As Andrew Rannells moves forward, he’s also looking back.
The Grammy winner (for the cast album of “The Book of Mormon”) and two-time Tony nominee stopped by the Los Angeles Times’ video studio to chat about Showtime’s “Black Monday,” in which he’s not only starring, but also producing for the first time, and his new book of autobiographical essays, “Too Much Is Not Enough.”
The outrageous “Black Monday” is sort of a fictional history of the 1987 stock market crash told by a narrator with Tourette’s Syndrome. It stars Don Cheadle as a shady trader/corporate raider, Regina Hall as his most trusted colleague in their den of thieves, and Rannells as the innocent new guy with scruples and an algorithm. The show bursts with racial, sexual, controlled-substance and moral attitudes of the time and place that today would launch a thousand hashtags. It feels at times like comedy Ipecac, a kind of cleansing cultural vomitus.
“Rude? Oh, come on, now,” Rannells says. “It takes place in 1980s New York, centering around the stock market and this sort of ragtag group of traders who are the No. 11th trading firm on Wall Street … They’re ruthless, certainly. Maybe they just don’t know any better.
“It was a very unchecked time.
“It was such a strange and cool and unexpected combination of genres and tones. It is a very sort of broad comedy … but then there’s also this crime, perhaps it’s a murder or it’s an accident, we don’t know; in the first episode, we see a body fall off a building, smash into a car. We don’t know who it is. And we’re sort of tracking that along the way to piece together who that might be. There’s also the lead-up to the 1987 stock-market crash, so we’re following that.
“And then another layer of it is this very sort of human story between Don Cheadle’s character, Regina Hall’s character, and mine — and Paul Scheer’s character — all sort of figuring out what their place is in this world, and how they actually want to live in it in order to be successful, and also attempt to be decent human beings.”
The show is also a kind of look back for Rannells — not because of the period-piece element of it, as he was about 8 years old during the show’s actual events, but because, like his character, Blair, he came from the Midwest to New York to seek his fortune as a young man. However, Rannells sees closer parallels between Blair and the actor’s best-known role: Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon.”
“Blair reminded me a lot of Elder Price. He’s this guy who has a lot of book smarts and theoretical knowledge about something. With ‘The Book of Mormon,’ obviously, it was about being a missionary and Mormonism. This was what Blair had learned at Wharton about trading and Wall Street, but he had no practical experience,” he says.
“I was really excited, sort of recognizing Blair in Elder Price because I loved doing that show … he gets perhaps one of the biggest sort of turns of any of our characters in ‘Black Monday.’ I think Blair’s transformation over the season is maybe the most drastic — I think.”
Spurred by a fan question, the Grammy winner said he had no plans to record a solo album, but joked that if he did, it might be “Rannells Sings Springsteen.”
“Most of my singing has all been done in the context of a musical. So branching out as sort of a solo artist is not something I have my eye on. I would love to do another musical, but yeah, just rockin’ out to the hits by myself, I don’t know.”
After some prompting, he says, “When I was in New York, just starting to audition for musicals — and actually well into my career — I would sing ‘Born to Run’ for just about every audition, whether it was correct or not … I just love that song. It’s a great song. It’s about trying to get out of your town, right? I’ve always loved that song because I was a kid trying to get out of my town.
“All Springsteen, that’s what we needed. ‘Andrew Rannells Sings Springsteen.’ Tens of people lining up to buy that album.”
Rannells also chatted about his memoir, at the ripe old age of 40 (and only covering his life up to age 26).
“The majority of the stories in that book are really from my childhood up until that first night I had in ‘Hairspray,’ ” he says. A literary-agent friend asked to see some of the essays Rannells had written for himself, giving him notes and working with him on them. The friend wound up getting one of them published in the New York Times.
“There was some interest then, from some publishing houses, like, ‘Did I have anything else written?’ and here, [he] had tricked me into sort of polishing all these essays, so I would say I had an actual proposal, although I didn’t really realize that’s what it was. But there they were.”