Showtime’s Black Monday is a unique animal. It’s both broad and subtle while also hilarious and dark. It’s kind of like a silly ’80s sitcom wrapped in a Farragamo sweater. In order to strike the balance of absurdity and pathos you need actors like Andrew Rannells. In one of the most subtly transformative performances currently on television, Rannells’s Blair Pfaff has the potential to become one of the most dangerous men to ever strut down Wall Street.
In Black Monday’s first season, Blair was a nerdy, submissive doof who thought he could earn a killing in the stock market. That doe-eyed innocence–something that Rannells truly excels at–is dashed by the end of the freshman season of the Showtime comedy. While Blair was naive on many fronts, he is also very intelligent. When you pair those smarts with a cunning thirst for the decadence of 1980s yuppy living (and, you know, a lot of cocaine), you get Blair Pfaff 2.0, and he’s a scary son of a bitch.
Blair and Tiff’s ambitions come more into focus at the start of the second season, and Rannells gets to play opposite his real-life partner (Tuc Watkins) when Blair gets involved with a closeted Republican congressman. Blair gets to experience a true connection with someone for the first time, and that being set during the height of the AIDS epidemic was something that Rannells wanted to make sure the show depicted correctly.
What’s so intriguing about Rannells’s performance is that we never know if he is manipulating someone for his personal gain or because he’s gotten so good at lying that he just can’t stop. Don’t let Blair’s adorable smile fool you. He will claw his way to the top, and he will take you down if necessary.
Awards Daily: I think Black Monday is the most underrated comedy on television right now.
Andrew Rannells: Thank you! We have two great creators, Jordan Cahan and David Caspe, that pitched it and said it’s very much a drama-style comedy set in the ‘80s, so we can lean into the tropes of those comedies but give us the room to be very human when possible. It’s really great to hear that you see that and enjoy it so much!
AD: How do you think Blair feels about fucking Mike Pence?
AR: I mean, right? From the writing perspective, how much does he know ahead of time and how much is Blair being genuine? It took a while to figure out what his motivations were. On the one hand, he’s much in love, but on the same page, he’s trying to get ahead. You can’t ever keep track of where his head is. I think his relationship with Tiff echoes that. Yes, Blair loves her and they are best friends, but he’s using everyone in a gross way. Why is he doing this?
AD: There is that scene where Blair is following Roger around—the scene with all the hats.
AR: Yes. (Laughs)
AD: But it feels really heartfelt. But three episodes later, you’re hooking up in the server room at the Halloween party and you’re trying to steal a check out of his pocket.
AR: I know.
AD: Blair has to make all of these decisions at such a breakneck speed, so that has to be hard to play that? You’re manipulating almost everyone and trying to keep a step ahead of everyone.
AR: He’s trying to keep letting greed get the better of him. Storywise, I think the challenge was to figure out where was his heart and where is his ambition. That’s the tricky balance. He might care about Roger, but he wants something else which I don’t you see out of a lot of gay characters.
AD: I agree.
AR: I was excited to get to play that duplicity. You can be in love but you can be hateful and ambitious. It was a really fun and hard thing to get to do. I really love figuring that all out.
AD: I love that you get to play so many different kinds of gay characters in your career. You had Elijah on Girls and your character on The New Normal, but I was very interested in you playing a gay character in this particular time period.
AR: It was a little tricky, and we talked about it in the writer’s room. We are either going to address the larger issue which is the AIDS crisis or we are going to portray a character who is in denial about the AIDS crisis. I may not say this right, but for a lot of affluent, privileged, Republican, closeted gays, they felt a little bit untouchable. I felt that’s where Blair put himself—this whole thing wasn’t even happening. I said to the writers that I didn’t want to be flippant about this. This is a time period that is very crucial and monumental for the gay community—my community—and we have to address it in the correct way. I feel like there was a lot of denial of the crisis, especially in the financial world. Since we are doing a comedy, I felt there was some leeway, but I didn’t want to be insensitive. This was a really horrible time for my people. In the context of the show and the world we are creating, we could get away with some of the denial of the situation. At least for this season, we are still dealing with folks who thought it didn’t apply to them. It’s an ugly part of that history. Trying to marry the two stories, we had to make some bold choices.
AD: I guess I never thought of how some people might consider themselves untouchable with that issue.
AR: There’s the Ed Koch of it all. There’s folks who didn’t feel like it applied to them. They could do whatever they wanted because they were very wealthy and entitled. That’s how I had to wrap my head around it. Tuc Watkins’s character and my character probably thought that this wasn’t a thing for them.
AD: The show doesn’t explicitly talk about it, but I feel it. It’s there. You can’t have gay characters in New York City in the late ‘80s and not feel it.
AR: That’s good! It’s a conversation that David, Jordan, and I had a lot of conversations about it. When we started this, Blair was not necessarily a gay character or a closeted gay character. This story came naturally to us in the second season, and we felt like it was something we could explore. My stance is that if we don’t have the real estate to unpack it, is it worth doing?
AD: We need to talk about Blair and Tiff. It’s some of the best things on the show.
AR: It’s nuts, right?
AD: There is a love there and maybe Tiff longs for Blair more than he puts into the relationship. You have a line where you tell her, “We have love. We have money. We have sex with anyone we want.” Is Blair bothered by hurting Tiff?
AR: I think there’s a weird compromise that they’re willing to make at this time. If this show took place 10 years after that, there would be a different situation where they could live together just as best friends and be together. Emotionally, I don’t understand what the ins and outs of those kinds of relationships would be in 1987, but I think that there might have been more compromise involved for two people who were willing to go down that road together. Tiff and Blair are much more open about it, too. They’re probably not aware, though, of how much of a detriment it is to each other’s hearts in a lot of ways, right?
AR: Neither of them are allowing themselves to be truly happy, but they are happy within the confines of what the society has presented them. They are doing the thing they are supposed to do. It’s not great.
AD: But at least they are aware it and they can control it more.
AR: If we flash forward 10 years, they would be the couple living in the Hamptons and Blair has a boyfriend and Tiff has a husband.
AD: Yeah, maybe.
AR: Or maybe they’re both dead?
AR: Because they are so mean to each other. They didn’t ever write into the pilot that there was a sort of abusive/S&M-y element to their relationship but Casey [Wilson] and I came up with it on set. They are so angry with each other, and the writers, to their credit, wrote it into the script and continued it into the series. Casey and I have the thought that these people aren’t really happy. (Laughs) They’re not in a great place.
AD: Yeah, they probably aren’t doing too well. (Laughs)
AR: She’s constantly hitting me.
AD: She really is.
AR: This is insensitive to say, but those are the moments where it’s hardest not to laugh on set. She just goes nuts. I have a really important question for you.
AR: How far have you seen of the second season? Have you finished it?
AD: No, I’ve seen up through episode 8.
AR: Do you feel like I look like George Michael?
AD: I actually do! I have “George Michael” written on my notes here. When you walk on screen for the Halloween party, I was taken aback by how great you looked in that costume.
AR: Thank you! They asked me who I wanted to go as and I told them George Michael.
AD: And you picked a really good version of George Michael.
AR: We have some really great hair and makeup people. Casey got to be Tom Cruise in Risky Business so that’s so perfect.
AD: And Blair would probably be super attracted to Tom Cruise in that movie.
AR: Right? Maybe that’s why she picked that costume? I also love that June Diane Raphael and Tuc came dressed as teachers. It’s just this really fucking weird thing, and I love it.
AD: I am a little obsessed with how Blair uses that low voice when he’s trying to impress people. You use it very early on this season when you’re pumping yourself up in the mirror and it pops up periodically throughout the season. Where does that originate from?
AR: I have been gay my whole life.
AD: You don’t say.
AR: My friend Zuzanna called me out once and said that when I get into a cab, I have a different voice. It’s deeper, and I didn’t realize I was doing it. She insisted that I lowered my register—this was probably 10 years ago when this happened. For this show, I thought I should find that again (laughs)
AD: I feel like every gay guy does that at some point, so I thought that was interesting to add to Blair.
AR: I’m sorry to ask, but are you a gay?
AD: I am a gay. Quite a notorious homosexual, yes.
AR: Well, I’m a gay as well.
AD: I’m glad you could feel comfortable with me to clear the air.
AR: There’s also that documentary, Do I Sound Gay? I’m still a grown man who is walking about, but I’m from the Midwest. I think about masculinity a lot when I moved to New York. I thought I had to look a certain way and act a certain way. That’s a little carryover from that, and I put that “acting straight” a little bit on Blair.
AD: Like, “Hey man.”
AR: Yes, exactly.
AD: I wanted to talk about Episode 8. You’re running through the hotel and there’s that huge moment at the end of the episode. I screamed when it happened, because I wasn’t expecting it. How much is that going to shake Blair up?
AR: It definitely shook me up, and we knew where it was going before we started it. That was so hard, and I had a lot of hesitation around it. Again, I wanted to be careful about people’s struggles with homosexuality. It’s a really terrible moment in the season, so it was really tough to do. For Blair, I think that was the moment where I was trying to find where the line between his ambition and his humanity lies. He wanted both and he wound up not getting both. He wanted the boyfriend and to be successful. On a personal level, that’s the character my boyfriend is playing. It’s hard to imagine anyone being in that position. That was a really tough day.
AD: I didn’t expect for Black Monday to go there. We root for Blair to get a boyfriend and loosen up a little bit, but that ending shocked me. I actually had to rewind it because I couldn’t believe it.
AR: When we started and Jordan and David discussed the tone, they told us it would be a serialized comedy. It’s not laughs, laughs, laughs, but there are some really big swings. They try to marry a lot of emotion into all of our storylines—it’s what makes the show unique in a lot of ways. Comedies don’t get to do a lot of that.
AD: Someone told me that you and Casey are working on a project about a musical theater camp?
AR: We sure are.
AD: What can you tell me about that? It reminds me of Camp, which I absolutely love.
AR: Casey and I are writing the screenplay on Mickey Rapkin’s book, Theater Geek, which is all about Stagedoor Manor. It’s for Universal, and we are writing about that specific camp and unpacking what the experiences there are like. I love Camp—I absolutely adore it. We’re trying to come up with a different version than that with more narrative. Maybe with one person going through the camp. Casey and I are huge musical theater fans, and I’ve devoted my life to musical theater. Camp was such a great movie, and my friend Robin de Jesús was in it, and we did The Boys in the Band together. We just want to tell a different version of what that camp experience is like. We’re onto something good.
Black Monday is available on Showtime.