Ambition is not something that comes after success strikes but, rather, is what helps a performer get there in the first place. Case in point, Chris Colfer, who became a household name when Fox’s Glee first premiered in 2009, had already been busy working on writing Struck By Lightning way before Kurt Hummel came into his life. It’s a case of full circle that the story he worked on years ago is finally coming to theaters with Colfer not only the screenwriter but also in the lead role.
In the coming of age film directed by Brian Donnelly (Saved!), Colfer plays teenaged Carson Phillips, who has a less than idyllic life with an absent father (Dermot Mulroney), a mother (Allison Janney) who likes to spend her days drinking and popping pills, and a thankless job running the school newspaper that only he cares about. The film also stars Rebel Wilson, Christina Hendricks, Allie Grant, Sarah Hyland and acting legend Polly Bergen.
AfterElton sat down with Colfer at the film’s press junket day in Beverly Hills this past weekend to talk about the origins of the film as well as what the future holds on Glee for the still-broken-up Kurt and Blaine (Darren Criss).
AfterElton: In the press notes you mention that your high school speech coach was your savior and how she got you through high school. How so?
Chris Colfer: She was just one of those teachers that really didn’t care about the statistics of her kid’s testing. She really cared about each student individually and made a point for them to know that she was there for them. And I remember one day I was having a horrible, horrible, horrible day so after school she took me out for ice cream. She’s just that one person in all of our lives that I felt was there for us that wasn’t a parent, that was an adult that cared about you. And she’s in the movie. She plays the chemistry teacher.
AE: The origins of the film go way before Glee ever came into you life, but once you actually started shooting were there thoughts about making sure this isn’t McKinley and that it’s its own world?
CC: No. Not really. I think partly because I always envisioned the town so differently. And I think like in the script even there were like 'the town is bleak and dark and small' and things like that. But no, there was really never any sort of conscious decision to make it look different from Glee.
AE: Carson’s sexuality isn’t really a part of the movie even though sexuality is brought up with some of the other characters, which is great and fun. Was that more of a been there/done that thing or…?
CC: To be honest for one, I just personally...if I was creating a story for myself I didn’t want to have to go through another orientation story, like selfishly. But the biggest reason was I didn’t want anyone to not take away a message from Carson because of his orientation. Again, I feel like my experience with Glee it’s like you designate a story to gay kids and the straight kids stop listening and vice versa. I didn’t want a straight or gay kid to walk away thinking oh that doesn’t relate to me because he was gay or because he was straight.
AE: The relationship with Carson’s mother is a pretty volatile one. How did you and Allison [Janney] prepare for those scenes, because some of the dialogue is really harsh!
CC: It wasn’t hard, for me at least. I don’t know about her, but I think I’ve always loved her so much that there was this familiarity that was already there. I didn’t have to dive deep to feel like I had a connection to her.
AE: Talk about Polly Bergen. You have some really touching scenes with her in the film. Have you been a fan of hers for a long time?
CC: Forever, forever. Absolutely. I was really drawn to her because she looks just like my real grandmother. When I met with her, it was supposed to be for 15 minutes, we were supposed to have like a little lunch, or a little tea or drink or something, and I was going to ask her to maybe be in the movie and it lasted for four hours. I just sat there, and I just listened to all her stories. She’s the funniest, sharpest person I think I know, and she’s 80 years young! She’s so quick and witty and hysterical and has the best stories about filming live television in the 50s and the Reagans. I don’t know why she’s not a national treasure. She’s just amazing.
AE: Is Polly’s character based on your own grandmother or somebody you knew?
CC: No. In fact, my family is very self conscious about this movie because my parents are happily married and my grandmother actually has three doctorates. She is very smart. She’s nowhere near Alzheimer’s, so the family [in the film] is almost exactly the opposite.
AE: What do you get from writing that maybe you don’t get from acting?
CC: I feel like writing and acting are completely different things, and then acting what you’ve written is also completely different. I think they’re three different beasts. Because when you’re writing it’s like you’re thinking about the actors, and when you’re acting you’re thinking about the writers, but when you are both it’s such freedom because you don’t have to ask yourself any questions.
AE: Now Carson seems to know that writing can be very therapeutic, so was writing the film therapeutic for you, too?
CC: Oh absolutely. Especially when I came up with the idea in high school as a way just to vent all my frustrations. My daily encounters with peers and teachers that didn’t go so well, I could just go home and write a scene about it, rather than letting it...well, it festered plenty, but at least I was writing about it.
AE: Do you still do that now if you have a hard day?
CC: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Except I’m writing children's stories now, so everything is substituted for fairies and goblins rather than teenagers.
AE: Now what’s the message in this movie that you’d like people to leave with?
CC: You know, I really hope that by seeing Carson kind of robbed of all his potential people will find the potential within themselves for their own lives. And I really hope that it just inspires aspiration really. I hope people can see his struggle, his journey and be inspired to go after their own dreams because a lot of kids need it. A lot of the kids need that boost. They just feel like everything is impossible.
AE: I saw you tweet this morning with your picture with the poster. What was it like seeing that poster for the first time?
CC: When I saw the poster it kind of became real for me. It looks very much like the same photographer who did the Easy A poster, and it just made it very, very real. I’m like ‘Oh my God! This is an actual move!’ There’s a poster now, and I’m on it. This is a real thing.
AE: Let’s talk about Klaine for a minute. As of the last episode, they are at least talking now. Do you think in the long run that absence makes the heart grow fonder for them?
CC: I think so, and I think it’s good for them just to have their own lives rather than be halves of one character. I think at least as an audience member I kind of want to watch them go and do their own thing, and then if they come back together in the end sure, great. But I think they should probably live their own lives rather than sharing a life. I think that’ll do them some good. But what will your readers think? I can never really get a good feel for it.
AE: People are really passionate about them, and they get really stuck on them together, but I think it will be good for them.
CC: And that’s what I’ve always said in interviews. I’ve always been ‘oh, it would be great if they had a problem’ because as an actor it’s not fun to say ‘I love you’ in every scene. But then people got really mad at me, and I’m like ‘why are you mad at me?’ That’s like saying you’re mad at me because I wish it was cloudy today. It’s part of life.
AE: I don’t know what’s coming down the line, but I would actually like to see Kurt fall for somebody who’s maybe just as good for him as Blaine is.
CC: Yeah. Right.
AE: So it’s not a good guy/bad guy kind of thing but just to see what he would do. It would be a good conflict.
CC: Right. Exactly. One thing is you don’t want kids to...at least maybe I’m just really independent in this sense, but I hate it when kids throw their lives away for another kid. Because they think ‘oh I’m not going to go to college, I’m going to stay here and live with my boyfriend.’ No. Go to college. Do not throw your life away because you have a boyfriend now that you won’t have in six months.
AE: So last question and it’s a fun one. I love your hair and I’ve noticed different times it’s different heights. So my question is does the height of your hair reflect the mood of the day or is it just kind of random?
CC: [laughs] Oh, I think it also depends on when the last time I had a haircut was and the humidity. I’d say. But, no, I don’t really have a ruler... and I’m not like ‘I want six inches today.’
Struck By Lightning is available on VOD beginning December 19th and will be in select theaters beginning January 11th. For more on the film, visit its website.