Chris Colfer reflects on 'Glee' and Cory Monteith: 'He really was the big brother I never had'
Friday marks the final episode of Fox’s musical phenomenon Glee. Chris Colfer, who has played Kurt for all six years of the series, was right out of high school when the show first began. Kurt and his on-again/off-again boyfriend/now-husband Blaine (Darren Criss) became pop culture icons with their groundbreaking gay romance. On the eve of the finale, EW talked to Colfer about Glee‘s roller-coaster ride and what he’ll remember the most.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you remember your audition?
CHRIS COLFER: I was 18 but my dad was still driving me because I was too afraid to drive in LA at the time. I will never forget – Lea Michele, who I’d never met before, was in a Mini Cooper in front of us pulling onto the lot. I recognized her instantly because I was obsessed with Spring Awakening when I was like 14. We both got turned away because we weren’t allowed to park on the lot. She was in the callback with me and I could hear her singing in the next room over. I went in, and the rest was history. There’s a whole story about how Ryan [Murphy] saw me and said, “Why do I have a feeling you’ve been in The Sound of Music?” I sang and made a joke about my hometown, and the rest is history.
What do you remember about shooting the pilot?
I remember what an education it was because I had no idea how television worked, I had no idea how filming something worked, and I had no idea how skinny jeans worked. So it was a very painful education. I remember calling my mom and being like “Gall, we work so long, I mean I got there at 6 and I didn’t leave until 8 o’clock at night. And oh my God my legs are just throbbing from those jeans they’re making me wear!”
You were right out of high school, weren’t you?
Yeah, I had just graduated in June and I think I got cast in August. I had been in college for two weeks and added to the dropout rate.
What are some of the touchstones you remember from that first year?
It was such a blur because we were working so much. That first season, when everyone was kind of getting the hang of the show, it was like 80-hour weeks. On top of rehearsing and recording in the weekends. On top of touring every chance we got. It was such a haze that every time something new would happen, it was just so hard to grasp because I think we were all in this exhausted dream-like state. I think the first thing was when Fox decided they were going to air the pilot after American Idol. That was a huge deal and we were like, “Oh, they really must think that the show is good.” And then that night when “Don’t Stop Believin’” became No. 1 on iTunes, I think that was the big moment. Honestly, strangely for me, I had never really been surprised at the show’s success because I had been one of the kids my entire life that the show was about. I was surprised I was a part of it.
Do you have a favorite number?
“Defying Gravity” I think will always stand out just because that storyline to the character was something I had lived through. That was super special. To this day, I think one of the best things the show has done is portrayed the relationship between me and Mike O’Malley – the Kurt and Burt relationship. I’ll never forget, when I first got the script and I saw that he accepted Kurt for who he was, I got so mad because I was an actor and I was like, “No! I want a scene where I get kicked out and I’m crying! And I’m so emotionally distraught! That is what I want!” Little did I know it was something good for mankind.
Is there an episode that stands out in your mind that you’re proud of or you love?
Well, if I can be selfish, I loved the one that I got to write. Just because it was so much fun to do because I got to fly and I got to work with Tim Conway and Billy Dee Williams and June Squibb, and I got to put words in their mouths. But, also just the early episodes – like the Gaga episode and the “Preggers” episode with the whole “Single Ladies” thing. Those are just the best for so many reasons.
Can you still do the “Single Ladies” dance?
I’m sure I’ll be doing it in Bar Mitzvahs until I’m 50. Like, there’s gonna be an article on BuzzFeed or something that’s like, “Glee stars: where are they now?” And I’ll be in my 50s, at a Bar Mitzvah, doing the “Single Ladies” dance.
Do you have a favorite memory of Cory Monteith?
He really was the big brother I never had. I have to say – I hope I don’t get emotional – I always felt so respected by Cory, and I think being a young gay kid, I’ve never really felt respected very much by older straight types, I guess. But with Cory, I think we just respected each other so much and we respected working with each other so much. I think that’s what I’ll always remember – the abundant respect that he gave everyone. I think that’s why it was such a hard loss. It was so hard to see betrayed when he passed away in his life – that didn’t represent who he was.
What was the most challenging of all these numbers you guys did?
The first one that pops into my head was the “Singing in the Rain/Umbrella” mashup. I’m shocked no one was killed, by accident or by murder. [Laughs] We were all pruning, we were freezing, and we had to smile and sing and dance. It was terrible.
I remember vividly when you guys did that Cee-Lo song, you sort of do a twist with Gwyneth Paltrow…
I called it The Goop. Also, that, the people we got to work with. I feel so ashamed because I wished I had worked with all these people on my second job because I borderline stalked everyone that came onto that set because I was so excited. I’m sure some of them have restraining orders against me I didn’t know about.
What’s your craziest Gleek encounter?
The tattoos are endless. They’ve been my face, a lot of quotes from my book so that’s personally, but for the show a lot of people have tattooed the word “Courage” or “Klaine,” which I try to tell everyone, “You’re going to regret that when you’re 40. You’re not going to care about us and you’re going to hate yourself.” I try, I try telling them. I feel like everyone has tried to get me to say that “Klaine” or Kurt and Blaine is groundbreaking, but I’ve never thought of them as groundbreaking because there have been so many famous gay couples and famous gay weddings in the past and I feel like it would be very ignorant for me to say, “Oh yes, they’re a groundbreaking couple.” What I think is groundbreaking has been the response to the couple. I remember when I first started being an actor and I first started Glee, I was told on many occasions, “Well it’s too bad that you’re gay because you’ll never get the young female following.” [Laughs] And boy was that proved wrong.
What was it like shooting the final scene?
It was, honestly, do you know the famous finale of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where they’re wrapping up and they walk towards the door? It was very similar to that and I don’t think any of us meant for it to be. It was difficult. It’s time for the show to end – I think we all agree. It has been a crazy, emotional, fantastic, exhausting, but fulfilling ride. We all grew up in that choir room in one way or another. It was so hard to say goodbye, much, much harder than I was expecting.
Can you qualify what Glee has meant for you personally?
I’m knocking on wood right now as I’m talking on the phone, but I have so many opportunities and things that are coming up for me and I owe it all to Glee. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for it and I get really scared when I think about an alternate universe where Glee didn’t exist because there’s no way I would’ve made such a difference, or there’s no way I would’ve been given any material that affected so many lives. It turned me into a role model, which was a very, very hard thing to embrace and accept at the time. It was the beginning of a great book, but a great chapter nonetheless.
What do you think the legacy of the show is? What do you think it has brought to pop culture?
I think it was just so out of the box. It was the first show that really showed a world and a group of kids that had never quite been seen before or as quite as authentically portrayed. I think any other time a group of performing arts kids has been portrayed, they’ve all been freakishly good-looking and they’ve all been flawless. And very much like Freaks and Geeks, we really represented something so real and authentic, and I think that’s going to be what it’s remembered for is being the voice to who – at the time – were the voiceless. It’s crazy to think about I definitely think Glee had – I don’t want to give Glee sole credit for this – but the world has definitely changed. Personally, when I found out that I got cast as the gay character on Glee, I had thought my career was going to be over because at the time, it was such a taboo for an actor of any age to play a gay character, and now you look and there are multiple gay characters on every single show. Bringing the struggle of kids that were bullied – I was bullied terribly in high school. I never thought the world would form a campaign to stop it. I never thought that voice would ever be heard. I’m so lucky and proud that I got to be one of those for a while.
You have a bunch of books coming out this year. Are they all part of The Land of Stories?
I have a young adult novel coming out – I think, I should ask – next year. This year, I have the fourth book in the series is coming out, as well as my first children’s picture book and two spinoff novellas are coming out. And then summer of 2016 is when the fifth and final book in the series comes out and I think I’ll have a young adult novel coming out around the same time.
Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, and high school anxiety star in Fox’s campy musical.