Glee has become a cultural phenomenon since its debut on the Fox network less than a year ago. The show has achieved that rarefied combination of critical and commercial acclaim, much to the surprise of those who dubbed the weekly musical a "long shot for success." Viewers who tune in to the quirky hour long musical situation comedy each week have even pledged their undying loyalty by labeling themselves "Gleeks."
One of the stars of Glee, Chris Colfer, epitomizes theatre geek-chic playing the complex young Kurt Hummel, a gay teenager torn between his love for the school's glee club and his desire to fit in. Colfer's character, Kurt, is enviably comfortable in his own skin one minute and desperately searching for life's answers the next. I know what you're thinking... welcome to high school! Isn't that how we all felt?
Since becoming familiar with the show, Glee has become my own personal antidote to Reality TV fatigue. It's back to good old fashioned characters we can love and interesting storylines that keep us coming back each week for more.
The fact that Kurt's sexuality is a mere footnote in the show's plotline and not what defines him is a refreshing take on things. Colfer's character is very likely Glee creator Ryan Murphy's idealized version of what his own high school years should have resembled.
Chris Colfer brings a sweet ironic humor to Glee. As an actor he gets it, that delicate balance that lends itself to impeccable comic timing. He belts out emotional solo numbers while offering up effortless punch lines with a mere expression. The new season of Glee shows Chris Colfer's character Kurt Hummel coming into his own, both socially and musically, and this Tuesday's episode (Tuesday, April 27, 2010 9/8c on Fox) is a must see!
Chris and I had a lot of fun as he shared inside stories from the Glee set, revealed his dream guest star, and recalled some of his most exciting moments since becoming part of the TV title wave that is Glee.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): I heard that Glee is actually your very first acting job.
Chris Colfer: Yeah, first job, period. Though I did work at a dry cleaners during summers in high school.
PR.com: How did you find out about the audition for Glee?
Chris Colfer: I was living in Clovis, California which is about a four hour drive from LA. I had an agent in LA and once a month she would send me out on an audition, maybe twice a month if I was lucky. I would go back and forth [a lot]. I did that for about four years before I got the audition for Glee.
PR.com: When you first got cast and when you were shooting the pilot episode, did you think a sit-com musical would ever find an audience and be successful?
Chris Colfer: I think that when I first got the script and when I was given the audition I instantly fell in love with the script, because for one, it was funny. And two, I was the audience that I think it was targeting. It was about a bunch of theatre geeks, and that's exactly who I was in high school. So I definitely knew there was an audience for it, because I was part of that audience. And then I think while we were filming it was such a joyous, fun experience and we certainly all hoped that would come through when people were watching. It's such a happy, upbeat show that I think it came at the perfect time.
PR.com: When fans of Glee stop you on the street what do they ask you most about the show and about your character Kurt? What do you constantly hear?
Chris Colfer: Usually it's "Is that your real voice?" I'm never quite sure if they mean the singing voice or just my high pitched speaking voice that I was cursed with (laughs). I say "Yes," but I'm never sure what question I'm answering. Sometimes it's not a question. It's just "I loved Single Ladies," or "I loved Defying Gravity." And sometimes it's, "I love your character," or "I am your character." It's kind of interesting that now when people hear Single Ladies, a song about a woman having relationship trouble because her boyfriend won't commit, they think of me. It's a little strange.
PR.com: (Laughs). When you do your solo numbers do you pre-record the song and then lip sync to a playback of it when shooting a scene, or do you sing live during filming?
Chris Colfer: We go to the recording studio first where we sing and record it. Then while we're filming we lip sync to our track. But lip syncing is really, really hard for all of us. We end up just singing it anyway, and sometimes they'll use [the version] of us on the set singing.
PR.com: I just saw your episode which will air on April 27th, where your character, Kurt's, father and Finn's mother get together. I've never been much of a TV person, but I've been getting into Glee and I love how it has that perfect tapestry of comedy and music. What was the most enjoyable part of shooting that particular episode?
Chris Colfer: I'm a little strange because I love the dramatic scenes, when you get into it and get emotional, it's so much fun for me. It's kind of like candy. I love doing that, and I think that my newfound passion is giving a performance while singing. But I really feel like singing is the best tool to get an emotion across.
PR.com: You mean singing in character?
Chris Colfer: Yes, singing in character, having a purpose, an emotion and a motivation behind the song. I don't know if I could ever just be a recording artist and just sing songs. I much prefer having it within a plotline and having a storyline behind it.
PR.com: Did you bring some personal life experiences into the more dramatic scenes in that particular episode, like the conflict between Kurt and his father?
Chris Colfer: I keep saying no, but I have been through a lot of stuff in my short little life, so I think I do without knowing it. I think I do bring some emotions that are deep down in there, whether it's growing up with a sister with special needs or being teased every single day at school from K through 12. I think I do probably bring up a little bit of emotion that I don't realize.
PR.com: I would think that young people out there who are gay would take comfort in watching your character on the show. It gives them a reflection of themselves to look to, which is something we really didn't have on television, even a decade ago. Do you get fan mail from young people telling you that?
Chris Colfer: Every day; usually in the hundreds. Either fan mail through the actual mail or on Facebook, on Twitter and on MySpace. People write to me every day telling me how glad they are that there is a character like Kurt, and how much they look up to him. It's very rewarding.
PR.com: They feel like they can relate.
Chris Colfer: Yes, and I almost feel like I did that on purpose. When I was growing up the only gay characters that were present in the media were loud and flamboyant and obnoxious, and sometimes annoying. I really didn't want to play Kurt that way, and I really didn't know anyone like that growing up. I did know tons of gay people, but they were always, especially in a conservative town where I grew up, they were always very shy and internal and had to hold their emotions in[side] because they weren't really allowed to express it. That's kind of how I wanted to play Kurt, kind of different from what has been seen. I think that maybe that's what people have been picking up on and have been happy to see.
PR.com: I feel like I am definitely showing my age, because I'm asking about fan mail and you're like, "No, people contact me on Facebook and Twitter."
Chris Colfer: That was a complete surprise for me. Not to say I was expecting fan mail, that's pretty vain, but I was expecting it to all come through the mail, like what you said. But I guess everything is digital now. Who actually writes a letter? Who pays forty-four cents to send a letter? (Laughs).
PR.com: When I was a kid, if you were a fan of someone you mailed them a letter and they sent you an autographed headshot.
Chris Colfer: And now you can just copy and paste one.
PR.com: Do you find it hard to get through a scene with Jane Lynch without losing your focus and without laughing?
Chris Colfer: (Laughs). Yes, absolutely! It's probably the hardest thing any of us have to do. She is so funny, and she will adlib and go off the script. Even things she says to you in between scenes are hysterical. She's a comedic genius and it's so hard. Sometimes you have to think about something really, really horrible like a tragedy of some kind just to get through it, because she's just that good.
PR.com: Since the role of Kurt Hummel was created specifically for you, do you get any ongoing input into your character? Do the producers or writers ever ask you about what's going on in your own life or try to write your personality into your character?
Chris Colfer: Yes and no. There have been a couple of times when I have gone to Ryan Murphy ("Glee" Creator) and told him a couple of things that have happened to me, and then he writes it into the show. Or he'll ask me what song I would want to sing, in this situation or in that situation. I don't think any of us directly try to give input on the character or on the storyline, but they definitely steal things from us. I remember I was talking to Ryan about when I was in high school and I really wanted to sing "Defying Gravity." The other students in my drama class and the teachers, when we were putting on this talent show, they wouldn't let me sing it because I was a boy and it was a girl's song. And then that was made [into] an episode.
PR.com: What is it like for you to be around a pool of talent like Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, and all of these amazingly talented performers?
Chris Colfer: It's so surreal. I used to be a total fanatic for all of these people. Now that I get to work with them, and I know them and they know me, and I have their email addresses. It's very strange. I've always been a huge fan of Kristin Chenoweth's. She really is a fantastic role model for all of us, showing how she is just as nice and sweet to everyone as she is talented. She's an incredible person.
PR.com: Can you see yourself working on Broadway at some point?
Chris Colfer: I hope so. I really want to be Pinocchio, if Disney ever did Pinocchio on Broadway. Actually, some of my fans I think started a Facebook petition for me to do that (laughs). But I would love to do it, maybe in between seasons of Glee. It's always been a goal.
PR.com: Why Pinocchio?
Chris Colfer: Because I just look so much like him. I think it would be a shame if I didn't play him at one point.
PR.com: When you and the rest of the Glee cast have your rehearsals does it take awhile to nail the comic timing of a scene, and to get the jokes to that perfect point that we enjoy seeing on television?
Chris Colfer: No, not really at all. Usually we just run through it once and then we have it. I guess we're all very fortunate because all of us have pretty good comic timing. As soon as we read it we know where to pause, where to take the dramatic effect, and where to take the comedic effect with each line of dialogue. But it doesn't take us that long, and maybe it's because we all know our characters so well.
PR.com: Are all of you very much in sync where you can play off of each other very effortlessly?
Chris Colfer: I think it's actually more entertaining when the camera is off, and we're just kind of sitting there having fun with each other. As witty as the characters are on screen, you should see the actors off screen.
PR.com: Did you actually sneak bacon bits into Lea Michele's salad, although she is a vegetarian? I don't remember where I read that...
Chris Colfer: (Laughs). No, I didn't. I should have though. No, I was kidding. A tabloid actually posted an article about Lea, about how [she] eats nothing but pork and ribs and hamburgers and all that. She couldn't have been more mortified because [she's] a hardcore vegetarian. So I just wanted to post a Tweet at her expense. As funny as it does sound, I couldn't. She probably would have gotten sick. But it is pretty funny to think about.
PR.com: Are you excited for the Glee live tour, and will you be a part of the tour?
Chris Colfer: Yes I am. It's going pretty well. We're starting to get prepared for it. I'm so excited and so nervous. I think I'm equally as excited as I am nervous about it. I think the biggest audience I've ever performed live for is, like, five hundred maybe, like a school play or a community theatre play. To think that we are going to be performing at Radio City Music Hall in front of six thousand people, that's a little nerve wracking.
PR.com: This live Glee show is touring around the country?
Chris Colfer: We're going to Phoenix, L.A., Chicago and New York.
PR.com: What is this live version of Glee going to be like from start to finish?
Chris Colfer: We're all going to be in character, and it's going to be a big choir room scene where we all kind of reminisce and do songs that we love, and the fans love.
PR.com: Tell me about your recent trip to The White House.
Chris Colfer: Oh God! It was incredible. I am a huge, huge history buff. Just to be there and be breathing the same air that so many Presidents have, it was pretty incredible. We did Oprah on Saturday and then The White House on Sunday, so it was quite a weekend; a weekend that none of us will ever forget. And Sunday we rehearsed all morning, and we had so much time to just walk around The White House and walk around The White House lawn. We took tons and tons of pictures, and it was such an incredible experience.
PR.com: And you performed at The White House?
Chris Colfer: We did, for their Easter Egg Roll.
PR.com: I'm a huge history buff as well. I get star struck in D.C., not in Los Angeles.
Chris Colfer: (Laughs). Me too, like people you see on C-SPAN. I'm a total speech and debate nerd from high school, so I'm right there with you.
PR.com: What is the number-one most surreal experience you have had so far on this whole journey, since Glee began airing?
Chris Colfer: Every time I pick the most surreal experience, one ups it, like, the next day. I would probably say walking into a room full of people who watch the show and they just start screaming, and they're so excited to see us. They're reaching for us, and they want to take pictures with us and have us sign their CDs or whatever they have. That's such an incredible experience. I wish everyone could experience it. That has been the most surreal. I remember when I was in high school and I would walk into a room, and people would go, "Ugh." And now it's, "Aaaahhhh!" That will never get old. And then having Madonna give a quote about us and mentioning our names.
PR.com: Do you remember what the quote was?
Chris Colfer: The part I read, and I blacked out afterwards because I was so excited, she said that Sue Sylvester/Jane Lynch and Kurt Hummel/Chris Colfer are her favorite characters. I still haven't fully accepted that. How do you fully accept that?
PR.com: Who is your dream guest star for Glee?
Chris Colfer: I have been trying to pitch this, so help me out with this... I really, really want Julie Andrews to come on the show and play Kurt's fashionable grandmother. But anyone like her who is just a living legend. Anyone that's been around so long and has so much experience and knowledge. I would love to pick their brain if they came on.
PR.com: How would you fill in this sentence? "My intention for my character Kurt is to..."?
Chris Colfer: My intention for Kurt is to show the world that not every zebra is the same shade, and just to give hope. There are so many kids out there who watch him and look up to him, just to give people hope and strength. That is I think my biggest intention. And to show the little sparks of bravery that are in us all.
PR.com: You are a remarkable example of a young person in the entertainment industry. You have an amazing perspective, and you're down to earth and a really kind soul.
Chris Colfer: Thank you. You're making me farklempt!
"Glee" airs Tuesdays at 9/8 Central on Fox. Visit fox.com/glee to get your "Gleek" on!