Lea Michele explains her sci-fi debut in Dimension 404
The 'Scream Queens' also talks about her new album, 'Places.'
You’ve heard Lea Michele sing! You’ve seen her Scream! Now, watch her travel through the cosmic planes of space and time, sort of!
Michele is the surprise star of the premiere episode of Hulu’s Dimension 404, a new science-fiction comedy anthology series premiering Tuesday on the streaming service. The show, which takes decidedly more tongue-in-cheek cues from Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone, has cast Michele as the seemingly perfect match of a lonely music blogger (Robert Buckley) in the hourlong premiere devoted to the malicious secrets behind a fictional dating service.
Yes, Dimension 404 marks the actress’ first foray into all the glorious adjectives that come part and parcel with the sci-fi genre, but as Michele tells it, the fantasy turn might mark her most realistic role in some time after years spent in the heightened playgrounds of Glee and Scream Queens (the future fate of which, by the way, remains undecided).
There’s a giddy momentum behind the 30-year-old as she floats ahead into the next stage of her career, which includes a buzzy new ABC pilot from Hamilton star Daveed Diggs (in which she plays a political staffer opposite a rapping mayor) and her second studio album, Places (out April 28), which could be her biggest passion project yet. Consider Michele’s Hulu experiment in Dimension 404 to be but the first in a string of upcoming projects that will challenge the dimensions (sorry) of the Michele fans may have come to expect.
EW: So, how did you get involved in a sci-fi anthology series?
LEA MICHELE: When they sent me the script, I was really excited. I think that D404 is such a cool idea, sort of following in the steps of Black Mirror. I think the concept of doing singular episodes with full stories is something that a lot more shows are going to do — Easy is another show that does it well — but still under the umbrella of an overall theme. So I liked the idea of being involved in a project where each episode is like a mini-movie in and of itself. I’ve never done anything sci-fi before, and especially sci-fi comedy, so I thought the concept was really interesting. But more than anything, I liked the idea of the character. She’s very sweet and vulnerable and grounded, and I think coming off of a lot of the heightened material that I’ve done for a while, it really just sort of made sense for me… Coming from a world of really grand productions, it was nice to do something a little bit more scaled back. We kept it very simple and, for me, that’s something that I haven’t been dealing with in the past couple of years.
How would you describe your relationship to science-fiction in general?
I’m not the biggest science-fiction-obsessed person. Growing up, I remember Alien was like one of the first movies I had ever seen, but of course that sort of veers into horror. I love horror films. They’re my absolute favorite. But I definitely enjoy a good sci-fi horror. Black Mirror, I’ve watched, and it freaks me out so much, and it’s so crazy because I can handle The Exorcist at like noon on a Sunday, but Black Mirror literally still haunts my nightmares.
When they’re in London and they make the prime minister have sex with a pig [“The National Anthem”]. Oh my God, it was so upsetting. But they get such incredible people to do the episodes and it’s such a fantastic show, so to be a part of something that I think is sort of following in its footsteps and taking note of this sort of anthology-type series is really cool.
Your episode of Dimension 404 is all about dating apps, which are hard to ignore, whether you’re on them or not. How have you seen these apps wreak havoc in your friends’ lives?
[Laughs] I mean, honestly? I think that these dating apps, whether negative or positive, are completely reshaping the entire spectrum of dating for this century or this generation. I’m not on any of them nor do I plan to be, but you definitely feel how they’re reshaping things. I think that there’s such an accessibility to people these days, whether or not you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I find them to be quite negative, although I’m sure people have a lot of positive experiences on them. Maybe I find them negative because I’m not on them? [Laughs] But it is really interesting. This world, everything from social media to dating apps, it’s really changing the game, and this sort of micro-trend over the next couple of years is going to really have a deep effect on relationships in general. I think that our episode really does touch upon that, because there’s something to be said about that real personal connection. Yes, there are the few that do come out of those situations potentially meeting someone, but there’s really nothing like relying on fate and trusting that you can meet that person when you round the corner.
Would you rather live in a future full of helpful technology or a simple life somewhere in history?
Take me back to the times where you would have to write love letters that would take weeks to be delivered and you’d read them over and over and over again. That real, true romance, I don’t want to believe that that’s going to ever go away. I don’t think I would want to go into the future at all.
Let’s talk about your new album, Places.
I feel so passionate about these songs and this entire album. With my last album, which I’m so proud of, at the end of the day it was during such an intense time of my life — obviously personally, but also professionally with Glee — and it was hard promoting that album for both of those reasons. A lot of the songs were extremely personal, and I also just didn’t have the time. So now, being at a different place in my life — personally, but also having the free mental space not being on a singing and dancing television show at the exact same time — I have the energy and the excitement of where I’m at in my life right now to talk about all of these songs and what they mean to me and how they connect to my life and how personal they are. And being that I couldn’t really do that with the last album, I’m just like busting right now being able to do that with this album and with these songs.
You titled it after the “places” call in theater, right?
Yeah! You think [of] your 15-minute call, your five-minute call, and then you get your “places” call, and it means it’s showtime. It means it’s time to go, and that’s what this album means to me. It means this is my time, and it’s a callback to where I come from — obviously my theatre background — but it’s also a look into the future for me. My main goal was to make this an album that I could perform everywhere and for the rest of my life. And so when I think of Places, I think, let’s start the show. I’ve already put together a really great show that I’ve done a couple times. We have a U.S. mini-tour happening at the end of April and May, and then I’m hopefully going overseas and doing it as well. In that show, I do a bunch from the new album, I do about three from Louder, and I do a couple of Glee songs as well. And I tell stories. It’s my opportunity to connect and let people into my life.
What’s exciting you right now about where you are in your career? Do you feel the demarcation of a next chapter?
Here’s the thing: When you come off of a [cultural] phenomenon type of a television show or movie or whatever you’re involved in that could be at the level of a Glee or a Harry Potter or Twilight — when you are a part of something that just makes such a huge impact in entertainment but also in the world — you know, we had more hit singles than like Elvis, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson put together, and I think we met Oprah and the President in one day. And so there’s a lot of incredible things that come when you are finished with a project like that, but there also come a lot of challenges. For me, I’ve been so grateful to continue to work afterwards, and have the support of my great fanbase, so for me, I want to just continue to let people know where I’m at and how grateful I am to be where I am right now. I will 100 percent hold onto Glee and everything that it brought into my life, and that’s why I include the Glee songs in my concert because I’m so proud of it and I’m so grateful for it. And this is definitely a new chapter for me. I’m 30 years old. This album has a lot of maturity to it, and that’s okay with me. It also has its fun light happy elements, but it’s really about these past couple of years in my life and where I’m at today.
What can you say about your new pilot on ABC?
We finished it and I’m so excited about it. I hope it gets picked up. It’s just an incredible, vibrant, young, talented cast. [We have] Brandon Micheal Hall leading the cast in this awesome show written by Jeremy Bronson, and we have Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs as our producer but also writing original rap songs for each episode. It has that great politics side to it, but also comedy and this great musical element as well. It has all of the elements of something that I think is wildly entertaining. The process reminded me a lot of Glee. When we started Glee, we knew we were sitting on something special, but it was unique at the same time, and that’s what this felt like. It feels really special and I hope that people enjoy it and I hope that we get picked up because I believe in it a lot.
Do you partake in the singing and rapping?
[Laughs] Nope! I’m just sitting and looking pretty this time.