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Aaron Tveit Reveals a New Side of Himself Onstage and Off

July 10, 2018 by Tess Gunty
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Aaron Tveit (Photographed by Nathan Johnson)

Aaron Tveit is the man everyone wants to be — or to have. His fervent fans, a sweet but somewhat frightening breed, refer to themselves as “Tveitertots,” and listicles chronicling reasons to love him abound. There are even gifs about his hair. But perhaps the most striking thing about Tveit’s appeal is his own indifference to the attention. Upon arriving at the lakefront cottage in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where the actor stayed while starring in “Company” at Barrington Stage, an exuberant labradoodle rushes to greet us. “This is Miles,” Tveit grins, and his easy appeal radiates.

Most of Tveit’s sentences begin with some iteration of: I’m very lucky. It’s his refrain. “I’m in this tiny percentage of people that jumps out of bed in the morning to go to work because I absolutely love what I get to do for a living,” he says. “I always remind myself of that — especially in this crazy f—ing world that we’re living in right now.”

People who court Tveit’s degree of success usually declare that they’re special, but Tveit repeatedly insists that he’s just like everyone else. Anointed with titles like “Broadway Wonder Boy” and “Broadway’s Favorite Boyfriend,” the actor patiently dismantles myths of perfection, instead emphasizing his gratitude. “I’m just a regular guy,” he says. He loves fantasy novels, had a crush on Alicia Silverstone as a preteen, and listens to 90s rap when he needs to cheer himself up. Tveit’s friends from home keep him grounded — they travel far to see him perform and support him at every turn. “But they’re also the first to say: ‘Hmmm, we don’t know if you’ll make it,’” Tveit says with a laugh, “which is the best thing I could ask for.”

Aaron Tveit (Photographed by Nathan Johnson)

It’s natural to imagine Tveit starring in a series of wholesome vignettes. He loves his parents and visits them often, and recently built a fence around their property for Miles. He’s allergic to dairy, a believer in ghosts, a bit of a nerd. He is a student of the world, equipped with a kind of caffeinated curiosity that never crashes. “I had a teacher once say that curiosity is the best quality you could ever have as an actor, and that really resonated,” he says.

In Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” Tveit starred as Bobby — the last bachelor in a pathologically matrimonial group of friends — and he is quick to acknowledge his likeness to the character. Approaching his 34th birthday, Tveit remains a bachelor while most of his friends are married with kids. “My buddy came to see the show — I was the best man in his wedding recently — and he said, ‘Oh. So it’s just your life.’” But there are deeper similarities between Tveit and Bobby too. Despite his career choice, Tveit is an unwilling recipient of offstage attention, a reluctant receptacle for desire. He is the observed observer, reflecting the psychologies of those around him while remaining somewhat indecipherable, a blank-canvas quality that separates good actors from great ones. Like Bobby, Tveit is a host of quiet contradictions: He is present but elusive, open but guarded, social but withholding, expressive but hard to read.

In the past, actors have played Bobby as a brooding, bitter character, but Tveit chose a different interpretation. “My version of Bobby is an optimist,” he says. “He’s actually the only true romantic in the show.” Tveit references several lines and scenes that support his thesis statement. “He can’t fathom why anyone would get married without love.” While the other couples encourage Bobby to settle, Bobby holds out for something more. “I relate to him in that way. I’m an optimistic, happy person — and I’m a romantic. I believe that when you know, you know.”

Aaron Tveit (Photographed by Nathan Johnson)

When pressed on what he means by the word “romantic,” he elaborates with ease, traveling a well-worn neuronal path through the topic. “Deep down, I believe we’re all going to meet these great loves of our lives,” he says. “The verdict’s out whether it’s one person or many people — but we have the chance to open ourselves up, and I relish that opportunity.” Tveit upholds an ideal of marriage, which he believes Bobby shares. “If and when I get married,” says Tveit, “I want it to be once.” His parents have been together for nearly forty years, and Tveit describes their relationship with aspirational reverence. He summarizes the flimsy reasons that Bobby’s friends present him to buckle into lifelong commitment — “Because you have to, because it’s time, because you need to settle down, because that’s what real life is” — but neither Bobby nor Tveit cares for this sterile social contract. They care about love. Love in the particular. Love with claws and freckles and a fear of crosswalks. Love in dorky pajamas. Love with allergies. “I hope to be married one day and I hope that I’m going to meet someone that makes me feel…that way,” he says.

It’s hard to tell whether Tveit is an introvert or an extrovert, so it’s no surprise that he identifies as a “weird combination of both.” Around friends, he’s silly, unfiltered — but around strangers, he’s cautious. “Someone once told me that I had Norwegian reserve,” he says. “When I meet people for the first time, I sit back a little. If I’m psychoanalyzing myself, I guess I’d say I like to understand people before I interact with them. I don’t know if it’s a guarding mechanism — I’ve always been that way.”

His guarded nature might explain why he’s so hesitant to share on social media. Self-promotion has never been easier, and public figures have never been more pressured to capitalize on it, but Tveit finds most digital approaches pernicious. He did finally concede to Instagram and Twitter, but he mostly uses these platforms to promote projects. (Not even Miles has made it onto Instagram.) Nowadays, most young performers work to groom their brand, to generate an impression of intimacy between themselves and their followers. Tveit isn’t one to sneer, but he finds the platform-as-diary approach silly at best. “At the end of the day, I just don’t see why anyone would be interested in what I do outside my work. I see posts like that and I just think, who cares?”

What you’ll find on his social media is Tveit the actor. What you won’t find on his social media (or anywhere else online) is Tveit the person, and perhaps that’s why he still possesses a kind of purity. Mostly, Tveit’s social media proves that he is a man who works — hard and often. “I’m a person who’s never, ever satisfied,” he says, “and I have a really hard time resting. I don’t vacation well because I don’t, like, sit down very well. Those are tough qualities sometimes in my personal life, but as an actor I think they serve me really well.”

Tveit says the performers and creative professionals he’s worked with over the years have provided “shining examples.” “You look at these people who have this insane level of success, and then you meet them and they’re the nicest people in the world,” he says. “Hugh Jackman is someone I really, really look up to in that way. I mean, when we did ‘Les Mis,’ he had the hardest job of anyone there, and he was the nicest person in the room. He knew everyone’s name, was never late — led by such an ultimate example. I said to myself, ‘That’s the guy I want to be like.’”

Aaron Tveit (Photographed by Nathan Johnson)

Regarding the digital drool that appears when you Google his name, Tveit maintains a healthy, bemused detachment. “You have to let it go in one ear and out the other,” he says. He’s happy whenever people respond positively to his work, even if “that’s how they happen to be manifesting it.” Despite the feverish adoration, Tveit believes that his carefully preserved privacy has another advantage: It’s secured him respectful fans. “I’m very lucky,” he says. “I haven’t really had any kind of strange, uncomfortable, weird encounters. Fans have been nothing but wonderful and supportive for me.” I ask him how he feels about the term “Tveitertots.” “I think it’s absolutely hilarious,” he laughs. “That in itself — like, how could you take that too seriously? It’s so wonderful and silly and fun.”

But is it frustrating for his personal life? “People often say I’m not what they expected,” he answers. “But for me, it’s been a positive thing. Usually, they say I’m nicer than they thought,” he laughs. “Less serious, more ridiculous.”

As an actor accumulates celebrity, the role that’s toughest to maintain is that of the unadorned self: the regular guy who loves his labradoodle and his family, orders a turkey sandwich and recites the post-industrial history of Pittsfield. Despite the roles and the awards, the voice and the dancing, the YouTube views and Spotify plays, the 246K Instagram followers and the marriage proposals in the comments, Tveit is just a regular guy. And maybe that’s what makes him most exceptional.

Aaron Tveit (Photographed by Nathan Johnson)

Exclusively dressed by Todd Snyder

This article originally appeared in issue 001 of The X Magazine.

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