ON SONG WITH HEROES
In his first movie experience, Kevin McHale, fresh from the cast of Glee, found himself in every scene with his idol Dustin Hoffman
In the war for Kevin McHale’s eternal soul, music was the first to get its hooks in.
As a child, the young Texan’s extra-curricular activity was a pop group.
“I’d do school in the morning and afternoon, then at night we’d go to a recording studio, then when I got to high school we went on tour.”
But it turns out, McHale says, “music was just the gateway drug”. His real addiction? Acting.
It’s a craft he says he “randomly worked my way into”. And his only acting class was six seasons as guitarslinging, dreams-of-dancing, paraplegic performer Artie Abrams on Glee.
“I got Glee a year out of high school. By the end of it, I’d been in high school for nine years or something,” McHale laughs. “When you do 121 episodes, your character is going to have big moments, small moments and everything in between. So we were constantly challenged.”
Now that he’s graduated – the final episode of Glee aired March 20 in the US – McHale can’t wait to see what else acting has in store for him.
“It goes from moments of terror, of ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?’, to ‘This is really exciting’,” he admits. “I got a taste of it last year when I did this movie Boychoir – it was the first time I’d done a film and it made me excited. I knew Glee was ending the next year and I was like, ‘OK, I can do this’.”
As far as first movie experiences go, Boychoir was a doozy. The moving indie is a tale of triumph over adversity, about a poor, troubled kid who winds up in a prestigious choral school for boys.
McHale plays the school’s junior instructor. Hanging out with him in the staffroom? Oh, only conductor Dustin Hoffman, principal Kathy Bates and choirmaster-inwaiting Eddie Izzard.
“I definitely felt like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim,” McHale laughs. “It was intimidating to say the least. It was just so odd to be in a room with them, because I’m such a big fan of all of them ... I mean, that’s putting it lightly.
“There’s Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates sitting across from you, they’re referencing older movies they’ve done, you’ve seen every single one of them and here you are in the scene with them ... The whole time I was just hoping I wasn’t screwing it up.”
Though he admits “I always think I suck,” there was a moment on set when McHale figured he must be doing OK.
“I had met Dustin a week before, but it was my first day shooting with him, and the director was like, ‘Dustin has asked that you be added to all of his scenes, so we’re adding you to the rest of the scenes for the day’.
“I’m like, ‘OK, either he’s bored and lonely and likes having me around or maybe I’m doing something right’. I wasn’t sure what it was. Either way, I was staying, happily.”
McHale, 26, was also reassured by the fact he wasn’t the “kid” on set – they were the 11 and 12-year-old boys who made up the student body.
“On Glee we were always referred to as ‘the kids’; until the very last day we were ‘the kids’,” he recalls. “On Boychoir, a lot of those boys were from the real American Boychoir School (in New Jersey) where they’re taught to call everyone sir. So they would walk past me and they’d be like, ‘Hi, sir!’ I would just feel so old, I hated it. I was like, ‘Don’t call me sir!’ They’re like, ‘Oh, sorry sir’. ‘No!’
“They were so sweet, so professional ... I mean, much more professional than I am.”
Now free to pursue whatever comes his way – “None of us did too much during Glee because our schedule was just absurd” – McHale has been back and forth to London where he’s hosting a panel show, Virtually
Famous. The surprise offer came his way after a British producer was impressed by his guest spots on the US version of improv show Whose Line is it
Anyway? He says he barely knew what a panel show was, but the team was “so funny and so nice” he told them he’d do whatever they wanted him to. As for his acting ambitions? “I’ve done a bit of everything, so I’d like to keep doing that,” he says. “I’m not going to say no based on genre alone ... unless it’s horror.
“In the beginning of Glee we were all getting offered horror movies left and right. I was like, ‘I can’t even watch them, let alone be in one’. They terrify me. I don’t understand why people go and see ’em.”
Josh Lucas, Kevin McHale and Garrett Wareing get their acts together in Boychoir.