He really is one entertaining guy. And, by extension, we thought we'd get much of the same from his lead trio of Glee teens — Lea Michele, as ambitious Rachel Berry; Cory Monteith, as doofus jock Finn Hudson; and Dianna Agron, as knocked-up cheerleader Quinn Fabray. We did learn a great many awesome things: that some of them have nicknames like Child Star and Frankenteen, some were car-radio-stealing con kids, and some get inexplicably upset if you suggest they might be a freak in bed. We learned all that and more. But would they be willing to entertain us? No big deal, right, since it's what they do for a living? So we asked. And right around then is when all the trouble started, with hard feelings, cold shoulders, averted eyes and dewy sniffling involved, just as if they were about to act out a particularly gooey sentimental scene in Glee (of which there are many) — or were right back in the hell halls of high school itself.
Full of giddy expectation, we encounter Lea Michele, 23, at a musty bookstore on Sunset. She has a big smile on her face, and she immediately wraps us up in her tiny arms. The warmth seeping through her is thrilling, even while her infectious good cheer is a little rattling. She's just so darn peppy! Then she's off, tracking down volumes of Wuthering Heights for her Wuthering Heights collection, saying stuff like, "I like Wuthering Heights because of the Pat Benatar song. I know it's cheesy, but I do!"
What Murphy says about her is: "She's a once-in-a-generation voice and Broadway talent, in the tradition of Streisand and Patti LuPone." At the very least, she's terrifically theatrical, in the best upbeat, no-worries sort of way, which is probably why she's such a standout on the show as driven, misunderstood Rachel, a girl needing hard lessons in what it means to be a team player. And while each of the Glee kids gets lots of numbers inside the halls of McKinley High in Lima, Ohio, when Michele takes the stage, she's about all you really see.
Right now, we are trotting after her, completely charmed. "Last night, I was dressed up like a giant cupcake," she says. "I can't tell you why I was a cupcake, only that I was!" And then she says, "Another thing I can tell you is I have a boyfriend. He's a New York theater guy in a cool way, not in a musical-theater kind of way, but I'm not telling you anything else!" We don't care. She's also been romantically linked to Monteith and to actor Jonathan Groff, who will appear on Glee this season as her love interest, but who in fact is gay, and we don't care about that either.
What we do care about is that she has nine tattoos — among them, two musical notes from Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and two butterflies — which speak to a darker, more sensual side. We like her so much that we can't wait to ask her to entertain us. "I have a lot of energy as a person!" she says. Boy, does she ever.
But first she forks over $104.15 for her new editions of Wuthering Heights and waltzes across the street to a Peet's coffee joint to drink some coffee and tell the story of how she got to where she is. It all started two decades ago in the Bronx, where her Italian-American mom was a nurse, her Jewish dad ran a Jewish deli, and young Michele went out on auditions as a kid actor. "Ryan Murphy gave me the nickname Child Star because I've been working professionally since I was eight," she says. "I did take four years off to have a normal high school life. I was on the debate team and played volleyball. The cheerleaders were the whorish girls, so my friends were the tennis and soccer players. Did I smoke pot? No. Anyway, my first part was on Broadway, in Les Mis. I have perfect pitch. It's kind of nuts."
She then tells of getting her Glee role. She was visiting California, ended up at dinner with Murphy, a year later auditioned for the Rachel part, won the role, and said to Murphy, "Do you remember me?" which he did, because he'd written the part with her in mind. Frankly, it sounds like just another Hollywood success story, and we find ourselves drifting to thoughts of goody-goody Michele in high school, and what a guy in high school might say to her to loosen her up. Though we are clueless, we take a stab at it. "So . . . do you pee in the shower?"
She freezes. For a second it looks like her bushy black eyebrows might drop off in shock. Then she regroups. "I don't talk about stuff like that," she says without a trace of peppiness.
As it happens, she also doesn't talk about what she wears to bed ("That's private!"), or if she favors thongs ("I wear boy shorts, OK?"). She does reveal that she's scared of the dark and sleeps with the lights and TV on (tuned to E!), and that she gave up her real last name, Sarfati, because she was teased about it by kids. And then, a bit later, she says, "I live a quiet life. I go to work, I work out. People might think I'm boring, but I don't really care, because I'm not boring, because you're hanging out with me, and you know I'm not."
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