When Andy Met Dolly: This is What Happened on “Heartstrings”

Written by | Screen

Andy Mientus

Andy Mientus is an out actor known for his work on stage (Spring Awakening) and screen (from Smash to The Flash). Now he’s set to make an even bigger splash — as a guest on Dolly Parton’s new anthology series, Heartstrings.

(Parton recently made some headlines of her own in gay media. After the release of her dancefloor throwdown “Faith” collaboration with Swedish EDM producers Galantis, she revealed that she’s considering putting together a collection of dance-pop tracks for her gay fans.)

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Lights Up

We caught up with Mientus recently after a production of his own in Los Angeles. Here, he talks about Heartstrings and singing with the legendary Ms. Parton in an episode based on her song, “Two Doors Down,” which has been adapted to tell a coming out story. Mientus also delves into writing queer-positive children’s books and how he’ll be perfectly content playing gay characters throughout the rest of his career.

Metrosource: So Andy, what are you allowed to tell us about the Dolly Parton project?

Mientus: Every episode is loosely based on one of her songs, using the lyrics as a jumping-off point. I’m one of the leads of the last episode of the season which is based on the song “Two Doors Down.” And I star opposite (Academy Award winner) Melissa Leo, which is hugely exciting.

Dolly found out that I’d sung “Hard Candy Christmas” for a benefit, so she demanded that we sing it together. We were at a table read, and she was like, “I understand you sang ‘Hard Candy Christmas.’ I hope you’ll sing it with me now.” And so we just sang it a capella in front of everybody. It was a total “pinch me” moment.

Author, Author

Metrosource: But you’re also fairly busy elsewhere, right? Not a lot of people know you’re an author, too.

Mientus: I write a very queer series called The Backstagers which has a very diverse cast of sexualities and gender identities, written for 10 to 14-year olds. The third installment of that came out last month. What I love about The Backstagers is that while there’s a diversity of identities represented, no one’s storyline is focused on their sexual identity, and definitely never in a traumatic way.

The kids are who they are. In their world, there is no coming out, because there’s no tension around your identity. The stories are about adventure and friendship and other stuff and everyone’s sexual identity is just a given.

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Bi the Way

Metrosource: And yet, before you married Michael (Arden) in 2016, you also had relationships with women. How do all of those puzzle pieces fit together for you?

Mientus: I get a lot that I am outspoken about my sexuality, which always feels funny to me when I hear it because I wouldn’t say any straight or fully gay person feels outspoken about their sexuality just by talking about it.

Because bisexuality is still kind of a weird nebulous thing: Most people know a gay person, but they don’t know a bi person. Or they don’t know that they know a bi person. It feels extra political when I talk about it openly. So then I get a lot of feedback from people who are following my career.

Particularly young people that it means something to them that I’m an example, especially with my sort of nonchalance about it, that it’s good for them to hear. So I feel a bit of a responsibility on the high Holy days of Pride and Bi Visibility Day, when it feels appropriate, to just put it out there a little extra, because I know there’s an audience for that.

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Central Casting

Metrosource: You’ve been able to play a variety of gay roles. And that’s not always been the case — for out gay people to be cast gay. But you have been scooping them up for the past few years.

Mientus: It’s a sensitive topic right now. As we’re talking about authenticity in casting and representation and what that means, and is it enough to just have a queer character?
Does he also need to be played by a queer actor?

Another element is that I’m really interested in playing queer people. It’s one less layer that I have to worry about when I’m trying to deliver something authentic. I sort of relax into my queerness. The best I’ve ever felt on camera was when I was doing The Flash, because it was a gay character who was really complex but also definitely, clock-ably gay.

Flash Forward

All the humor was written really gay and [having] gay executive producer Greg Berlanti, [with] him being in charge of how this character was gonna be presented was helpful. I think in other hands might not have been the same. So just to be able to not worry about how my queerness is coming through on camera — sort of like, let that be what it is.

Then to think about everything else that’s going on with this character – I just never felt so relaxed and comfortable, because I’m not trying to gauge how feminine is this character, how butch is he, which I have to do a lot of the time and I don’t even think about it.

It’s this calculation you have to make as an actor. So I love playing queer people because I can just relax and focus on the other stuff. I think it’s a positive thing when an out actor can play an out character because there’s gonna be some kid watching it who will get something out of that. It makes being an actor feel bigger than wanting to be famous. So I love it. I will play queer people at every opportunity.

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Last modified: November 27, 2019