Some people learn how to write screenplays by taking a class. Not Chris Colfer. When he was in high school, he kept crouching down at a Borders bookstore in Fresno, Calif., where he religiously read, and reread, a $40 copy of Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola.
“I was a huge history buff,” says Colfer, 22. “The movie came out right at the time I was studying for my AP European-history class.” By obsessing over the screenplay, “that’s how I taught myself to be a screenwriter,” he says. “I never could afford it, because it was $40. So I’d always visit it at the Borders and study the format.”
In addition to acting, Colfer wanted to pursue a writing career. During the first season of Glee, after Kurt turned him into a pop-culture phenomenon, he’d go home and work on his first screenplay. The result is Struck by Lightning, a title that refers to the fate of its central character, Carson (played by Colfer), a high-school geek who blackmails the cool kids at his school into submitting stories for his literary magazine. The movie opens in theaters Friday.
Colfer spoke to Ramin Setoodeh about the film and all things gay.
You and I have at least one thing in common—we both grew up in Fresno.
No way! Where did you live?
Near Clovis West High School.
That’s where my mom went.
Whenever I go back, I’m sad that the Borders closed down.
I can’t tell you how many summers I spent in that Borders. It’s so depressing.
How did you come up with the premise for this movie?
The idea was in my head for a really long time. I was a sophomore when I came up with it. I was just finishing up my own literary magazine. It was cloudy. I thought, jeez, if I got struck by lightning, I wonder how long it will take for someone to find my body. I had just gotten my shitty car.
Why was your car shitty?
It was a 1995 Dodge Intrepid. The air conditioning didn’t work. The radio didn’t work, and the windshield wipers didn’t work. So whenever it rained, we had to pull over every two miles and take a squeegee to it.
Did you start writing the screenplay back then?
I tried it with Microsoft Word and reformatted every single line, so I think I might have given up on it.
And then you picked it up again when you were older. Did you know all along that you’d be the star?
Absolutely. I’m a very vain writer.
What do you mean? You’re like Woody Allen?
Well, I don’t want to say I only write for myself. But I definitely write for myself in mind. I just feel like nobody else is going to write for me, so I might as well write for myself.
Well, I mean, I guess that’s stupid to say. I guess someone has written for me. Ryan [Murphy] kind of created Kurt for me. So I guess that isn’t true. But I feel—not to use a cheesy lightning reference—that type of lightning is going to strike once for me. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen again, where someone writes a full movie for me. I’m a very specific type of person. Although I would never put limits on my abilities as an actor, I know many people do that for me.
What kind of limits?
I’ve spent so much time telling people that I’m really flattered that you think I’m Kurt Hummel, but he really is a character. I went through a whole process of how I wanted him to stand, how I wanted him to sound. He’s not real.
Are you surprised by Kurt’s level of fandom?
It’s really surprising because it changed. As soon as Blaine came into the picture, the whole fandom behind Kurt almost shifted. It turned into a version of Twilight. There are so many people that are obsessed with the couple.
It’s not just gay kids. It’s girls, too.
I swear to God that has to be a common misconception. I would say 95 percent of my fans are teenage girls. Maybe 5 percent of the letters I get are from actual gay kids.
Why do the girls say? Do they want to be your friend or date you?
All of the above. There are so many girls that write me letters about how they want to convert me and marry me, which is very flattering. Also, I think there’s an old-generation ignorance. They underestimate the tolerance of the new generation.
And it’s so different now. I remember when I was in high school, and Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet, many people didn’t know what a gay person looked like in pop culture.
Right, I know. One of the first things I was ever told, when I got my first job, was, “R.I.P., your career, because you’re starting off playing a gay character. That means you’ll never ever get a job. You, a young actor, need a female audience to fall in love with you if you want to work again. That’s not going to happen if you play a gay guy.” It’s, like, really? I welcome them to open up my Twitter feed, because it’s all young girls. They all connected to Kurt, because he’s a character that has something different about him. They didn’t care if he was gay. He was fighting for acceptance. That’s the element they all connected to.
Were you out of the closet in high school?
Did you date girls back then?
I had a girlfriend, yeah.
Do you have time to go on dates now?
Do you not want to talk about that?
I have nothing that I want to hide, but I have to be very careful, because I have very passionate fans that are very protective over me. I always keep that tight-lipped for people’s safety.
Have you ever had a boyfriend?
But we don’t know who he is?
Well, I mean, it’s not a secret, but I don’t want to list his name or anything. Or their names. I’ve always been that way. I’ve always been protective of my personal life. It used to drive my parents nuts, because I would never let them see me in school plays. I really like to keep my personal and professional as separate as possible.
Is it true that Kurt is getting a new boyfriend on Glee?
I don’t know if they’re going to be boyfriend status, but definitely an interest.
Do you get to pick who he is?
What about a chemistry test?
No, they rarely do that. I didn’t read with the person they ended up casting, which was a relief for me, because I hate chemistry reads. The whole audition process, period. It takes me back to auditioning for years and years and having no luck. It takes me to a really vulnerable place.
Did you take singing lessons growing up?
Singing has always been forced upon me. It was never anything that I wanted to do. It was never anything I wanted to pursue, with the exception of doing a Broadway show. My grandma used to make me sing at her church when I was younger. I got into community theater and took voice lessons then. It’s very funny, because a lot of people were hesitant to give me voice lessons, because they thought my voice would change. But it never did. It changed. But it wasn’t a drastic change. It wasn’t a continental shift, like everyone was thinking.