It’s been a full calendar year since Fox first announced that it would air a live musical version of Grease, and the big night is finally almost here. For the last several months, the cast—which includes Julianne Hough, Aaron Tveit, Vanessa Hudgens, Carly Rae Jepsen, Carlos PenaVega, Keke Palmer, Kether Donohue, and many more—have been rehearsing around the clock to bring the memorable musical to life this Sunday night.
With crunch time upon them, you’d expect the cast to be all nerves—but on a recent visit to the set, it was clear they have this under control. During a short break from rehearsing “Summer Nights” in the Rydell auditorium, Danny Zuko himself (that would be Aaron Tveit) walked over to introduce himself. “I noticed you across the way and figured since we’re going on a date later, I should come say hi,” greeted the charming Broadway vet. Usually, the setting for our On a Date column is at a trendy restaurant (or sometimes even an actor’s trailer), but this time it was at a more appropriate location: the Frosty Palace.
Actual food isn’t allowed on the set, but the prop managers decorated a corner booth with plastic cheeseburgers, fries, sundaes, and milkshakes for us—and they even gave Tveit real money to “pay” for the end of the date. And so, over the next hour, we chatted about career milestones, seducing Julianne Hough, relationships, and how he’ll be spending the hours leading up to Grease: Live.
Glamour: We’re sitting at the Frosty Palace with plastic burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Is this where you take all of your dates?
Aaron Tveit: You know, if we had sock hops and malt shops today, I would definitely take dates there! How fun would that be? I’m surprised there’s not really many of those—or even a bar that’s a throwback sock-hop diner. Someone reading this should fix that.
Glamour: So where would you take a date before or after a Broadway musical?
Aaron: There’s one called Vice Versa, and that’s a really nice, beautiful restaurant. If you really want to make a special night of it, there’s Le Bernardin. It’s Eric Ripert’s restaurant and one of the number one rated restaurants in New York City. But that’s like high high!
Glamour: Great, so on our next date we will go there!
Aaron: Yes, we’ll go to Le Bernardin! [Laughs]
Glamour: How did Grease: Live come about?
Aaron: A little over a year ago, I was in London doing a play, and the casting director [for Grease: Live] asked if I’d be interested in doing a work session with Tommy Kail, the director, and Mark Platt, the producer. Mark oversees Wicked—I did Wicked years ago—so I was really excited it was Fox doing it, Tommy was directing, and also that Julianne was attached.
Glamour: You and Julianne had to do a chemistry test together before you were cast. What was that like?
Aaron: The funny thing about chemistry is that you either have it or you don’t. She was doing chemistry reads with three or four different guys, and they rolled ’em in one after the other. There was a moment in the diner scene where I go up to her at the juke box, and I haven’t seen her since the confrontation at the pep rally. Tommy gave me a note and had us go again [in the scene], and I did something where I just went over and stood next to her and didn’t say anything. I kind of mocked her body position, and she just looked at me and started laughing. We had to start the scene over. But that’s the kind of thing that you hope you have happen because that’s a moment in life. Especially in a chemistry test—that’s what they want to see. I don’t know if that’s ultimately what it was, but that’s when it settled for me that I felt [good].
Glamour: You didn’t dye your hair jet black for the role. Were you worried the producers might make you?
Aaron: A little bit! I didn’t know what they were going to do. It’s such an iconic thing, and I heard that the whole black hair thing was all Travolta’s idea. I think it was a nod to Elvis. I was a little worried about the jet black. If [the producers] would have said it, I would have asked them to do a temporary wash. It actually came up in my first costume fitting with William Ivey Long, who I’ve done three shows with. His thing was that my Danny was not the Elvis Danny Zuko, but the James Dean Danny. I have the same hair color, so we’re going that way a little bit. He fought that fight for me.
Glamour: Julianne met Olivia Newton-John for the first time at Dancing With the Stars last season. Have you gotten to talk to John Travolta?
Aaron: I haven’t. I have not met him during this process, but actually in 2013 at the Oscars when we did our whole Les Mis performance, he announced our whole musical section. And he said my name correctly! [Laughs] We met in the rehearsal process, and he couldn’t have been nicer.
Glamour: Of all the characters you’ve played, which one is closest to your personality?
Aaron: That’s so interesting. It’s different times in your life, you know? It’s so hard to say. All of them have different aspects of my personality. I think [Catch Me If You Can‘s] Frank Abagnale Jr. is the closest, without the con-man part. [Laughs] He’s the guy I hope to still be. I think it’s similar to how I was younger: wide-eyed and optimistic. I’m a very positive person, and I always find the good in things and work really hard.
Glamour: Since, news flash, Grease is live, what’s your routine before you go on stage?
Aaron: Ha, yeah. I have a daily routine and an opening night routine. On a daily basis, [if a Broadway] show doesn’t end till 11 P.M., I usually can’t fall asleep until 3 A.M. because I’m wired after a show. I’ll wake up at noon, eat breakfast, go to the gym, and just start moving. I’m not a warm-up right before the show guy, so I think if you can be active during the day that’s the best [method]. But then on opening night, it’s a little different because there is so much adrenaline. Also, I drink coffee before every show, but on opening nights I don’t. I have so much adrenaline that if I drink coffee on top of it, I’m out of my mind. It’s almost too much, and I can’t control my energy. On Sunday for Grease: Live, I’ll probably eat breakfast when I get up, go to the gym, come here, and just try to keep it as normal as possible.
Glamour: Any superstitions or rituals?
Aaron: I usually say, not necessarily a religious prayer, but I try to have a moment of gratitude before the first night. Just to think about the experience and be thankful for what I’ve been gifted with.
Glamour: You’ve been rehearsing like crazy, so come the week of February 1, then what happens?
Aaron: I’m staying in L.A all week and have a couple days off. I have a film that is in competition at the Santa Barbara Film Festival called Stereotypically You. It’s a film that I shot last summer. It’s a romantic comedy from a guy’s point-of-view, and I’m the guy. It’s about this guy who is stuck on his ex-girlfriend and all in his head about it. The festival is the week after [Grease: Live]. After that, I fly to Australia because I’m singing in a concert in Sydney with Sutton Foster and Betty Buckely and some amazing Australian musical theater talent. It’s called Defying Gravity, the Songs of Stephen Schwartz. Then I fly back to New York, have a week off, and on February 22, I start pre-production for Brain Dead, which is the CBS series I’m doing [from the creators of The Good Wife]. I get to play a sort of asshole chief-of-staff, and it also co-stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead. When that come up, and I learned I’d be playing opposite her? I was like, sign me up! I’ve been so lucky to have been able to do so many different things.
Glamour: I heard that you almost auditioned for a season of American Idol, but you couldn’t miss rehearsals for your school musical. Is that true?
Aaron: Yeah. A buddy of mine and I were going to go audition, but we had rehearsal for whatever college show we were doing at the time, and they wouldn’t let us go, so I didn’t go. And then the next year, I was doing a summer stock production, so I didn’t go, and then I got cast in the national tour of Rent and started working. I really wanted to, but who knows how I would have done? But now, here I am on Fox doing this live thing!
Glamour: Is it true that you also turned down the role of Finn on Glee in 2009?
Aaron: I didn’t turn down the role, but I had auditioned for it and they wanted to do a screen test. I wasn’t offered the part, but I was far along in the process. I decided not to screen test for it.
Glamour: How come?
Aaron: Looking back, I kind of think, “What the hell was I thinking?” I hadn’t done anything on television yet. That was before I got Gossip Girl, so I hadn’t done much TV. I had also been involved in all the readings and workshops for Second Stage and Catch Me If You Can. So at that point, I would have been walking away from these shows that I was so attached to personally, and my heart was in it. I couldn’t walk away from those. The other side of it was, at the time, I kind of wanted what I did on TV to have nothing to do with my musical theater career. I think I was afraid that I’d be looked at as only a musical guy, so I tried to keep it separate for a long time. Looking back, it did serve me well, but it was a difficult [decision] to make.
Glamour: What’s your advice when someone is faced with a tough career decision?
Aaron: A lot of it comes down to your gut feeling because all the time you’re having to make choices and say no to things. You have to talk it out and look at both sides. Make the decision that you’re comfortable with and that you feel in your gut is right and then let it go after that.
Glamour: Changing gears, you have a new movie that’s in post-production called Undrafted, and it’s a sports movie. You’re a big sports guy…
Aaron: It was like my six-year-old dream come true. I got to be a lead in this sports movie, and we just played baseball for four weeks while we shot it.
Glamour: What teams were you obsessed with growing up?
Aaron: The Yankees, even when they were terrible! I was never a Knicks fan, but I was a Michael Jordan fan. That led me to being a LeBron James fan because I’m of the generation that has an appreciation for talent and greatness [instead of a particular team]. My friends always make fun of me for it.
Glamour: Have you ever gotten to meet any of your childhood sports heroes?
Aaron: [Former Yankees manager] Joe Torre came to see Catch Me If You Can, and that was nuts. I almost couldn’t speak afterwards. It’s interesting because athletes make me starstruck. Again, it’s the 10-year-old version of myself who only wanted to be a professional athlete.
Glamour: Could you ever date someone who wasn’t into sports?
Aaron: [Laughs] Well, I have before…
Glamour: And how did that go?
Aaron: It does become difficult because I mean, listen, I’m sure I haven’t been into other things that people I’ve dated have been into, but I understand and support that they’re into it and will be happy with that. Even if you don’t like it, at least you can say, “OK, I know that you like it and that’s OK.” But if somebody tried to make me feel bad about it, that wouldn’t be good.
Glamour: A year and a half ago, you said you were single and looking for a very nice girl. Are you still single and looking for a very nice girl?
Aaron: Yeah, I’m still looking for a nice girl. I’m still single. It’s hard with travel and work, and the last three years, the longest I’ve been home in New York is six or eight weeks. So, woe is me, boohoo, I’m not saying that, but it can be difficult at times. I feel like I’m at a place in my life where I have a clear idea of who I am. I think you need to do that before you’re ready to meet someone. Everyone says it comes when you least expect it, so I’m just trying to honestly stay open and just receptive to people around me.
Glamour: What are your turn-ons and turn-offs?
Aaron: Meanness and coldness are what turns me off. Yeah, surprise, surprise. [Laughs] But if I see people going out of their way to talk badly about someone behind their back, that’s just like, come on. It’s catty. And turn-ons are laughing, comedy. If we can banter and have fun, that’s a lot of it for me. I need that kind of back and forth.
Glamour: What’s the best advice you’ve been given about love and relationships?
Aaron: You can’t go looking for it. Also, the relationships that I’ve had before, you question looking back and thinking about regrets, but parents and friends have said, “You’re going to know when you know.” So that’s something I firmly believe and hold on to. A lot of my guy friends who are married, I ask them questions like, “What is it?” and they say, “Dude, I knew an hour into our first date. I just knew.”
Glamour: Like you said, it’s that gut feeling.
Glamour: You live in New York. What’s your perfect date night?
Aaron: It’s simple. Dinner at a great restaurant somewhere. If it’s a nice night—it’s like that thing where if the date goes well, you have that second place picked out already and can walk there. In New York, that would be a wine bar or a cool bar. That’s my perfect date night: Have a great dinner with someone great who you want to continue the night with and walk somewhere in that beautiful city and wind up in one of those hole-in-the-wall places. That’s what I love about New York.
Glamour: Do you have any tattoos?
Aaron: No tattoos. I have debated and almost got a bluebird last year—like an old-fashioned bluebird on the inside of my arm. I liked the idea because it was one of the original sailor tattoos, and I think that’s where “Bluebird on Your Shoulder” came from. A sailor would get a bluebird after 5,000 miles at sea and then get another one at 10,000. So I thought, I’m a traveling man, I got my 5,000 miles, so maybe I’ll get my bluebird! So, I almost got that, but then I didn’t. [Laughs] I think that it would make me look tough because I’m not really tough, so I just feel like I need a whole sleeve or something, but I would never do that! If I’m not going to get a whole sleeve, I’m not going to get any!
Glamour: What do you do to relax?
Aaron: I watch a lot of SportsCenter and the Golf Channel. Basically, I put the Golf Channel on in the background and it calms me. On that very rare day off, I like to play golf. Your mind has to go somewhere else and you can kind of clean slate everything. For me, it’s very cathartic.
Glamour: I’d love to get married where they play the Masters, at Augusta National.
Aaron: Oh wow, that’s amazing. But is that even possible to get married on that golf course?
Glamour: I don’t know! It’s just the most beautiful, relaxing place. No need for flowers, they’ve got those!
Aaron: It’s a piece of heaven. And the music they run on CBS to go with it! Jim Nantz’s voice! It’s like, “Can you just read soft tones for me to sleep?” Oh, and also, I’m a mind/body guy and need to be physically active, so I like working out. I read a lot too. Almost every night before I go to bed.
Glamour: What do you read?
Aaron: Glamour. Definitely Glamour. [Laughs] I read novels. I read an article that says you should be away from technology for the last half-hour before you go to bed and you sleep better, and I totally buy it. It’s just a way to get away.
Glamour: Lastly, what’s the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do in life, given your success?
Aaron: The coolest thing is that—and I still pinch myself—that I got my first job under the craziest circumstances 11 years ago. I got cast in the national tour of Rent, and I had just switched to theater in my school. I was loving what I was doing, but didn’t know much about the business. It just so happened that the music director for that tour went to my college and did a workshop with one of our classes. Afterwards, he said, “Hey, you’re great for this. If anything comes up for this, I’m going to call you.” I was thinking, Sure dude, yeah. And then three months later, he called me in for the final callback of this part. I got it and dropped out of school that day. I had just become an acting major in college, and like a year later, I was doing eight shows a week on tour. It just happened. I think for a long time I thought I was going to get found out that I really didn’t know what I was doing, so I tried to overcompensate for that. The fact that all of these things have been able to continue and my life is so vastly different every day…I mean, I get to go to work, and I honestly jump out of bed when my alarm goes off…
Glamour: What’s your secret? [Laughs]
Aaron: My secret is that I’m in a very small percentage of people who gets to utterly love what I get to do. And people pay me for it! What a joy that is. But besides that, the moments that have taken the cake are the opening nights of Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can. I’ll never forget those. And then performing at the Oscars for Les Mis and seeing Daniel Day Lewis and Jennifer Lawrence in the front row. That was a very seminal moment [in my career], and I think Grease: Live will be another one.
That was so fun! Thank you!! https://t.co/oAso3tuErC
— Aaron Tveit (@AaronTveit) January 23, 2016
Thank you @AaronTveit for a great date this afternoon at the Frosty Palace! @GoGrease @glamourmag pic.twitter.com/YQygp5pPD3
— Jessica Radloff (@JRadloff) January 23, 2016
Grease: Live airs this Sunday night on FOX at 8 P.M. ET LIVE. Until then, entertain yourself with 13 weirdly entertaining facts about the Kardashians:
Photos: FOX; Tommy Garcia