A conversation with Jesse St. James, Kristoff and Agent James


Abbey Cutrer

Actor and singer Jonathan Groff spoke to UK students via Zoom on Tuesday, Jan. 25. Groff was this semester’s distinguished speaker for the Student Activities Board and spoke about his roles in “Glee,” “Hamilton” and “The Matrix.”

Sarah Graves, director of cultural arts on UK’s Student Activities Board, introduced moderator Dr. Kody Frey before announcing Groff. She described him as “an American actor on both the Broadway stage and screen” and spoke about his breakout performance in “Spring Awakening.”

Frey started off this conversation call by asking what Groff has been into lately.

“‘The Matrix’ training got me really into working out, and it’s been two years going,” Groff said. “I started working out with a trainer five times a week, and then I sort of hung onto it. I work out four times a week now, so I have a makeshift gym in my basement.”

Groff played the role of Agent Smith in “The Matrix” and spoke about his fight scene with Keanu Reeves later in the conversation.

Groff continued to talk about how he and five friends started a film club, where he’d watch two to four movies a week and get on a Zoom call to talk about them.

Frey moved the conversation along by asking Groff to give a background to his career as well as his introduction to performing. Groff delved into the beginnings of theater in his life.

Groff described his childhood in theater, referring to Halloween costumes such as Mary Poppins and Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz”.

“In fourth grade, we went to see the high school production of ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ and there was something about it that really landed with me, and then I became obsessed with everything theater,” Groff said.

Frey asked Groff about his role as Kristoff in the Disney movie “Frozen.”

“Oh my gosh, I auditioned, I went in and recorded, I read these scenes, and thought ‘Okay it’s never gonna happen,’” Groff said. “And then four months later, I got this call that my voice was one of three male voices that they were pairing with Kristen Bell and they were gonna take a survey, and so my voice ended up, people thought, pairing the best with Kristen’s, and that’s how I got that part in the movie.”

Frey asked if recording for “Frozen” was similar to creating bonds like Groff did on the Broadway sets, since the actors spend so much time together. Groff said the situation was “totally the opposite.”

“You don’t ever interact with anyone except for your filmmakers, so I don’t think I ever even saw Idina [Menzel], Kristen or Josh [Gad] until we sat down to watch the movie together for the first time,” he said. “We never interacted, ever.”

Groff explained that it sounded like they were actually talking to each other when the movie came out, and that it was crazy how production did that.

Groff acted as “Glee’s” Jesse St. James, lead male of Vocal Adrenaline and main antagonist, in season one.

Groff explained that he didn’t want to be singing all the time, but wanted to “flex different muscles.” He decided not to sign onto a whole seven years of “Glee,” but instead agreed to do a single season as Jesse St. James.

“It was perfect, because it was something not like me because [Jesse] was kind of a d*ck,” Groff said. “When I joined the show, it had already become this global sensation. I was nervous.”

Frey concluded the conversation with questions from the students. A student asked if Groff is a “Gleek” in real life.

Groff responded, “Absolutely.”