Darren Criss: The New Kid on the Block

3.15.2011

By Ari Karpel

For 'Glee' Actor Darren Criss, it didn't take long to become the big man on campus.

Criss admits that Glee has "kind of complicated" the rest of his career. "I feel like I'm sort of moonlighting on Glee," he says. (The network has yet to make Criss a series regular or announce whether he will return next season, but he is on board for this summer's European tour.) Still, Criss is careful to express his gratitude. "The coolest part is not that it's a hit show -- that's a bonus -- and, of course, that I have a job. But the real cool thing is I was inadvertently raised by the gay community."

As a kid, Criss performed in local musicals ("By the time I was 9, I knew Les Miz like the back of my hand!"), befriending cast members in their 20s and 30s. "I was staying out much later than most kids after shows, going to restaurants," he says. "It's not like I was doing body shots off beautiful Castro boys. I was friends with older guys -- they were who I looked up to. It wasn't until later that I put together that they were gay."

Not only has Criss's preference for gender-subverted musical numbers found a high-profile home (see Blaine's "Baby, It's Cold Outside" duet with Kurt), but Glee has managed to make being a drama geek -- gay or straight -- cool. In its upside-down world, mechanical rain falls from the rafters for a seemingly impromptu "Singin' in the Rain"/"Umbrella" mash-up and a down-on-his-luck gay next door just might have a chance at love with the hot new kid. They're fantasies every gay man -- and evidently the rest of America -- can relate to.

Still, all might not be sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows in Lima, Ohio. "It's my job as showrunner to keep them apart as long as possible," says Ryan Murphy. "Blaine will openly question whether bisexuality is real. I think that some people will love that discussion and some will not love it."

He's even coy about whether they'll get together at all. "When that moment comes -- if it comes, says Murphy, "I want to treat that relationship like we treat all the other relationships on the show. I want it to be as flawed and as exposed as everyone else's."

While an unrequited Kurt-Blaine affair would feel like a cop-out, a platonic friendship between two young gay men might be the best thing Glee could ever model. No doubt Colfer's Kurt -- the most visible gay teen ever on TV -- will eventually find romance, but what could be more subversive and meaningful than for him to develop a lasting bond with a gay man who helps him find his own courage while learning that he doesn't need a boyfriend to be whole?

It's a concept that doesn't elude Criss: "The most important thing to convey to those watching is for Kurt to have someone he can relate to. This is the first time he has a young out male friend, a support system, to show that that's possible." Now that's a teenage dream come true.

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