We’re at lunch, and Aaron Tveit, star of the upcoming USA drama Graceland, is giggling nervously.
I had just brought up a post—a series of photos, really—published on BuzzFeed while Tveit’s breakout film Les Misérables, in which he played the passionate revolutionary Enjolaras, was at the height of its theatrical run. The post was called “The 42 Most Seductively Charming Aaron Tveit Moments of All Time.”
“A friend of mine sent me that link,” he says, laughing. “I clicked and scrolled down to two of them and then was like, ‘Oh no,’ and closed it immediately. I didn’t look at the rest of them.”
Over the past few years, especially since he donned the dashing red coat and curly wig in Les Miz, mainstream sites have been catching on to Tveit—and his good looks. HelloGiggles called him the Crush of the Week. StarCrush named him its Daily Swoon. There’s even a Pinterest board called “Aaron Tveit with some slightly less attractive men.”
The 29-year-old actor, who is already a god in the theater community, nervously calls the compliments “hugely flattering,” and is, as BuzzFeed says, “seductively charming” in the way he deflects the attention. That he’s adopted such a winning attitude about all the attention bodes well for him, as he’s about to get a whole lot more of it.
Graceland is Tveit’s first starring TV role, and his biggest screen credit to date—he’s previously guest-starred as Trip van der Bilt on Gossip Girl and played Peter Orlovsky in Howl. On the new show, he plays FBI rookie agent Mike Warren, who’s assigned a room in a Malibu beach house, which really existed, called Graceland, where agents lived in between staging undercover operations. The solving-crimes-in-the-sunshine look of Graceland is right on brand with USA’s other hit procedural dramas, White Collar, Suits, and Burn Notice. And just as those shows did with Matt Bomer, Patrick J. Adams, and Jeffrey Donovan, Graceland will earn Tveit notices as TV’s next big heartthrob.
The icing on the cake, however, is that Graceland shows off his impressive acting chops, not just his abs.
Tveit’s been fighting the pretty-boy actor stereotype for years—he was once even up for the role of a Disney prince, Prince Eric, in the Broadway production of The Little Mermaid. He was cast right out of college in the national tour of Rent as Roger before heading to Broadway in the swoon-inducing boyfriend roles Link in Hairspray and Fiyero in Wicked. He proved to be more than just the pretty boy who can sing, however, when he was cast in the 2009 production of Pulitzer Prize–winning musical Next to Normal, playing the son of a woman grappling with bipolar disorder. The role required darkness, a little maliciousness, and brooding anger in equal parts to the character’s boyishness.
“It was a complex, dark role,” Tveit says. “I didn’t get the notices because I was pretty. I wasn’t the leading man. I wasn’t a love interest. It wasn’t for those things. It was for my acting and singing abilities. It put me in a different arena.”
The raves for his performance in the show did all that. Still, Tveit needed to get to almost 30—his birthday is in October—to finally break out the way many people predicted he would have for years now. Multiple times he’s ventured down that Star Is Born path that should have led straight to Hollywood, only to encounter unexpected and disappointing detours.
After he opened Next to Normal on Broadway in April 2009, the buzz was that he might not just get nominated for a Tony, he’d win it. When the nominations were announced, however, each principal member of the cast was nominated but him.
Two years later, he made his leading-man debut in the musical adaptation of the Leonardo DiCaprio film Catch Me If You Can, a splashy, $13 million production from the creative team of Hairspray that was expected to run for years and catapult Tveit’s career into the Broadway stratosphere. Yet after receiving mixed reviews, the show ran for less than five months. Once again, Tveit was snubbed for the Tony.
Before all that, as the most passionate of Broadway fans and Gleeks know, Tveit was up for the role of Finn on Glee, which he knew would be a hit and make him a star if he signed on. But he turned it down to stay with the productions of Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can, both of which he had already committed to.
“It did look like I was on that plane,” Tveit says. “You debut in a new show, you get great notices, you get nominated for a Tony, you move on to star in another hit show, and then you’re there—it seemed like I was going to be on that trajectory. But I think it’s done more for me personally and professionally, the fact that I didn’t.”
Tveit was only 24 when he was snubbed of the Tony nod for Next to Normal, a sting eased slightly by the chorus of outrage and confusion in the theater community and among critics. But his manager reminded him then that the day after the Tony Awards, he was flying to Seattle to start rehearsing the out-of-town tryouts for a coveted leading role—Broadway favorites Gavin Creel and Matthew Morrison reportedly auditioned—in Catch Me If You Can.
“He said, ‘You know people think that the Tony nom is job security,’” Tveit remembers. “‘But you’re about to leave for a job. You’re working.’ I learned at a young age that being an actor, and an actor that wants to have a long career, those things do not a career make.” Still, it would have been nice to have gotten that nod: “I mean yeah, that would’ve been amazing.”
Chalk it up to the “everything happens for a reason” philosophy. Tveit could easily be stuck playing a two-dimensional teenager in a TV musical series or a vapid pretty boy in a high-school soap opera now instead of a challenging, complex character on a gritty cable drama.
“My character goes through some really tough stuff of what these rookies encounter early on in their career,” he says of Graceland. “It really goes down in the dredges of the undercover work and the terrible, terrible things that happen.” In other words, this is not Glee. “Characters like this and shows like this are just more interesting, and I’m more interested in the more serious, darker things,” he says. “I worked really hard to push the bounds of what I’m castable as. Now the timing is just right.”
So people will drool at handsome photos of him in BuzzFeed posts. But they’ll also be hooked by genuinely impressive acting chops in an addicting TV show.
In May, Tveit performed six solo shows at the Broadway nightclub 54 Below, adding two of them after selling out his first four faster than any performer in the club’s history. He sang showtunes and standards, sure. He also crooned a surprise—and impossibly adorable—version of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” that stopped the show and instantly went viral, popping up on entertainment gossip sites like Perez Hilton and Just Jared, not to mention countless Broadway blogs.
“I went to my music director and I was like, ‘This could either be great or the worst thing ever,’” Tveit says with a laugh, as if such a thing would not be Internet gold. (Suffice it to say, the overwhelming ruling fell on the side of great.) Talented, yes—immensely so. But Aaron Tveit really is just so seductively charming.