Basking in the Glee glow hasn’t been as easy as one would think for new cast member Vanessa Lengies, who made her debut on the show last night as delusional high schooler, Sugar. As fans (about 8 million of them) were settling down to watch the premiere episode, Lengies was wrapping up a seven-hour dance rehearsal with her new Glee castmates and rushing to make it to her Glee premiere party (thrown by her BFF, Life Unexpected creator Liz Tigelaar). No rest for those who love Wicked.
Slightly rested up (and very sore), Lengies called EW earlier today to chat about her new (somewhat polarizing) role, tease what’s next for the character (scenes with Idina Menzel!), and talk about her surprising heroic moment on set (hint: bagels are dangerous).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, Sugar is an odd character, and that’s saying a lot considering the collection of characters we have on Glee.
VANESSA LENGIES: What I like about her is that she’s so strange is that everyone — even on set — has ideas about what Sugar should be and do.
Well, once they told you who she was going to be — a talentless, self-diagnosed person with Asperger Syndrome — what did you think of that?
When I got the audition, it was written she was going to be the new bitch. And, well, I have experience playing the bitch role. [Laughs] But I wanted to make her different. When I went in for the audition, [Glee director] Eric Stoltz was in there, and they weren’t sure who Sugar was going to be. And when we were on set, it was the same thing. We tried this and tried that. So I was excited to see the show, too, because I wanted to see what version they were going to go with. It was just really fun. I wanted her to be a little more dynamic.
Were you worried about the Asperger joke at all? That seemed to garner a strong reaction among some viewers.
No, I wasn’t. I think that’s something Glee does very well. It talks about and addresses and touches on issues that are very sensitive to most people, but having the issues talked about on such a high-exposure show, it bring things to people’s conversation. I like that a lot about Glee.
Is that an aspect of the character we’re going to dig into deeper in the next few episodes?
Eric and I had this conversation where we weren’t sure if she has it or…I’m not sure to what degree it is until I see more [scripts]. But we definitely touch on it again. So far, to my knowledge, we don’t go into the depths of Sugar’s background yet, but it is part of her character.
I liked the scene where Schue (Matthew Morrison) told her she couldn’t be in the club and she held her ground in this really delusional way. How is she going to come roaring back from that attempted reality check in the next episodes.
I think she’s talked herself out of it. I think she believes 100 percent that he didn’t know what he was talking about. I think it’s the first time she’s ever been told she was a bad singer. I think, at first, she was a little vulnerable. But she shrugged it off and said, “Fine. I’ll find another way. If you don’t want to work with me, you can be replaced!”
Is she going to be a bitch to the entire club, or focus her efforts on Schue?
It’s a form of revenge. I don’t know what I can say! It’s not the typical way of getting back at people. It’s her own way. And it’s not totally revenge, it’s more like, “No, I’m going to be a star. That’s what’s happening.”
So you were on American Dreams and showed your pipes on there. How was it to turn all of that off for this role?
My trick was just to be as committed as humanly possible to the song. It was much easier to do it in the audition because I was doing it a capella. Then when I got there, Brad [Ellis], the piano guy whose hair I ruffle in that scene, he and I had to rehearse. And it was such a shocker that once he started playing the song on the piano, it was harder for me to try to sing it wrong. I was thinking in my mind, “Why do we need a rehearsal for a bad song?” And then I was, like, “Oh! I understand.” And they did it differently because all the songs are pre-recorded on the show. And they thought it would be best if I did it live. So I just did the whole thing live.
I found the hair ruffle and dance hilarious. Did they tell you to do that or was any of it improv?
Everything was improv. My dance, everything. [Glee choreographer Zach Woodley] was so funny. I love working with him. He had me do it for him, and once it saw it, he was like, “Yeah. You’re good.” [Laughs] So the kicks, the butt wiggle [dramatic tone], “It just came to me,” as the actors would say.
So do you have any favorite scenes so far? Anything you’re excited for people to see?
Yes, but I don’t know how they’re going to edit it. I don’t know if they’re going to cut my favorite part out or not. I have a scene with Idina, and I was improvising and it turned into this super fun thing. I honestly don’t know what I can say! I tweeted about Idina [when] she choked on a bagel, and I helped her to breathe again — it was super scary! But all the responses were, “OMG! Spoiler!” “OMG! Spoiler!” “Idina Menzel is back on Glee!” And my heart dropped to my stomach because I thought I’d done something really wrong. They’re very hush-hush. But, anyway, the scene we did is in episode 4.
Wait, so she chokes on a bagel in the scene?!
No, that happened in the makeup trailer, where she was eating a bagel. That was real life.
It was. But it was funny after.
Yeah, once you realized you hadn’t killed the extremely talented woman.
Yeah, [mocking herself] “Once she was alive, everything was funny!” [Laughs]