When first-time actor Chris Colfer tried out for a role in Glee, co-creator and executive producer Ryan Murphy liked his audition so much that he created a role for him, as sensitive gay teenager Kurt Hummel. In the last year, Colfer has gone from unknown to a favorite of Glee’s large, loud cult audience, which loves his character’s superiority complex and complicated relationship with his father. Glee’s season finale airs on Fox on Tuesday, June 8 at 9 p.m. EST. Colfer and the rest of the show’s cast just returned from a stint on the road, supporting the show with a live stage production, and Colfer recently talked to The A.V. Club about taking Glee on the road, building a believable relationship with a guest star, and the perils and benefits of working with a large ensemble cast.
The A.V. Club: Now that you guys are back from the tour, what’s the schedule like?
Chris Colfer: Our schedule’s crazy when we’re on tour, but it’s nothing like our filming schedule. It’s very much more relaxed than our filming schedule. We basically put the tour together with about two and a half weeks of rehearsal, and it was kind of like a 9-to-5 thing. Ever since that, it’s kind of been all day, every day.
AVC: Do you get some time off, or are you just pushing through?
CC: Usually we would have a few hours in the morning if we didn’t have a matinee, but if we do have a matinee, it’s pretty much as soon as you wake up, you’re at the theater, then you’re at the theater all day doing matinee, then the evening performance.
AVC: Do you miss having a traditional TV off-season?
CC: Well, I wouldn’t know what it’s like. [Laughs.] We’ve never had time off. I’m sure I’d definitely get accustomed to it if we ever had it, but I kind of like staying busy. Not too much time to get bored.
AVC: Just over a year ago, you were pretty much an unknown, and now, you’re on a top-10 TV series. How have you managed that transition without going insane?
CC: That’s a good question. I struggle with that every day. [Laughs.] I don’t know. I think always staying focused and not taking things too seriously, but taking the important things seriously. Not taking yourself too seriously, that’s the important thing. And just enjoy it while it’s here, because every show ends, and we know that this time is limited, because that’s just the way it is.
AVC: How would you say your life has changed the most in this past year?
CC: Well, I recall spending hours and hours on my Facebook and MySpace when I was in high school, constantly refreshing the page, just hoping somebody sent me something, like a message or left a comment, or just any kind of communication with another human being. And now, I sometimes freeze my computer, because there’s so much activity on those sites.
AVC: It seems like co-creator Ryan Murphy has put a lot of the personal story of his relationship with his dad into Kurt’s story. Have you sat down and talked with him about that at all?
CC: Not too much. He does have a deep connection to those scenes, and when he’s describing to me what’s going to happen, or he’s directing an episode and stating what happens, you can tell it’s coming from a deeper place than just his imagination. I think because he is so connected to that relationship and had a relationship like that, that’s why it’s so valid on the show.
AVC: Your scenes with Mike O’Malley [who plays Kurt’s father] have been very powerful. How do you forge such a good working relationship with someone who doesn’t appear in every episode?
CC: You know, I’ve probably only met him for like, five calendar days over the course of a few weeks, so it’s great to have such good chemistry with someone you’ve literally only known for five days. But I think we both respect the material, and we know how much the material means to some of the people out there, so we just take it as seriously as we can and do our best with it.
AVC: There’s been a lot of discussion about the scene in the episode “Theatricality” where Kurt comes on strong, and then Finn yells slurs at him. How did you approach the emotions of playing that scene?
CC: You know, I had no idea that scene was going to be that emotional until we were in it, until we started filming it. And I think when I realized “This is going to be one of the first times on television that a father defends his gay son,” I think that’s what brought the emotion out in me, just realizing that. I mean, when Kurt does so much as a hand gesture, I hear about how important it is to so many people out there. So thinking how much this scene would help and affect people out there, that’s just what brought the emotion for me.
AVC: Do you think Glee has that power to change people’s minds?
CC: I think it does, and I think it has. I’ve heard from so many people that have watched the show and been influenced by it, or sometimes it changed the way they thought. There are some very powerful messages, and I think people are taking them to heart.
AVC: There are a lot of scenes on the show that ride the line between funny and dramatic. Do you always know which one a scene will be before you film it?
CC: I think, going back to the big scene in “Theatricality,” that’s a perfect example of something that when I read it in the script, on paper, I had no idea it was going to be what it was. So I think most of the scenes, no one really has an idea what they’re going to be until they see what the other actors are doing with it. It’s definitely an evolution onscreen, and when we’re doing it.
AVC: How would you say that Kurt is the closest to you personally, and how are you the most different from him?
CC: I think the emotion is real, because I’ve been through so many things that he’s been through. But we’re very different people. He’s very flamboyant and superior and uppity and into fashion, and I’m really none of those things. I wish I could walk into a room and feel superior and have my nose up at everybody, but I can’t, because I know I’m just a huge nerd, and that wouldn’t work for me. [Laughs.] I actually had no idea who designer Marc Jacobs was until the pilot, when Kurt says something about Marc Jacobs. That was the first time I’d ever heard of him.
AVC: Where do you find that sense of superiority in yourself to play the role?
CC: I think it’s just part of the character. When I developed what I wanted him to be, I think other people that he would be influenced by—That’s who I try to draw that out from. I feel like everyone in the fashion industry would somehow have some kind of effect on him, on his psyche, so I try to act like them and use their mannerisms. I figured he might look up to Anna Wintour, or Tim Gunn, or people with grace and power in the fashion world.
AVC: Glee has a huge ensemble, so some weeks, you may have a lot to do, and other weeks, you might have next to nothing. Do you get impatient for your next big storyline?
CC: No, it’s not very much impatience. Usually it’s kind of a relief when we get to come in just once during the week and say one line, because there’s so much heavy material. Sometimes you get a little—For me, what’s worse is when Ryan tells me about a great storyline that’s coming up in like five scripts, and you’re just kind of waiting to get to that point. That’s what’s worse for me, when he dangles “Oh, this is what’s going to happen,” and then you just have to wait for it.
AVC: They’ve built an interesting relationship between Kurt and Mercedes. Is that something that came about because of chemistry between you two actors?
CC: I think it, well, maybe both. I don’t know. Amber [Riley] and I are pretty much best friends in real life, but we weren’t best friends before Kurt and Mercedes were friends. And I think it was in the episode “Acafellas” that we get to the storyline about Mercedes liking him, and then she breaks a window in his car because she finds out he’s gay. All of that, I think, was an intended storyline from the beginning, but maybe because of the way Amber and I hang out on set, they’ve kept them best friends. I don’t know. [Laughs.]
AVC: There are a lot of scenes where the kids are in the choir room. Does shooting those go pretty quickly?
CC: You know, it takes the most time, because it’s the most camera angles and the most reaction shots. So every time you see a choir scene with all of us in it, it’s probably a good eight, nine hours we’ve spent filming it.
AVC: How do you stay present in something like that?
CC: Well, I think that I’m lucky, since I really, really just love my character, and I love just pretending to be him. I sometimes enjoy scenes where he has no lines whatsoever, because it really is no limitation, like I can just do whatever I want. And I enjoy the scenes, and I love coming up with little things, little stupid things that Kurt can do that the fans watch and find and appreciate.
AVC: On the flipside, what’s your favorite thing about working with a whole bunch of actors?
CC: Cast parties are a lot of fun! Because there are always so many people, and always someone to talk to, and always someone to go get lunch with, or go to crafty and load up on Skittles with. It’s kind of like all the advantages of having a big family. I’m sure Christmas this year will be great, with all of us.
AVC: There are very few TV shows that could become live stage shows like Glee has. What’s it like to actually see your fans in person, as opposed to just knowing they’re out there watching the show?
CC: It’s incredible. I almost feel sorry for all the TV shows that are scripted and couldn’t do that, because it’s such an experience. It’s so great to be able to perform at Radio City Music Hall. We’re just lucky. We’re lucky we’re able to sing and dance, in general, on television, let alone take it on the road and perform it live. It’s great. I wish everyone could do that.
AVC: Are you primarily performing music from the show, or are you rolling out some other material?
CC: For the most part, it’s just kind of our best hits from the show, but there are some unexpected skits and gags.
AVC: What do you think is getting the biggest reaction from the live show?
CC: I think “Bad Romance,” people love to watch, from “Theatricality,” as all our outfits are insane, and I love kind of scaring the audience a little bit, because every time we walk out there, and we’re all dressed insane, you can just see their eyes widen. I love people constantly watching my feet thinking I’m going to fall at any minute in those shoes. [Laughs.]
AVC: How do you walk in those shoes?
CC: I have no idea how I can walk in those shoes. I think it’s just an adrenaline thing, the power of theater, because I am wobbling all over the place when I’m backstage, but the moment I walk onstage, I’m fine. There have been some pretty close calls where I almost fell into the audience one night. Just got a little too close and couldn’t find my balance. And then a couple times, I’ve slipped a little bit on the steps coming down or going up. Thankfully, nothing’s been noticed yet, but I’m sure if I fall one night, it’ll become a YouTube sensation, so I look forward to it.
AVC: What was your favorite number from the show, and what was your least favorite?
CC: I think I loved doing “Rose’s Turn” the most, just because it was a really, really late night when we filmed it, and it was just me and the crew and an empty audience. I love musical numbers that take place in movies with an empty audience, because I think there’s a certain power there, so I was just on cloud nine getting to film that scene. And my least favorite was probably—oh gosh, I remember not enjoying filming “A House Is Not A Home,” because the night before, we were filming at the roller rink and I fell and sprained my wrist, so I was in a lot of pain during that number. I remember not liking that time. I liked performing the number, I just didn’t like the circumstances. [Laughs.]
AVC: Do you guys ever worry about backlash?
CC: Yes, but I feel like the backlash would never be from the people that mattered. The fans, I think, they love it no matter what. They love it unconditionally. And I think that backlash has been from, you know, people in the media and certain reporters. But the way I look at it is, as long as we still have our fans, we still have our fan base, those are the people we need to please.
AVC: Where do you hope Kurt goes in the future? And perhaps more importantly, what do you hope he sings?
CC: Oh, gosh. Well, I think eventually if we ever did Glee, season 20, I’d hope to see him as the editor as some sort of fashion magazine, hopefully Kurtain, with a ‘K’ to the get ‘Kurt’ in there. Kurtain magazine, that would be fun. And also, I would love for him to do… I don’t know. Every time I’ve come up with a suggestion, they’ve put it in the show. Everything they come up with for me is 10 times better than anything I could suggest, so I would sing anything. I never thought I’d see the day where he’d sing “Pink Houses,” so I have no idea what else is possible!