Having watched Lea Michele rise from kid actress to Broadway star (complete with a Broadway.com Fresh Face profile and Q&A), we can’t help feeling proud of her breakout performance in Glee. Less than a year after the show’s premiere, Lea’s rocking the red carpet at the Golden Globes, accepting a SAG Award, singing at the White House, chatting with Oprah and fending off rude questions in a Rolling Stone cover story. On the eve of Glee’s looonng-awaited return, Lea got on the phone to give us a preview of the show’s spring season and tell us how she’s coping with being a real live Hollywood celebrity.
Give us a preview of the spring season of Glee.
Oh my gosh, we have so much coming up. We have great guest stars like [Michele’s Spring Awakening co-star] Jonathan Groff and Idina Menzel. Kristin Chenoweth is coming back. We have the big Madonna episode. We have a Lady Gaga episode. There’s so much that sometimes I can’t really believe we’ve packed it all in.
Rachel is finding love with Jonathan’s character?
Yes, he’s my new love interest. He’s in the entire back nine [episodes].
What could be more perfect?
Right? He’s my best friend in the whole world, so it’s great to have him at work with me—and getting to play opposite him is amazing. We sing together a lot; in tomorrow’s episode [the April 13 spring premiere] we sing together for the first time.
Idina Menzel is playing the coach of Jonathan’s rival glee team. Have you gotten to work with her?
Yes, we’ve actually gotten to sing with each other a couple of times, which was incredible. Idina is a friend from New York, so again, it’s just so awesome to have a familiar face at work.
Can you tell us what you and Idina are singing?
I can’t. I’m so sorry! We do a Broadway song together, which is really great.
You’ve already sung so many great songs on the show. What’s your favorite?
“Don’t Rain on My Parade”—I’m a huge Barbra Streisand fan and a huge Funny Girl fan, so to get to do that song was the best.
We’ve heard that you’ve been offered a stage production of Funny Girl, maybe as an Encores!-type concert that would move to Broadway, and the only issue is planning it around your TV schedule. True?
I did? Really? That’s news to my ears, but thanks for that information! [Laughs.]
So, it’s just a rumor?
It would be such a dream to play that role and I hope that I have the opportunity to do it soon. But no one has told me anything, so until I get the offer, I don’t know anything about it.
The notion of you starring as Elphaba in a movie version of Wicked—that’s also just a rumor?
Again, that’s something I would love to do, but I haven’t gotten an offer for it. But it’s another dream role, for sure.
In a one-week period, you were on Oprah, you sang at the White House and you were on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Pretty incredible! Those are all pinch-me moments. There are a million individual things within those moments that were incredible—I’m at the White House with the President?—but just the events in and of themselves were amazing.
With so much happening so fast, how does the cast stay grounded?
You know, we’re all incredibly normal. Honestly. We are a family, we work really hard and we believe in what we do. We’re in our little world at work, just focusing on making the show great and not getting involved in the meaningless stuff that can float around in this world. I’m happy to do what I do because I think our show is important, and I think it sends an incredible message. I’m honored to play a part that I think is a great role model for girls. Those are the things I focus on.
What’s been the biggest adjustment for you in becoming nationally famous, not just “Broadway famous”?
The kind of attention you get from being on a television show is much different from the attention you get from being on Broadway, but I don’t really think in terms of fame. I just feel really lucky to continue to do incredible work as an actor. As far as the adjustment goes, I’m a New Yorker, and now I live in L.A., which is very different. It’s hard being away from home.
The fan encounters, and being photographed…has that aspect of the Glee experience been enjoyable for you?
The fans have been wonderful; that never gets tiring. And I live a very quiet life out here, so I don’t feel like I’m getting my picture taken by paparazzi all the time. I’m not the kind of person who puts myself out there for stuff like that.
Are you having fun getting dolled up for awards shows and events? You’ve quickly become an icon of the red carpet.
Oh, absolutely! I have great people who help me look incredible. That's really fun—and it’s a great break from wearing knee-highs and penny loafers all the time [as Rachel].
Are you excited about the Glee concert tour this summer?
I’m really looking forward to being at Radio City and being back in New York. As you know, theater is where I come from so to have the live audience in front of me again is going to be awesome. I’m also looking forward to just hanging out in New York for a little bit—go to see some shows and stuff like that.
We ran photos of you at American Idiot last weekend. What did you think of the show?
It was amazing! Obviously, some of my really close friends from Spring Awakening are in it, as well as the whole Spring Awakening creative team. There are some really special people in the show. I think it’s one of the best new pieces, and I’ll definitely be going back a lot.
Word is, you and [ensemble member] Theo Stockman are a couple.
Like I said, there a lot of very special people in that show for me [laughs].