asking really challenging existential questions about life as he gets older.
GROFF: And Kristoff is ready to take his relationship to the next level with Anna, but he’s really not good at communicating and expressing himself. Then halfway through the movie is given an amazing ’80s inspired rock jam to be able to do so. (laughs)
That song — little kids are not going to get it. When I saw it last night, the adults in the audience were laughing hard.
So talk a little bit about how that song really plays for adults.
GROFF: Yeah, totally. Bobby and Kristen Lopez told me that they were going to try and get a song in for my character in the movie. I thought, “That’s so nice of them to say that, but it just seems… How are you going to make the mountain man sing? I want to hear the girls sing. I want to hear Idina belt out a hundred numbers. Who wants to hear Kristoff sing?” I couldn’t figure out story-wise, because they’re so passionate and invested in storytelling as opposed to just writing catchy songs. And they thought of this amazing arc with Kristoff of him trying to propose and not being able to, and then ultimately getting frustrated by his inability to do so and busting out on this ’80s song, which I think that a lot of dudes, particularly parents of the kids that are coming to see the show, like you said, can relate to that genre and that time period in the ’80s as a way to really let it go and self-express. And Kristen Anderson-Lopez mentioned earlier, they wrote Let It Go for Elsa in the first movie and it inspired all these girls to feel their power. On the flip side of that, in the second movie, here is a song for a male character that perhaps will invite boys to get in touch with their feelings. Sven says, “You feel what you feel and your feelings are real. Come on Kristoff, let down your guard.” And so if little boys all over the world are hearing that, hopefully they’ll be inspired to express themselves.
It is pretty crazy to realize the first movie has been seen — I can’t even imagine the amount of people around the world that have actually seen the first movie, repeatedly.
GROFF: Yeah, right.
And to realize that this movie is going to be seen by maybe even more people.
The power of the messaging in these movies is more important than I think a lot of people realize, and having that positive message… like your character is so different than what is normally written for the male love interest, if you will.
GROFF: Absolutely. I mean, that’s what I loved also about the first movie of Frozen is that the true love in the movie is between sisters as opposed to a woman looking for a man’s love, and even in the first movie, Kristoff, one of his lines in the beginning to Anna is, “You can’t marry a man you just met.” Whereas in all the old sort of Disney fairytales, it’s love at first sight, and one day my prince will come. So in the first movie, they sort of inverted those ideas, and made it more modern, and more contemporary, and more feminist. And they’ve done the same thing with this movie and with all of these characters, and particularly with Kristoff. Normally the girl is pining after the man, and the man leaves, and then she sings an emotional song, and this is the reverse, where Kristoff is struggling with how to communicate to the woman he loves. Then she goes off on an adventure without him, and he’s left alone to sing about his feelings. So very cleverly, the filmmakers have reversed that in this movie.
A hundred percent. I brought this up with a lot of other people. What will it take for you guys as a group to either do the Hollywood Bowl or go on tour where you play all the songs from the first Frozen and Frozen 2, as well as the cut songs that never made the movie?
GROFF: Yes, sign me up. Sign me up. I would do it in a second. All they would have to do is ask. I would do it in a second.
Okay, so you’re receptive to this?
Can you talk about some of the songs that you — because obviously Kristen and Bobby told me that the ratio on this one was that they only said they wrote seven songs that didn’t make the finished version, and on the first one they wrote like 2- something.
GROFF: For the first movie they wrote 20 songs?
But it makes sense though, because the first one they’re still figuring out the voices.
GROFF: The world of everything. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course.
Yeah. So like you’re writing, and writing, and writing to find the voices and find the movie, and in the sequel, they know the voices and the characters, so it makes sense to have written less —
GROFF: Yeah, there’s only so many places it could possibly go. It’s not like anything could happen, because the characters have already established who they are.
Did you have a song or two that didn’t make the finished film that you were sad to see go?
GROFF: I recorded a song while we were shooting Mindhunter, and I was in Pittsburgh, and I drove to New York on the weekend to record this song called “I Want to Get This Right.” And it was when in the story Kristoff was going to try and propose to Anna at the very beginning. It was not an ’80s jam. It was almost like a Jackson 5 kind of, like, uptempo R&B song. It was really cute, and I loved it, and I loved singing it, and it was Kristoff’s song, and then it became sort of a Kristoff-Anna duet song. I recorded it in New York over a weekend, and really felt like, “Oh wow. This is a huge part of the story that he’s trying to propose and he’s singing to her and it’s this proposal, so I don’t think the song is going to get cut, because it’s really like a part of the narrative of the story.” Then a couple months later, I come into a recording session, this time it was in Pittsburgh, and they were like, “So we changed the story and we cut your song. But we’re gonna write you another song, and it’s going to be an ’80s jam where Kristoff really, like, lives in his feelings.” I thought, “Oh, that’s so nice of them to say that, but surely that’s the most absurd idea I’ve ever heard and that will never happen.” And then it did.
Right, exactly. It all works out, because that song is fantastic.
GROFF: Yeah. Right, right.
Mindhunter — I can’t believe I get to bring this back. It’s a really great performance you have to do, and how much do you sort of submerge into that reality when you’re filming? Are you able to sort of shut it off and turn on Frozen, if you will, on like a weekend or on a weeknight when you have to go record something? That has to be challenging.
GROFF: The thing that’s similar about, I can’t believe there is a similarity, but the thing that is similar about Mindhunter and Frozen is that with Mindhunter, you’re working for David Fincher, which is like the ultimate safety net. You just know that you can do anything, you can try anything, you can throw it all up against the wall, and he’s going to go in and put together something great. So there’s this safety net as a performer that allows you to take risks and do things because you know he’s got this. You know?
GROFF: Then on the flip side with Frozen, I just trust Jen and Chris and Bobby and Kristen so implicitly. They cut the song. It was a great song that I recorded, and they cut it because it didn’t work for the movie. They are very ego-less about the work that they produce, and they’re all very committed to the best possible story they can tell, and so in the same way in going to work for Frozen, it’s like I just make myself available to them. I just try and be as creative as I possibly can with the stuff that they give me, and throw it all up against the wall and see what sticks, and let them put it together and make whatever they want to make.
One of the things I want to bring up is that you are, unlike a lot of your cohorts, not on social at all. Or am I wrong about this?
GROFF: No, you’re correct.
Have you not had any pressure from a publicist or an agent? “You know, if you want to do Instagram, it wouldn’t be that bad.”
GROFF: No, I haven’t. I really haven’t. My agents and my publicists, they all, thankfully, get me, and so they totally understand that it’s just not my jam.
GROFF: I feel like in order for it to be great, and positive, and productive, you have to really want to invest in it, and I hate how much I look at my phone already with text messaging, and so I just didn’t want to add another element to that.
Do you ghost on some of the social formats?
GROFF: No, I really don’t.
GROFF: I know, isn’t that crazy?
Because a lot of people say, “Oh, I’m not on Instagram.” But then they’ll be like, “But I ghost on it. I have a private account that nobody —
GROFF: No, I really don’t. I really don’t. Isn’t that weird?
No, I actually think it’s very healthy.
GROFF: Okay. It’s sort of ignorant. In certain ways ignorance is bliss where I’m sort of unaware of opinions and things like that, because I’m just not on social media at all.
Look, I think it’s an unhealthy obsession when you see people constantly taking selfies in every possible place just to… It makes me crazy, but that’s just me.
GROFF: It’s weird. Ironically, in the theater at Little Shop when we were in tech, I was the one with my phone out videotaping and taking pictures of everything, because I was like, “This is so much fun and I want to capture it.” And everyone is saying, “Why are you taking pictures? You’re not even on social media.” And I’m like, “Oh no, this is just for me to look at later.” So I do take a lot of pictures. I just keep them to myself or I text them to my friends or whatever.
So I have to ask you. Do you think in your gut feeling — because I know they have not talked about a Frozen 3 — but in another five years that there could be another?
GROFF: I mean, after the first one, I couldn’t even have imagined a Frozen 2, to be honest. When they said they were making a second one, I was thrilled to go back to work, but there wasn’t a piece of me that could have comprehended how you further the story. And then Jen and Chris and Bobby and Kristen came up with, I think, it’s a true masterpiece, and there’s never been a [theatrical animated] musical sequel made ever to a Disney film. So they broke ground with that. I think I would do anything that they do. I’m just following their lead.
GROFF: I have no gut feeling about whether or not there will be a third one. I would just do whatever they asked me to do.
On that note, congratulations.
GROFF: Thank you.