The AfterElton Interview: "Glee's" Alex Newell
The fourth season of Glee is off and running, and one of the newer faces at McKinley High is male-to-female transgender character Wade “Unique” Adams, played by Alex Newell.
Newell made a strong impression when he competed on the first season of The Glee Project and while other contestants from the reality series have guested on the Fox series, Newell’s part on Glee, currently at recurring status, will hopefully become full-time soon.
AfterElton sat down with Newell in West Hollywood last week for a lively chat (and photo shoot) to find out how he approaches the role, where things are going with this week’s Grease episode and about his role in the highly anticipated The Geography Club [based on the book by former AfterElton associate editor Brent Hartinger].
AfterElton: When you’re playing Wade and Unique, do you see it as two different people?
Alex Newell: I do. It’s really strange. I remember one time, I was practicing and practicing a number to be Unique because in my script it said ‘Unique.’ They do a really good job of telling me which character I’m playing, if I’m playing Unique or if I’m playing Wade. But for this one I had all the mentalities and the mannerisms that I was going to do. But then they were like, ‘Guess what? You’re going to be Wade.’ I was like, ‘Wait. I’ve been practicing this as Unique.’ So, I had to go back and just redo everything because I see them as two different characters. They’re basically two different entities and two different human beings. They’re so different that it’s hard to even say that they’re alike. The only thing they share is the same body.
AE: Why do you think Wade/Unique has kind of caught on with people?
Alex: I think it’s because the character is so leftfield. It’s like out of nowhere that you either love to hate her or you just love her in general. It’s one of those kind of characters. But dear God, I hope most people love her. My character brings something new to the show. It’s like having a nicer version of Sue Sylvester [played by Jane Lynch].
AE: Do you think the timing of that is just this is the right time for a show like this and also like a character like you need?
Alex: I do because The New Normal, I’m not plugging the other show [co-created by Glee creator Ryan Murphy] but I kind of am. The New Normal is coming to be where everyone is accepted and everyone can be who they are.
AE: What else do we find out about Unique?
Alex: Well, this last episode you found out that Wade ‘Unique’ Adams does not feel like she’s a boy. Like, you got a glimpse of it in the third season with my first episode saying I didn’t identify as one. But this episode it says ‘I’m not a boy on the inside. I am, in fact, a girl.’
AE: How do you feel playing that?
Alex: It’s heavy, it’s deep. I try to do it the best that I can do it. But I don’t know. You don’t see this character on television. There’s only, to my knowledge, the other character and it’s not even mainstream. It’s on Degrassi [on Teen Nick].
AE: I love that the teen or the younger market out there has really embraced exploring sexuality.
Alex: You see every spectrum of our origin on television now.
AE: So we know from the last episode that Unique got the Rizzo role in Grease. Can you tease anything in this week’s episode?
Alex: Well, that’s not the end of the story because something else is going to happen really big.
AE: Marley is a big part of Wade’s life. Any other kind of friendships or even rivalries that we’ll see, especially with the Grease episode?
Alex: I mean there’s always butting heads, but the number one claw fight, it’s a one-sided fight, is between Marley and Kitty. They’re always fighting for no reason. But another little rivalry you’ll see coming is between Jacob and Ryder. You’re going to see the tension between them fighting for one girl. I hate love triangles. They’re so stupid.
AE: Outside of the show I know you have a lot of things going on. Tell me about the movie you just did.
Alex: I filmed a movie called The Geography Club. It’s based off of a book [by Brent Hartinger] about teenagers in high school that are struggling with coming to terms with their sexuality. It’s about a kid named Russell and how he’s coming to terms with his sexuality and he’s not comfortable with it. But then he is trying to impress the boy that he likes who likes him back, but they’re both closeted. The football player refuses to come out. It’s kind of a classic story where one side really wants to come out and have everyone accept him, but the other one doesn’t.
AE: Tell me about your character.
Alex: My character’s name is Ike. Ike is this funny, eccentric character, kind of a comic relief. He starts the story off being 80/20 - 80 percent straight, 20 percent gay - when in fact he is just 100 percent gay and trying to hide behind it all. Then as he progresses through the story he ends up like 70/30 and then we get to 50/50. By the end of the movie we’re at 100 percent gay and everyone just laughs at him because we always knew that you were 100 percent gay. He just has a funny background in the story. It’s kind of quirky character.
AE: How did The Geography Club come about?
Alex: I think they found me through [Glee Project mentor] Robert Ulrich and had me in mind to audition for it. I remember I was working every day. Then they were like ‘we’ll come to your hotel.’ I was like ‘excuse me?!’ So they came down. I did an audition and then a couple weeks later they were like, ‘You booked it.’ I was like, ‘Okay. Sure. My first movie, like, ever!’
AE: Have you gotten used to being recognized?
Alex: Well, it all started with The Glee Project. I’d go to the mall and they were like, ‘Oh my God.’
AE: How do you take that kind of recognition? Do you soak it all in or do you have to try and keep people at a distance?
Alex: I mean if it happens, it happens. I can’t stop it. But I’ve had a great experience, and then I’ve had a couple bad experiences. My okay experience was I was at The Grove shopping with my mom. I don’t know why I didn’t check Twitter or anything or look at all the signs that were posted around because Chris Colfer was there that same night doing a book signing at Barnes & Noble. So, I was there during the day and all his Glee fans were outside already lined up. I was like ‘Oh my God.’ I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. I interrupted Access Hollywood. I was so upset. I was like ‘I’m so sorry.’
AE: Glee’s the kind of show that can open up a lot of doors. Where do you see yourself in the future?
Alex: I really want to do Broadway. That is my long-term goal. It’s what I’ve been working for since I was 14, 13 years old. It’s what I’ve strived for. I’m a shark when it comes to musical theater auditions. I will go in and I will destroy an audition song. That’s not even tooting my own horn. It’s because I have such a giant passion for it and that I want it. It’s just like I’m going to do everything in my power so I get this job. Another thing about me is I only go for shows that I know I’ll get and that I’ll book. You’ll never see me go for Pirates of Penzance or South Pacific. You’ll never see me go for Miss Saigon.
AE: If you could pick a show that you could be in on Broadway, what would it be?
Alex: Dreamgirls I’m going to have to do eventually in my life. I’ll cut every black woman that thinks they’re going to play Effie. I would go on that audition with a massacre. I’d be like ‘you can leave, you can leave, you can leave.’ I’m going to get this job. Then if Amber Riley is there I’m going to be like ‘you can leave too.’ No, I’d make Amber Riley play Dana…me and Amber would fight for that role to the death. Then if Jennifer Hudson was there I’d be like ‘you lost all that weight, you can’t play her. Goodbye.‘
AE: The last two years have been huge for you.
Alex: It was two years two weeks ago when I sent in my audition tape and history was made. I found out that I was going to be auditioning for The Glee Project and callback. I found out while I was sitting at tech rehearsal for a musical I was in for a Christmas show.
AE: You’re really an example of somebody whose dreams have come true in a lot of ways.
Alex: In a lot of ways, yeah. I’ve been watching the show for the past three years and thinking, ‘I’m going to be on that show. I’m going to be on that show. I will be on that show. I’m going to sing with everybody on that show.’ Looking back three years from now, it’s like, ‘wow, I am on the show.’ I am doing what I love. My dream actually came true. It’s a good feeling to know that dreams actually can happen and do come true and that I’m an example of that. Let everyone see it. So be it.
Glee airs Thursdays at 8pm on Fox. The Geography Club is set for release in 2013.