Broadway fans know and love Aaron from musicals like Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can. And TV fans may recognize him as Trip van der Bilt on Gossip Girl. But the whole entire world is about to get a big old glimpse of our favorite leading man this Christmas when he graces the silver screen as swoon-worthy student revolutionary Enjolras in Les Miserables. On one of his rare days off from filming his new TV show Graceland, Tveit took the time to chat with us. Topics covered include: Enjolras’ ferociousness and chastity, his new West End friends, and his ‘awesome’ very first car. Here’s how it all went down…
M: When did you first see Les Miz?
A: I grew up an hour north of New York City, and I saw Les Miz when I was in tenth grade with my high school chorus. I didn’t think I knew the show, and then I was sitting in the theater and I was like, ‘How do I know all these songs?’ That’s the cool thing about it. It’s part of American pop culture, in a way. And I just loved it. I’d only seen a couple shows before that and you know—all the war, and the story—it got me. I loved it.
M: Did you picture yourself being in it when you first saw it?
A: Absolutely not. No. If you told me then, sitting in that theater, that I was going to be in the movie version of it I would have told you that you were crazy.
M: Film is so permanent. Did you feel any pressure about playing this iconic character on screen?
A: I have to say, I didn’t. I just didn’t think about the scope of it in that way. It definitely felt special, though. There were moments where I would turn to Eddie [Redmayne] or someone and be like, ‘Dude, this is different. This is a special thing.’ But I really didn’t concern myself with the weight of expectations or anything like that. I really just tried to prepare for it as I prepare for everything else and just focus. I find that with anything, you have to focus on the micro. If I look at the whole thing, I’ll get overwhelmed.
M: How do you see the character of Enjolras, and how did you prepare to play him?
A: We had six weeks of rehearsal for this film and before that, I read the unabridged version [of the novel]. Victor Hugo has so much description about his characters and about the time period. I mean, there’s a two page description of Enjolras in the novel, and it’s like acting gold. He talks about how this guy is in love with liberty and he’s fighting for the ideals of revolution, and that he’s this very kind person, but he’s capable of this ferocity. And there’s another line that any time he was approached by a female, Enjolras would “chastely” lower his eyes. I just thought that was so descriptive of who this guy is. Then, something that we found in rehearsal is that some of the students are kind of playing at revolution. They think it’s a good idea, but they might not really know what it means. But Enjolras has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He is wise beyond his years and he actually understands, and is committed to, the real ideals of what they’re fighting for. He knows in the back of his mind, even when they’re starting, that they’re going to be faced with death. And then by the time “Drink With Me” happens, I think Enjolras knows that he’s led his friends to death. So I just thought there was a weight to him and a depth and passion. And that’s where I started from.
M: Was there anything from the stage show that you were really hoping they’d keep in the film?
A: I was really interested in how they were going to handle Enjolras’s death. Because that is such an iconic moment that everyone knows from the stage. And I feel like the way that it’s done in the movie is wonderful because they’re giving a nod to the theatrical version, but it’s different, and it’s handled right within the scope of the story that’s being told on film. And I just liked how that whole scene in particular was handled. That final battle in the stage version is very fast and in tempo, and we didn’t have to stick to those parameters. Hadley [Fraser] could play out that moment completely and I could then react and play out that moment completely. Tom [Hooper] said to Hadley and I, ‘Listen, you guys happen to be on different sides of this conflict, but you guys grew up in the same neighborhood. You probably grew up together, and now you’re standing in front of each other.’ And when Grantaire and I are standing there, I think that played out in Hadley’s eyes. He knows he’s doing his duty, but he’s killing somebody that easily could be him. And I think that’s something that we were able to play out in that moment, because we had freedom to change what was on the page. I think that’s a great result of the live signing — not just that we sung live — but that moments like that could be fully realized.
M: It was crazy to see your face when Enjolras is about to die, because the audience doesn’t get that experience in a stage musical; you’re so far away.
A: That’s what I think is really cool about the movie. That’s the kind of depth and emotion that you’re trying to work with every night on stage. But when you have those moments, the audience can never see them that close-up.
M: So you didn’t get to wear Enjolras’ famous costume, which our friends call ‘The Xylophone’…
A: No, I didn’t!
M: Were you a little bummed?
A: You know, I think I was little bummed at first, but then, I loved the red coat that they got for me. Originally I think they wanted me to lose it for the battle, because everyone else stripped down to their waistcoats and sash, but I was like… You know what? I’ve got to keep the coat on. I don’t care, it may be hot in there, but there’s that iconic image from the xylophone — I gotta stick with this red coat. Even though it was a little different, I tried to keep something special as far as his costume.
M: Can you settle a bet for us?
M: Is that your real hair?
A: What do you think?
M: I’m guessing no, but…
A: It’s not. It’s a wig. They wanted all of us to grow our hair out for Les Miz, but because I had to shoot the pilot [for Graceland] I couldn’t. So as a result, they had to make me a wig, but they took my real hair to match the color. And even though it’s a little perm-y, I think it could definitely pass as if I had grown my hair out and they’d treated it.
M: So your real hair does not grow out curly like that?
A: My real hair does not grow out curly like that, no.
M: It’s kind of cool to see the wig, because I think the wig is what makes you not look like yourself.
A: That’s the other thing that I liked about it, too. Those costumes are so transformative, but it was another thing for me every day, having to spend the time in the hair chair. By the time I left, I saw a different person in the mirror, so it was like putting on this skin of this other person. I mean, that sounds so heavy, but it was the first time I’d ever experienced that and it was kind of cool.
M: Being the leader of the barricade boys, you were hanging out with all these West End actors, but you were on a set full of big-time film actors, so, what was that like?
A: It was great, man. They were such a great group of guys and we had so much fun. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as I did with those guys. Killian [Donnelly] and Fra [Fee] and Alistair [Brammer] are three of the funniest people I’ve ever met. And it’s unintentional comedy, you know what I mean? It’s not like they’re telling jokes or anything. They’re just hilarious. There were times, though, that we’d musical-theater-nerd-out a little bit. We would just break into song, or break into harmony with a show tune, and the film actors were definitely looking at us like “What is wrong with you people?”
They would do warm-ups every morning — I was usually in the hair chair and couldn’t get out — where one of the guys was playing piano and everyone else would be singing, but they would end up singing “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. And young Daniel [Huttlestone], the kid who plays Gavroche, would be there and at the very end, they would lift him like Simba.
M: We spied some great pictures of you and Daniel together—can you tell us about them?
A: From the very beginning, I just thought Daniel was the coolest, man. I was like, I want to grow up and be like Daniel one day. He’s [mimics Dan’s accent] got this straight cockney accent, right? Anyway, I loved this kid and we had the same hair and makeup girl and there was a continuity photo of Daniel showing his teeth I just loved, so I asked Becca, the hair girl, to take the same picture of me put it up next to Daniel’s so he would see it the next morning. And he loved it. So that was like, our little thing, that we both had the same teeth picture. He was like my little buddy on set.
M: So, we always joke about the barricade boys being history’s first boyband. In light of that, I want you to pick four other theater actors to be in a boyband with you.
A: Well, the ladies love a guy who’s kind of a badass, and a country southern boy, so I gotta go with my main man Jeremy Woodard. And because he can sing his ass off, and it would allow me not to sing all the high harmonies, I need to go with Steven Booth. I’m trying to think… who’s got some good moves, man? We need somebody to do some dance moves. Curtis Holbrook, another one of my buddies, can dance his ass off! And then you always need one guy who can sing low notes. I don’t know, is there anybody who sings low notes anymore?
M: This is a tough one. You can pick West End actors if you have any in mind.
A: Yeah, you know what, I think Fra would be the last member of our boyband. Just cause he’s hilarious.
M: Les Miz has a pretty devoted following the world over, but you’ve been in a bunch of shows that have pretty big followings, fromWicked and even Next to Normal, to Gossip Girl. So, which show has the craziest fans?
A: You know, I’d seen the show before I was on it, but I didn’t realize how many people lived and died by Gossip Girl, you know what I mean? I remember this one time, I was at Cosi ordering a beautiful Thanksgiving turkey sandwich and I see the girl working at the counter giving me the evil eye. And I get up there and she just goes “Uh-uh, Trip.” And I was like “Woah, what?” She just said “Trip, that’s messed up what you did to Serena.” I was like “Oh, my god. I’m just trying to get my sandwich. That’s not me, that’s a television show.” But I mean, I have so many people come up to me and say like I’m an asshole or that they couldn’t believe I did that.
M: We talk to our readers all the time, and they are a little bit obsessed with you. In fact, they completely adore you. Is that kind of attention something that makes you uncomfortable, or do you kind of rock it?
A: Well I mean, you realize it’s because the work you’re doing is good, so people appreciate that, but I have to be honest, I really try to stay away from it. I think that if you start to think of yourself that way, it can really start to mess you up and get you in ego-maniac-ville, so I really try not to be aware of it as much as possible.
M: Between sports and theater and school, it sounds like you were super programmed when you were a kid. But, if you had an entire day to yourself back when you were sixteen years old, what would you have done?
A: When I was sixteen, this is what I used to do on the weekends: Five of my buddies and I would go play a pick-up basketball game in the afternoon, then get together and hang out. So it was all about really hanging out with my friends and I just loved to play sports. Although, at sixteen, I had just gotten my car and my license and I loved to drive the first car that I had. So, I probably would have spent an hour or so just driving around by myself.
M: What was your first car?
A: I had a 1993, two-door, green, Honda Accord, and it was awesome.
M: Did you put decals all over it? A spoiler?
A: No, I didn’t have a spoiler or anything. I just had a sick system in the back. Those subwoofers were bumpin’.
M: That’s such a suburban boy thing.
A: [Laughing] Oh yeah, I was like, gangster rap bumping in my ’93 Honda Accord in the suburbs. It was amazing.
M: On a scale of one to Tonya Harding, how competitive would you say you are?
A: Oh man! I don’t want to sound crazy. I don’t know, I’m pretty competitive. I mean, I have friends that need to gamble on everything and can never lose an argument and all that stuff. I’m not like that. But if you get me on a sports field or you get me competing for a job, in the sense that I work very, very hard to make sure that I’m in a good position to win those things, I would say — I’m totally qualifying my number right now, that’s what I’m doing — I’d probably say if ten is a Tonya Harding then I’m like… a 7.5? Or something.
M: Lightning round! Do you sing in the shower, and if so, do you have a go-to song?
A: Yes, I sing in the shower. And I don’t have a song of choice. It’s whatever random thing is in my head, which… I have a musical rolodex and could be anything. I mean, anything.
M: What was your favorite TV show when you were a kid?
A: Oh my god, I watched so much television when I was a kid. But my favorite show was probably a tie between Ghost Busters and Family Matters.
M: Favorite breakfast cereal.
A: Frosted Flakes.
M: What is your favorite book of all time?
A: That’s a hard one. The one that just popped into my mind — since this lightening round – is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
M: Favorite mid-to-late 90s pop song?
A: “Return of the Mack”
M: Best choice ever!
A: [Laughs] A buddy of mine just got married and we got to write in to the DJ and I submitted that and they played it during the wedding. It was amazing.
M: What are some words that you use too often?
A: I think I said it in this interview. It’s ‘rad.’ I think ‘rad’ is done. It finished in like, the late 90s and I still rock it. I also say ‘awesome’ too much, I realize that. But I really mean it, though, when I say it!
M: What are some words you don’t use often enough?
A: I try to say ‘thank you’ as much as I can, but I feel like, we could always do that more. But I really make a point to say ‘thank you.’ Maybe ‘I’m sorry’?
M: What is the most annoying costume you’ve ever worn?
A: The Second Act Fiyero thing, the military outfit. It used dig into my neck every day and I didn’t like it. It was, like, all up in my neck business.
M: Best subject in school?
M: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
A: I honestly do not know.
M: Did you ask Santa for anything special for Christmas?
A: My Mom still stuffs a stocking from Santa. So it’s usually like, my deodorant and my socks that I wear and chapstick and hair products. So I guess that’s kind of what I ask Santa for, because that’s what’s supposed to be from Santa, quote unquote, in my house.
M: Last but not least, what would you give Enjolras for Christmas?
A: Oh man, I’d give him a beer or something. I want to be like, relax, dude. Let’s just take it down a couple levels here. Like, I get it, but let’s just take it easy.
Photos: aarontveit.net; ©efmgt