Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Hot Fil-Am DARREN CRISS talks to Billboard | On 'Angry' Blaine and Music vs Acting. Plus! The sexy People Magazine photos!
Former Billboard cover boy Darren Criss has had an eventful year since we featured him and his breakout role as Blaine Anderson, Lima's preppy, bowtie-wearing, dreamboat boyfriend to Kurt Hummel. All he's had on his plate is a tour and new production from his Team StarKid theater company, a 3-week stint as a leading man on Broadway, an international summer arena tour and 3D movie, a film role opposite Kristin Wiig, and, oh yeah, that little show called "Glee." No big deal.
In this week's episode, the first back after a lengthy winter hiatus that leads into the final episodes of the season, the former Warbler takes center stage in Big Brother, which focuses on Blaine's troubled relationship with his "famous" older brother Cooper (played by "White Collar"'s Matt Bomer). We caught up with Criss to talk about Blaine's anger issues, what Criss's solo music might sound like and the most exciting moment in his whirlwind year of fame (Hint: It's fuzzy and green.)
Billboard: We'll get to this week's episode in a moment, but first -- FOX just released stills from the Whitney Houston tribute episode and based on that desk you're clearly doing "It's Not Right But It's Okay," just minus the leather cuff around your neck from the video.
Darren: (Laughs) You're probably the only person that knows that. I mean, if that's out there in the world I'm sure people are figuring it out, but I have not seen that picture.
You look fierce. It's a fierce song.
Well, thank you. I'm not going to confirm that, but that is a crazy desk.
The topic of the song leaves us concerned. Is there reason for Kurt and Blaine fans to be worried?
The only worry we should really have is that Kurt is leaving soon, and that yields a bit of contention. When there's a pending departure of someone in a relationship, there's tension and worry on a basest level. So there's certainly that.
This week you're singing "Fighter" by Christina Aguilera. Those are some pretty big vocal shoes to fill, how did you feel when you found out you'd be singing it and what was the process like recording and performing that song?
I felt terrified. Any time when we have to sing like Whitney, or I did Beyonce once, I feel like that. It's mathematically impossible for me to sing those songs, because I am not those people, nor will I make claims to being in their ballpark. But for any song it's important to try and make the qualities of their performance, and find some common denominator, which is still hard for me because those songs are vocally very complex. I pick my battles and try some riffs and stuff, and give it as much energy and sincerity and passion to it that will hopefully translate the same kind of points. So even if you can't give it the same vocal specificity, off camera and in the studio, I try and give it a lot of energy so you forget about the actual crazy riffs not being in it.
Speaking of energy, we've seen an angrier Blaine this season, a lot of emotional outbursts.
Yeah! It's interesting you mention that I was saying that, I think there's all kinds of things that have happened to Blaine in his life, and he's proved to be a lot more angrier person than you originally saw. He's definitely a calm and composed guy on the surface who has a lot of aggression from his home life and otherwise. He's kind of an angry guy. I enjoy giving a lot of energy, and I think Ryan (Murphy) has enjoyed using that in very big ways, I guess. I hope that it's warranted, because I do perform sometimes and I think "That might have been too much, I hope that works in the context of the story."
How do you get into that headspace as an actor?
Music is easy to get pumped to. It's the same thing as when you're listening to a song when you're working out, or you're hearing a song and feeling happy or sad. It's a gateway drug to a lot of emotions. So the music helps, and then adding the contextual groundwork to what's going on. It's been interesting to see them fill in these shades of grey with Blaine, and I've been doing my best to make it believable.
We're about to meet Blaine's big brother Cooper, who's interested in the performing arts as well. You have your own big brother who's also in entertainment (Chuck Criss, who is in Freelance Whales.) Any parallels between Cooper and Chuck?
Not at all! Although Chuck and I have been joking about how we're looking forward to people giving Chuck any kind of flack for being like Cooper. But no, nothing at all. They could not be further apart. It would be kind of weird if maybe they did make it about Chuck and me though. Chuck and I are extremely close, in age and in relationship, and there's no competition at all. We've grown up wanting the same things, so I'm happy to say I've grown up with someone not like Cooper, and having a brother like Chuck makes Cooper look ridiculous and extra funny to me.
What was it like with Matt Bomer on set?
Matt gets to play the part every actor wants to play, which is the bad actor and the bad performer. I was really kind of upset, actually, because my whole job in our entire relationship was to play the straight man, the foil to all the jokes. Matt is being so loud and ridiculous and it's so funny I wanted to laugh, but Blaine is supposed to be upset. Blaine hates everything that's going on, even though Darren thinks it's very funny. It was lovely working with him, we had a great time.
Does the rest of the Glee club buy into Cooper?
Are you kidding me? For the kids at McKinley High this is the most incredible thing that's ever happened. They have The Cooper Anderson from the credit commercials coming to town and their school to tell them about Hollywood. It's all the more frustrating for Blaine, to see that.
This episode you're also singing Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know." You seem to be getting the "indie" artists on "Glee," for lack of a better term, as opposed to the pop artists or legacy artists that Blaine has sung in the past. Do you have any influence on that?
I don't have any influence. I've been very lucky, and it's very rare but I haven't had to sing a song I wasn't already familiar with. There's a lot of bands that are on the show that I'm into already, like "Cough Syrup," which was by a band I already loved. Gotye I loved, and that album came out in 2010 and I remember an Australian friend of mine showing me the track and my jaw just dropping. Now it's become this huge smash in the last couple months in the States, and the fact that I get to sing it is great. I'm honored they give me such cool songs, and a lot of the people in the cast are kind of mad at me for getting that song. Then again, I would have been mad at whoever got it, like, "Oh I wanted that song!"
Has anyone in the cast ever gotten a song you wanted?
Well what happens is you get a script and it will say on the second page what songs are in the episode, but it won't say who's singing it, so as you go through you find out who is singing it. There's songs that have shown up that I've never thought of, but when they show up I think "aw man, I would love to sing that." There's a huge list of songs in my wheelhouse, that I have in my back pocket that I've done versions of, so when they show up in the show and I don't have them I'm like "aw man!" Harry (Shum Jr.) and Jenna (Ushkowitz) did a version of the standard "L-O-V-E," the Nat King Cole song, and it was amazing. That's an example of "I wish I'd done that song!"
This weekend in Los Angeles you got up on stage with Theo Katzman to play some songs, and said you were opting to play old tunes instead of new ones you're working on. Any time fans can expect to hear the new music?
That show was so short, and it was kind of a gathering of friends, but we got cut off. I had a few more songs I wanted to sing, I had these horns and I was so excited to play some more with them. We were rehearsing all day, but we didn't get to do any of it. It was a good chance to get all our friends together under one roof and play together, though. There's always new stuff, but I figure out my setlist usually when I get there. When I got there I felt like doing something fun that was practiced, as opposed to trying to bust something new out. You know, when you're a novelist and someone asks you if you're writing a new book, the answer is always yes. Doesn't necessarily mean you have a release date or specific mindset to do X by Y time. There's always new songs for StarKid or for myself or otherwise. Those are the songs I'll play, but I wanted to hold those back a little longer until they're polished.
The cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" caught our ear especially. Are you leaning more in that wheelhouse nowadays?
It will be all over the map. I'm very proud of myself being all over the place. My love of genres is something I'd like to infuse in whatever I put out. We are a categorically obsessed culture, where we have to compartmentalize everything in reference to another thing, like "what does it sound like? Does it sound like this?" More and more we're at the verge of our personal taste being varied. We're the iPod generation, we like playlists, we like one album sounding like different things. If I do some kind of collection or an album, it will definitely be all over the place. I would like to have a little bit of folk, I'd like to have a little bit of rock n' roll, I'd like to have a little bit of soul, in some kind of healthy way we'd put it into one palatable thing, not too crazy and not too hodgepodge. I like putting on different hats. I believe singing should be like being an actor. People shouldn't have any problem buying an actor being in a comedy or a drama or a horror film. That should be the same way with music. You should be able to dive into the world of a soul performance with horns and give it the same energy you would as putting on a suit and tie and doing a Nat King Cole tune.
The cool thing about music is no one can take music away from you, writing wise. Acting you're inherently waiting to be called for something bigger than yourself. Where you're not in the drivers seat of creation of it -- not to say you don't get to create a role because obviously I get to do that. But with music I always have my guitar around, or a piano around, or when you're sleeping and before you go to sleep at night you can always hear music and write music. It's easy to always be working on it some way, shape or form. I always make time for the things that are important to me. I'm very busy, but music will never be impossible to work on.
Any inspirations or current artists you think are the most interesting right now? A next big thing on your radar that you're obsessed with?
They are the big thing right now, but I'm a huge Brittany Howard fan. I was about to Tweet that the other day but then I realized "oh, I never Tweet." (Laughs). She's the frontwoman for Alabama Shakes, and she's a huge buzz person and that's a big buzz band. It's really cool to see someone like her doing her thing. Even though they are a throwback band, she's got such cool, raw energy you don't expect. The Of Monsters and Men record just came out, and I love that record because I'm always a sucker for anyone with a Scandinavian accent singing harmonies with a guy and a girl. Then there's a cool LA band right now that I love called Capital Cities. Those are three completely different bands, you have an Americana band, a folky Icelandic band, and a dance pop electronic band, Capital Cities. That EP is amazing.
There's always something. I was working on "The Glee Project" for a while, but that just wrapped. I went out to Chicago to see StarKid's 'Holy Musical B@man,' although I didn't have anything to do with it creatively I went to support them. Basically I'm just plotting my next move. It takes a lot of time!
What's the crop of talent like on "The Glee Project" this summer?
Just like last year they're extremely talented, and there's a place for everybody. At the end of it it's a really hard process to figure out who will be on the show next.
Team StarKid just announced their upcoming spring tour. Any chance you'll be able to check out a few dates or join them on the road?
Hopefully! I'm working that out. They're coming to my turf, so I should hope so. TBD, but that would be good!
You had your first stint on Broadway this January in "How To Succeed," and you were just back in the city seeing "Newsies." Any shows on Broadway right now you're dying to see, or wishing you could perform in?
I'm a huge "Newsies" fan, and I love that show. I wouldn't deign to think I could be in that show because I can't sing or dance like those kids. They put me to shame. Jeremy Jordan, who plays Jack Kelly, knocks it out of the park. I added him to my long list of people who I wish I could sing like. I was so blown away by that guy. I have a lot of friends in "Nice Work If You Can Get It," which is a fun Gershwin musical, and I want to see Once. I really want to see that show.
Last year this time Billboard put you on the cover. What's the most unexpected or weirdest thing that's happened to you in the past year that made you go, "Whoa!"
Meeting Kermit. Bar none, meeting Kermit and singing with Kermit was one of the biggest things that ever happened to me in my life.
Source: Billboard | Rae Votta, N.Y. | April 10, 2012 5:00 EDT | Photos by People Magazine