Actor Jonathan Groff gives STACK a tantalising glimpse into working on the fourth chapter of the mind-bending sci-fi saga, The Matrix Resurrections.
Nobody could accuse Jonathan Groff of having a dull or predictable career. From his breakthrough TV roles in hit shows Glee and Looking to voicing Kristoff in Disney’s Frozen, he swiftly moved on to portray an FBI agent analysing infamous serial killers in the dark TV drama Mindhunter.
Also twice Tony-nominated for his roles in Broadway musicals Spring Awakening and Hamilton, his new role in the hugely anticipated The Matrix Resurrections is just the latest twist in a fascinating career.
Along with all the cast of director Lana Wachowski’s fourth instalment in The Matrix franchise, Groff has been sworn to secrecy, although he offers STACK some tantalising details.
“I can tell you that my character is a business partner to Thomas Anderson (Neo),” he teases. “And I will add that my whole experience of working on this movie could be a whole movie in itself.”
Asked if it’s been tough holding on to the secrets of the new Matrix for more than two years, he laughs, “Having been in the closet until I was 23 has made me very good at keeping secrets. For better or worse, it comes naturally,” says Groff, 36, whose public acknowledgement about his own sexuality was inspirational to his millions of his fans.
Just 14 when he first watched the original Matrix, the experience of being in this latest iteration has been nothing short of surreal.
“I remember renting the VHS for the first Matrix at Blockbuster with my friends and being amazed. Nothing has been the same ever since,” he says.
Groff immediately bonded with Lana Wachowski, who returns as director for the first time without her sister, Lilly; Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Jada Pinkett Smith reprising their roles as Neo, Trinity and Niobe, respectively.
“I was rehearsing for a play when casting director Carmen Cuba, who I had worked with before, called and asked me to audition for ‘a very exciting movie with a very exciting director,’” recalls Groff.
“It was very secretive and I flew to San Francisco and met Lana and her wife, Karen, and their dog, Itchy. We did a lot of work trying the scenes but, beyond the audition, there was a deep profound creative conversation.
“Lana talked about the death of her parents and how that inspired her to make this film. I shared with her about how I lived in San Francisco while I did Looking and how this was the show that helped me come to terms with my sexuality and it was like a public statement of who I was, and I was tearful telling her about this and we had a very soulful exchange.
“I left the audition feeling like, ‘Wow, I have no idea if I’m going to get this movie’ but I was so moved by how personal and human she is. She’s magical, like a completely brilliant unicorn creative genius and yet, at the same time, is so open,” he says, adding how Lana FaceTimed him two weeks later, inviting him to join the movie along with new cast members Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Christina Ricci and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, taking over Laurence Fishburne’s role as Morpheus. “I still can’t quite believe it’s real,” he adds.
But then the real work would begin – working with a personal trainer in New York for two months followed by a further two months of fight training in San Francisco, before relocating to Germany in February 2020 for the actual shoot, which was promptly halted a month later due to Covid-19.
Wachowski toyed with the possibility of shelving the project and leaving the film unfinished, but the cast pressured her to finish it, and filming resumed in August 2020.
Inspired by the example set by Reeves and Moss, Groff says, “Keanu is incredibly humble and leads by example. He doesn’t bring his cell phone to set and he’s there to work, trying just as hard – even harder – than everyone else.”
He believes that Matrix fans will be more than satisfied with Resurrections. “Keanu and Carrie-Anne are recreating characters which became so iconic. They were in their 30s back then and now they’re in their 50s, so watching them take those roles on again was very beautiful, mostly because of the people they are; real people, very salt of the earth. They’re not sliding into the Matrix to cash a pay-check; they’re here to challenge themselves and say something creatively and to fulfill Lana’s vision. It was very moving to watch them inhabit those characters again.”
• The Matrix Resurrections opens in cinemas on Dec 26