Glee: Season 4 - Kevin McHale (Artie) interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
KEVIN McHale, aka Artie in Glee, talks about the continued success of the show and why he thinks it benefits from fresh cast members and a wider pool of locations, including New York, in its fourth season.
He also talks about his own career, his passion for dancing, why he doesn’t particularly want to direct, working with Kate Hudson and tackling controversial subjects such as high school shootings. Glee: Season 4 is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD now.
Q. When you cast your mind back to the first season of Glee did it feel like a sure thing?
Kevin McHale: No, not at all. We didn’t know anything about how it would be received. We filmed 13 episodes without one of them being aired and we were thinking ‘Oh yeah, people have to watch this at some point and like it for us to keep doing the show’. I was fine with the fact that I can’t influence that side of things. All I can do show up, do my job and hope people like it, and thankfully they did. So, here we are all these years later.
Q. There’s lots of new blood on season four. Were the new cast members happily welcomed into the fold?
Kevin McHale: [Laughs] Well, when you phrase it like that it sounds like Game Of Thrones! But we were very happy to welcome the new cast members. I wish I could say that they were all rude and untalented but it’s quite the opposite. They were all super-nice and hardworking; they’d show up, not complain, and work their butts off.
Q. Do you think that having portions of the series set in New York has given Glee a new lease of life?
Kevin McHale: I do, yeah. We were interested to see how the New York scenes would play out and we were all really excited about it. I think it worked brilliantly and it kind of breathed new life into the show. We wouldn’t necessarily read the New York stuff when the scripts came out and those who were involved in those scenes wouldn’t necessarily read the McKinley High stuff because we were fans of it – we didn’t want to read it in advance and spoil the surprise of seeing it on screen. So, it was really fun for us. The only thing that did suck, though, is that we weren’t around each other all the time as we had been for the first three years. That was weird but we did get to see each other in passing.
Q. Was it tough for you as an actor to adjust to those changes?
Kevin McHale: For us still in the choir room there was no big difference because we were still doing the same thing in a sense and we had all these new people coming in, so that was really exciting. I think it was tougher for the New York people because they were working on new sets and it was a whole new world – not being in high school and with Mr Schu all the time. For us, it was kind of the same thing and it didn’t feel like there was another section of the show being filmed, which was cool because it meant when we got to watch the fourth season it was like ‘Yes! There’s this whole new aspect to it!’
Q. Were you pining for Artie to head off to New York himself?
Kevin McHale: Yes, then at the end of this season they wrote that I’d be going off to film school in NYC, but that’s a way off. Artie still has to graduate and go to the Nationals, but eventually he’ll get to Manhattan.
Q. Artie is an aspiring director. Is that something that appeals to you?
Kevin McHale: No! It’s funny because I may be the only Glee cast member who has zero interest in directing. I probably could at this point. We’ve done 88 episodes across four seasons so I get how it all works. Brad Falchuk is one of the creators and I was sitting with him when he was directing and I said: “I don’t think I could do this.” He replied: “Yes you could. After this shot what would you do next?” I would tell him what I thought and he’d go: “Yeah, that’s right.” But the thing is when you’re a director with every single department if they have a question they come to you and that’s where I’d struggle. Some people are really cut out for it. I think Dianna [Agron, who plays Quinn] and Harry [Shum Jr, who plays Mike] would be amazing at directing. But I always think: “Mmm, this show will never air if I direct it. It’ll get cancelled real fast!”
Q. There was some controversy this year about Glee tackling the subject of school shootings, but do you feel it’s important for the show to look at such issues?
Kevin McHale: I think we’ve never shied away from addressing sensitive issues and they weren’t doing it just for the sake of doing it. I think they had a story to tell and they did it in the most respectful way possible. As actors it was something we never expected but we’ve also learned on Glee to expect the unexpected. My job was to show up and make what was on paper as believable as possible. It was a unique experience to film that episode and hopefully it came across as realistically as possible. The director at the time [Bradley Buecker] wanted to be really sensitive about it and the way it was written was very sensitive, and I’m proud to be part of a show that’s not afraid to tackle serious issues. We have all the fun and the happy music but I think what’s made the show so successful is because we also deal with those big issues.
Q. How did you react when you first read the script for that particular episode?
Kevin McHale: I was surprised but also so glad because of the way it was written. You don’t expect to do something like that but that’s half the fun of doing this show.
Q. Alex Newell is brilliant as Unique. Is he as out-there as the character in real life?
Kevin McHale: Alex is hilarious. He’s not necessarily like Unique but he’s extremely proud and happy to play that part. I’ve probably heard more from people about that character than anything else this season – about how happy they are that a character like that is on TV, which is obviously a rare thing. It’s so cool to have Alex playing it because he’s awesome and super-hilarious and he deals with it in the most incredible way.
Q. You’re a great dancer so you must get excited when you discover there’s going to be a fantasy dance sequence featuring Artie…
Kevin McHale: Absolutely. I don’t usually ask for them to write me those scenes except in the Michael Jackson episode. I definitely did pitch that one for myself. It’s only happened two or three times so far and it’s exciting but it’s also terrifying because people go: “Oh yeah, you can dance!” And I’m like: “Well, I’ve been sitting in this chair for four years so I don’t know if I still can.” The expectations are higher but hopefully I can perform well.
Q. You must have incredible upper-body strength after all those years in the chair…
Kevin McHale: [Laughs] No, none. I’m as weak as ever. The problem is I don’t weigh anything, the wheelchair is light and we’re on this flat floor on the set. The one time I took it out around the lot, after around 30 seconds I was sweating and going ‘I can’t do this’.
Q. Glee is just as popular on Blu-ray & DVD as it on television. Does that surprise you?
Kevin McHale: No, because it’s how I consume most things myself. I don’t think I watch many shows when they’re actually on television. I love Game Of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Scandal and I watch them on various platforms.
Q. Where would you like to see Artie’s storylines take him in season five?
Kevin McHale: I wanted him to go to New York and now that’s happening, so at this point I’m like ‘Whatever you guys want to do with me…’ We keep making jokes about me moving into the loft across the hallway from Rachel and Kurt. The funny thing is those scenes aren’t done in New York anyway, they’re done on the same sound stage as the McKinley High stuff. They’ve torn down Will Schuester’s apartment to make room for those.
Q. Do you worry about your screen time being reduced?
Kevin McHale: That’s necessary when you have so many characters, although I understand that I’m the only person to have appeared in every single episode. That’s what people tell me on Twitter, but I’m expecting to skip an episode at some point because there are some weeks on season four where there’s no New York in it. I’m prepared.
Q. Rachel’s dream role is the lead in Funny Girl. What do you think Artie’s dream role would be?
Kevin McHale: [Laughs] Directing Rachel in Funny Girl and getting to boss her around.
Q. Do you have a favourite musical number from season four?
Kevin McHale: There’s one by Jacob Artist, who plays Jake, where he does the Ne-Yo song Let Me Love You and it’s this whole stripped-down version. We were all watching it and thinking: “This is the best thing we’ve ever done.” It was so good. That’s what I love – where we take a hugely popular song and turn it on its head – and Jacob sang it incredibly. It was our first top ten hit on iTunes of the season too so we were all very happy about that.
Q. And who’s your favourite guest star?
Kevin McHale: Kate Hudson is incredible. I have no scenes with her but I love watching the episodes she’s in and she’s one of the most incredibly cool people I’ve ever met. We had a Stevie Wonder episode and she was asking us for advice on how to do her number. She was genuinely interested in what we had to say, plus she’s got the best six-pack I’ve ever seen.
Glee: Season 4 is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD now.