He’s defying gravity in the book world, too
Glee actor is now a bestselling author, with fans eagerly awaiting the release of his fairy-tale box set
“I’m a little bitter that there was no one like (Kurt) on TV when I was growing up.”
The angelic-voiced Chris Colfer may have broken through to TV stardom as Kurt Hummel on Glee when he sang “Defying Gravity,” but these days he’s smashing sales records in the publishing industry as well.
His series of four volumes of revisionist fairy tales, under the umbrella title The Land of Stories, has been No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, while the first picture book inspired by the series, The Curvy Tree, debuted last month to strong sales. Fans of Colfer’s fabulous fables are waiting for the boxed set, Adventures From the Land of Stories, to hit the streets on Tuesday.
It’s quite a lot for the 25-year-old from Clovis, Calif., to have on his plate, but on the phone from New York he seems just about the nicest young guy you’d ever want to chat with, lacking all of his alter-ego Kurt’s sometimes abrasive fashionista baggage.
“Thank you for recognizing that Kurt and I are two different people,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing him, but we’re not the same in so many ways. When I walked into my audition for Glee, I was a small-town kid wearing scruffy jeans and a shirt from Target.”
In fact, when Colfer auditioned for the show, he was originally brought in to try out for the role of Artie. But the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, sensed something in Colfer and created Kurt for him.
“That was fantastic, sure, but I had to do a lot of homework really quick. I used to keep watching The Devil Wears Prada on repeat to soak up all the gestures and mannerisms. I don’t think anybody ever guessed that I was channelling Meryl Streep’s judgmental looks as Kurt.”
Colfer made a big impression from the start when Glee hit the air in 2009, but it was the ninth episode that season, “Wheels,” that really did the trick. Colfer and Lea Michele’s character Rachel battled over who would sing “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked.
“That came from my own life,” says Colfer. “I always wanted to sing it in high school, but the teachers wouldn’t let me because they said it was a girl’s song. My grandmother finally let me sing it in the church where she was a reverend.
“That song meant the world to me. Wicked was about someone who nobody paid attention to and who had a sister with special needs.”
Colfer’s voice gets husky as he explains the next part of his story.
“When I was a kid, my sister, who was five years younger, was diagnosed with epilepsy. Sometimes she would have 50 seizures in an hour. It was a very, very difficult period for the whole family. That’s when I started creating fairy tales in my head and writing them down. I just couldn’t write enough and my grandmother persuaded me to wait.
“She said, ‘Christopher, I think you should wait until you’re done with elementary school before worrying about being a failed writer.’ ”
But when Colfer got to middle school he had other problems to deal with.
“That’s when the bullying started. My voice may have matured over the years, but it’s never changed.
“So there I was, a sensitive kid with an effeminate voice. I wasn’t feminine in any of my mannerisms, but I was growing up in a very, very conservative place, so that was enough.
“I’d get shoved into walls, pushed into lockers, my things would get vandalized. My parents finally had to take me out and home-school me for a while. It got a bit better in high school. I discovered musical theatre and could be with people like me. I produced a gender-reversed version of Sweeney Todd called Shirley Todd. I did it so that I could sing all the songs Angela Lansbury did.”
An agent had signed Colfer at 14 because of his amazing voice, “but I never got any work. I was always auditioning for the nerd trying to get laid or the jock with a heart of gold, and you can see why I didn’t get any of those parts.”
But then, two weeks into his first year at college, came the audition for Glee and the world shifted on its axis for Colfer and many other young people.
“I think having someone like Kurt on the show changed things for a lot of kids. There I was, a gay guy who wasn’t written to be a punching bag. Someone who had a soul behind the eyes. Someone who people were rooting for.
“I’m a little bitter that there was no one like that on TV when I was growing up. I was so terrified of being gay. I was so far in the closet that I was in the garage. That was the worst part of it.”
What kind of advice would Colfer offer to the kids out there struggling to define themselves?
“I’d probably say hormones are not your fault. Don’t be upset by them. There were so many times as a kid when I was so down; I felt I was never meant for this world. But it wasn’t true. I’d say get out there and see the world. It’s much bigger than your high school.”
And then he thinks of a line he wrote in The Curvy Tree that sums it all up.
“Being different may have been difficult, but it’s what saved me.”