Glee triumphantly returned to Fox last week to enormous critical praise, and tonight's episode, "The Power of Madonna," should be no exception. I got the chance to catch up with one of the show's stars, Kevin McHale [pictures courtesy Fox (2) and NBC (1)], who plays Artie Abrams on the hit musical comedy. (Catch the first part of my interview here.)
Celebrity Extra: How long does it take for the cast to learn the songs and choreography to be ready for filming? It would seem to be a lot more work than your conventional sitcom or nighttime drama.
Kevin McHale: It’s regular for us to do a 15- or 16-hour day. Just shooting the episode itself takes eight days, sometimes 10. That doesn’t include the dance rehearsals before and the recording of the songs before that. It’s really hard for the writers too. You have to go into getting the songs cleared and dance before you even look at the scripts. It takes months and months of work, just per script. It’s a big process, and I think now that we’re shooting the back nine for season, we kind of got the rhythm of it. We’re doing something new. No one has ever done all this in combination with each other. It’s a learning curve learning how to balance everything. I think we have it down.
CE: How long did you work with the wheelchair before filming? You look very natural with it.
KM: For the pilot, we had about three weeks of dance rehearsal and recording, so I did get to kind of mess around with it for a good two-and-a-half to three weeks before we started shooting. The first number we ever did was “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” In the show, it’s only like 5 seconds long. In reality, we choreographed the entire song. Within those first few days of learning that number, I kind of figured out everything I could do in the wheelchair. It was pretty early on that I tried to master my skills in the wheelchair.
CE: Your arms must be really tired at the end of the day!
KM: I wish I could say they were. I wish I could say I’m super strong now, but no I’m generally really light and the wheelchair’s light, so I’m not really pushing around anything.
CE: I want to go back to that very first episode where you guys helped make Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” hip again. Did you have any idea that Glee would become such a phenomenon?
KM: No, not at all. It was kind of insane because the pilot came out, and it wasn’t like it hit like, “Oh my god this is the best thing ever!” It took time because we were away still filming the episodes and when the show came back, we re-aired the pilot twice in the same week, and as word of mouth started to spread, it started to grow. We had hoped that it would become what it is now, but you can never even imagine what that would be. So, it’s beyond any of our expectations, including Ryan Murphy who created the show. We’re all just kind of in awe and shock, and we’re just happy that people are watching it and buying the songs so we get to go back and make more episodes.
KM: I would really love to do some sort of Michael Jackson or maybe like a Paul McCartney solo song. We’ve done the Beatles now so maybe — maybe do a Paul McCartney episode. I just saw him in concert, so I’m re-obsessed with Paul McCartney. But the thing is, we’ve kind of given up thinking of songs we could do, because the writers think of songs we would never think of, and the way they use them in the story line and in context with what’s going on with the characters is 10 times better than anything we could imagine.
CE: You all must work so hard; how do you blow off steam on the set?
KM: You know what, I think the work within itself, you don’t have time to do anything else. Performing these songs and making people laugh and the crew is so awesome. It doesn’t ever feel like work. It’s like we are with our family every single day, and we get to sing and dance and make music videos and sometimes do the most ridiculous costumes.
CE: True — you guys get to blow off steam just by doing all that singing and dancing.
KM: Yeah, it’s not like we are solving murder mysteries. If we were on a 16-hour day of CSI or something, I think we all might have to be serious all day. But we get to laugh, and we’re all roughly the same age. In between scenes, we have a lot of fun, and during the scenes, we try to mess with each other to make each other laugh. We keep each other entertained.
CE: You’ve also guest-starred on another hit comedy, The Office, as the pizza delivery kid. I was very surprised when I realized that was you. How was that set to work on?
KM: That was kind of my first big thing being a part of a big show like that. They were really, really super nice. I walked on set and they’re like, “This is Kevin McHale.” And they all stood up clapping and came up to me and introduced themselves. They were just super, super nice and super friendly. It was a really chill, easy set to be on. I was the only kid on the set and I was a little shy, but they were all extremely nice. That whole thing was like the most insane three days of my life. I was like, “Oh my god. I get to be on The Office.”
When I watch it, I’m like, “Oh, there I’m about to laugh … and there,” the whole time. They’re all geniuses. I don’t know how they do what they do. I guess that was the fourth season the episode I was on, and I guess after four seasons you learn not to laugh. It was just insane. I remember the very first take was the first scene that I’m in and it’s with Steve Carell and he’s getting angry about the pizza. Then he starts improvising, and I had to hide my face behind the pizza boxes cause I’m like, “This is ridiculous.” It was hilarious.
CE: I’ll have to watch that episode again and watch you as you try not to laugh.
KM: Every time I start frowning — the same thing on Glee — if you see me frown it’s because I’m about to laugh. That’s kind of my go-to. I just have to absolutely frown so I don’t do the opposite and smile.
Don't miss tonight's episode of Glee at 8:59/7:59c, as the cast celebrates the Material Girl. And how will you prepare for tonight's show? Me — I am listening to Madonna's greatest hits double CD all day to get me pumped.