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Monday, February 7, 2011

A better way to Glee

By Debbie Schipp -

SPENDING half an hour with Glee star Chris Colfer is akin to riding on the rollercoaster he now gets to jump the queue for at Disneyland. 
In just one year Colfer's role as Kurt Hummel on the hit show has earned him a Golden Globe for best supporting actor in a television series, meetings with Oprah Winfrey and President Obama, at least 20 Slushies to the face and made him the poster-boy for a stance against high school bullying.
In person, Colfer is funnier, more relaxed, a little less flamboyant, and far less fashionable than his alter ego. He's the consummate entertainer with boundless energy, but has both feet planted on the ground.
The openly gay actor with the golden voice switches rapidly from serious to witty and humble to mischievous as he talks bullying, fame and how, in one year, you have to find a new dream if life already has given you more than you ever dared to imagine.
Colfer, 20, is simultaneously strikingly similar and vastly different to his Glee alter ego.
"Kurt's very fashionable, and I'm terrified to wear anything but jeans and a T-shirt,'' Colfer says.
"We're very different, but I think we've been through very, very similar things. And the emotion is real.''
Certainly Colfer identifies with Kurt's torrid time through high school, being bullied because of his sexuality.
Colfer's defence was witty comebacks, but they could not deflect the hurt.
"I learned to run very fast after saying them. But it only provoked them,'' he says.
"Someone would scream "fag'' at me in the hallway, and I'd say "Yeah, but can you spell it?''
"They'd say, 'Hey, your voice is high,' and I'd say, 'Yeah, so are you most of the time'.
"But then they thought it was a game and that I was playing along. I was not playing along.''
When Colfer won his Golden Globe last month, he dedicated it to bullied kids like him, but long before that accolade Colfer knew his character was sending an important message about both bullying and homosexuality.
"I think people are just thankful this topic is finally being talked about and it's being seen as the nasty, ugly thing that it can be,'' he says.
"If you look at my Facebook or my Twitter account, there's letter after letter from kids of all ages, all shapes and sizes, all races, just so thankful there's someone they can relate to.
"One of the most emotional ones I got was from a little boy who was probably five or six, saying 'Kurt makes me feel like I'm not alone'.''
Ironically, Colfer didn't set out to play Kurt. When he auditioned for Glee the role didn't even exist.
"I auditioned for Artie (the wheelchair-bound teen on the show), and my awkward, high-pitched self walked into the audition room and they really liked me, but they didn't want me for Artie,'' he says.
"They decided they were going to hire me and just write a role for me.
"So yeah, basically they just wrote the show around me,'' he adds, tongue firmly in cheek.
Even then, the ghost of bullying reared its ugly head.
"I grew up in a very conservative, religious town, so I was very scared when I found out the role that I was going to be playing in front of millions and millions of people would be gay, which is something that is very frowned upon where I'm from,'' he says.
"I just wanted to have the character have as much truth and honesty as possible.
"I did not want him to be a constant punchline and a constant punching bag and an annoying sidekick.
"That's what people have responded to - how real and how vulnerable he is.
"I think everyone - gay, straight, or whatever - can relate to the vulnerability.''
Ironically Kurt has given Colfer - always ready for a laugh - the last laugh.
Those same schoolkids who shunned now want to know him.
"One of them actually sent me a message on Facebook, saying `Do you remember how much fun we used to have? Do you remember when we played that game in the hallway?','' he says.
"And I would be lying if I told you I did not write him a ten-page letter back saying how much he just made my life miserable in high school. I wanted to send it, but I didn't.''
Fame has brought countless pinch-me moments.
The Gleeks have rolled with Oprah and Obama, performed at the Super Bowl and shared their show with the likes of Olivia Newton John and Britney Speers and Gwyneth Paltrow.
He says the difference between Oprah and Obama is "Oprah has much tighter security''.
Anne Hathaway will play Kurt's lesbian aunt in an upcoming episode.
"Who's left? The Pope?,'' Colfer grins.
"Are we going to party with the Pope, in the Vatican?
"I'm sure we could. We could do Say a Little Prayer For You, What if God Was One of Us?.''
If Colfer has a wish, it's to see Kurt a little happier.
"I love playing someone that's intoxicated, because it's just fun. So I'd love for him to get drunk at one point and be hysterical,'' Colfer says.
"I would love for him to be funny, because he's so sad in so many scenes.
"People always tell me: "You make me cry.'' So I'd love Kurt to make people laugh.''
For now, Colfer is enjoying the Glee rollercoaster.
"When you go to Disneyland, you get an escort and you get to cut all the lines. Hands down, the best part about being famous, is the escort at Disneyland,'' he laughs.
On set, those Slushies to the face bring him back to earth.
"It's like being bitch-slapped by an iceberg,'' he says.
"It's one of the most painful things I've ever experienced. It can only be second to childbirth.''
Far less painful and vastly entertaining - are the tabloid rumours,
His favourite is "death by oranges''.
"The rumour had it that I was driving in my car and I was so fascinated by these oranges in front of me that I crashed into the car and this avalanche of oranges crushed me,'' Colfer says in puzzled wonder.
"I literally was killed by citrus. If I had to go, I mean, that's an interesting way of going.''


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