READ | GLEE ORAL HISTORY PART 1: CASTING CALL
Kevin McHale (Artie Abrams): We were all very green and confused about what was going on. The first day was me, Amber, Chris, and Jenna. We'd meet with Brad Ellis, and we were learning "Don't Stop Believin' ". This is when we actually took the time to learn all these songs. We learned "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat." Then Adam Anders came in and watched people do solos. I didn't do a solo because I was doing "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat." Jenna sang, and she was this quiet little girl and she had the most powerful voice. I was thinking, "how did I get this?" Jenna had been on Broadway, Amber could sing the phone book in her sleep, and then Chris sang and he had the most unique voice, and he did it with all the funny bits that are in the pilot. I thought, "I'm in over my head."
Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina Cohen-Chang): I came out to L.A. and Lea had taken me to dinner the first night. I had rehearsal the next day with Kevin, Amber, and Chris. For some reason Lea wasn't there, and Cory hadn't been cast yet. So she goes, "tell me everything about them, and tell me who we like and who we don't." [Laughs]
McHale:We had one of our last singing lessons with Brad Ellis at Fox, and that's where we met Lea. We ran the whole thing with Lea, and by that point the four of us had gotten very close, and the only one who knew Lea was Jenna. We met her and were like, "She's kind of like Rachel Berry." Very excited, very professional, knew all her shit.
Robert Ulrich (Casting Director): We had a really hard time finding Mercedes. They were almost ready to go with someone who was so wonderful, but she was a rapper, not a singer. Ryan wanted a singer. I was getting so worried. One of my friends came up to me and said, you know my girlfriend's roommate is a singer, I think she sings at church. So Amber came in and sat across from me, and she sounded pretty. But I said, "Can you sing something bigger? Can you sing 'And I Am Telling You' from Dreamgirls?" And she sang it, and I ran out to the inner office and said, "Oh my god, we've found Mercedes." When we took her to show Ryan, that day was one of the most exciting moments I've ever had.
McHale: Amber had to sing [in rehearsals], a I remember asking her to do it again so I could record it and show everyone I know. It was the most incredible thing I had ever heard in my entire life. She sang and it was like the clouds opened up and I saw Jesus. I am not a religious person, but that was the most religious I've ever felt in my entire life. She wasn't even trying.
Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel): None of us knew there would be dancing involved until the night before the first dance rehearsal -- there was no indication of movement in the script. Luckily our dancing skills were on par with each other. Back then it took a week to choreograph one song. By the third season, we were learning dances the hour before we shot them.
Zach Woodlee (Choreographer):I was with Jenna, Kevin, Amber, Lea, and Chris [in rehearsals], who are all remotely the same size. And then this giant walks in. I was like, "What the hell are they doing to me!"
Ushkowitz:Cory was the funnest, goofiest person you'll ever meet. But we learned very quickly that he could not dance. He'd get very very frustrated. It was so endearing, how bad he was trying. He'd go, "I didn't know it was a dance thing! I just didn't know!" They wrote that in, but that was the genesis of that. Cory was also the big secret. Lea, Kevin, Amber, Chris, and I had all these rehearsals before, and they still hadn't brought in Finn. We knew Matt Morrison was cast. It was sort of like the show, where's the last cast member? We found out he was some Canadian who couldn't get his green card, so he had been cast but he couldn't get into the U.S. to rehearse with us. We were thinking, "He must be so famous!"
McHale:I was standing in for [Cory] a long time while I think we learned about 12 different versions of "Don't Stop Believin' ". He couldn't legally work for the first half, so I was filling in for him because I look exactly like Cory [Laughs.] We met him when we went in to record. This was fun, because we didn't do it this way much. Usually we go in on a lunch break for 30 minutes and knock out an entire song. This time all five of us went into the recording studio and we met Cory. I was very weary of meeting him because I watched Kyle XY, and I told him this on the first day of the pilot, he played a douchebag and I hated his character. I told him I was scared to meet him because I hated him on that TV show, so I just assumed that's how he would be. That's how it works: people on TV act like their characters. [Laughs] Of course, it ended up being the exact opposite, and he was the sweetest.
Ushkowitz:We rehearsed for two weeks, which we never get anymore. It was a very different experience from how the rest of the show works now.
Colfer: Recording is so different than performing. It took me a while to get comfortable hearing my own voice in the headphones -- that was a trip! In the first episodes we recorded everything together and I was always paired with musical goddess Amber Riley. I'd always leave feeling so bad about myself. I would tell myself, "Well, maybe you're not meant to be a singer."
McHale:We recorded all five of us in that room, and everybody knew their harmonies. I had never done that at that point, I have never done it ever since. It was great, we were all learning each other's voices and how to work together in such intimate ways. If we had never done all that I think our relationships would be very different.
Ushkowitz: Before we started shooting, we didn't even know [Tina] was going to be goth. We didn't know until the day before. My first fitting was Walmart grandma jeans high waist, and sweater vests. Lou, our amazing costume designer, she called me and said I had to come in for another fitting because I looked too much like Artie. I was supposed to sing "If I Were A Bell," so that had to be changed when we changed the look. We sort of molded her in the rehearsals for the pilot. It just worked. I never was really dark or aggressive like that, but by putting those clothes on it really changed my whole sort of being. I feel like throughout the entire series, [Tina] unfolded and evolved so much. That started because we didn't really know, so it was a fun time to really create it. Just like Chris.
Lou Eyrich (Costume Designer): Kurt was Ryan's pet project. He wanted it to be this kid reads the fashion magazines, he knows what is on Style.com, he knows what Alexander McQueen is doing in the spring. He can't afford it, so he sews things together to make it his own. He's always trying to be ahead of it. Kurt watched the trend reports and then would emulate it and be the first one to wear it.
Colfer:My first fitting for Glee was the first time I ever tried on skinny jeans. It was quite an experience. So much of the character was born in that fitting. The clothes definitely wore me more than I wore them. The outfits were so loud I didn't feel any need to make him "louder" through voice or expression -- with one glimpse of his style people understood him perfectly.
Woodlee:I just remember walking in a straight line for hours, just trying to get them all to have the same gait. It was tough. We'd hold each other's shoulders. It was a shock to a lot of them. Getting that wheelchair involved was interesting.
McHale:[Woodlee] told me to pick one of two wheelchairs and see whichever one felt best, and he was going to go teach the other people how to dance. There was a hospital wheelchair, which made no sense, and the smaller one that I ended up picking. I think because I had a dance background, I immediately thought I needed to figure out how to make the quickest turns. What's the most efficient process of going forward and backwards, turning and going up ramps, should I do this one handed or both of my hands. It happened pretty quickly. Now it's become second nature, but at the time we learned "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat," and that's all based around the wheelchair. In the pilot you only see a section of it, but we had the entire two and a half minute song choreographed. Everyone had to get used to being around the wheelchair, they had to push the wheelchair. It was very good for spatial awareness reasons that everyone, including myself, got adjusted to it as soon as possible.
Ushkowitz:We'd put little pieces together, and Zach would add things. No one had a dance call, nobody thought about that. Lea had training, I had training, and Kevin did. "Don't Stop Believin' " I think went through five different versions before it got approved. There was one with a full on dance number, and it was so weird. It was a bit kooky at first. It was a collaboration between Zach and Ryan, and also what we could do with our bodies. We also had to work with Kevin and the wheelchair as well, the spacing and how fast he could move. Plus, Kevin would be moving his legs the entire time to the beat. We'd be like, "Kevin, you can't move your legs."
McHale: That was really an invaluable bonding experience between us. We were doing this thing none of us had done before. Nobody had anything to compare it to, so everyone was doing what they thought was right. Brad Ellis had us doing these singing warm ups with our arms in the air and we'd all be looking at each other like, "What is going on?"
PART 3: WHAT IT WAS LIKE ON SET -- AND BACK IN HIGH SCHOOL