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Glee’s Kevin McHale on Artie’s Rap

Whether making hilarious passive-aggressive digs at diva Rachel or asking love interest Tina if she wants to “get up on this,” Kevin McHale’s Artie — a skinny nerd with the heart of LL Cool J — gains more fans each week on Glee. It’s well known at this point that, in real life, McHale isn’t in a wheelchair, spent some time in boy band NLT, and is quite the stylish dude. But fresh off of filming the season-one finale, the 21-year old actor gave Vulture some further insight into his life on and off Glee, and gamely answered some commenter questions, too. Yes, everyone — he’ll be rapping soon.

Everyone seems to have a unique coming-to-Glee story — what’s yours?

I had been acting for a while, but I was also involved in a boy band. I would do parts when I could — I did a True Blood while I was in the boy band — but you know, that fizzled out. It was the struggling artist kind of thing, where if I hadn’t gotten Glee, I think I would literally have run out of money that month. The timing was insane, because it was just weeks after the [band] split up — we were going through all this drama over stupid stuff — and then I go and audition for something, and I hadn’t been auditioning for awhile, and lo and behold here I am.

You must tell us about your time in NLT.

We sang pop kind of stuff; it was a very different image than being in a sweater vest and wheelchair. I was 14, and when you’re that young, no one really wants to sign you, so not until I was 17 did we have an actual album. But, no, we weren’t that popular. We had crazy fans, but a very small amount.

It seems like some character concepts for the show changed when the creators saw you guys audition. What did you know of Artie when you auditioned?

I knew he was in a wheelchair and that he had a good heart, and that was basically it — a nice guy who’s paralyzed. I just kind of made him more nerdy. Before Glee, I always just wore my contacts, but I happened to have my glasses on right before the audition, so I was like, “Huh. Maybe I should just wear these.” And they kind of changed everything; the nerdy, nervous, talking-fast Artie came out.

Commenter RopeRunner actually is a big fan of your glasses, and wanted to know if you had them before the show or if they came with the Artie persona.

They’re definitely mine. Until January, I was still wearing Artie’s glasses as my own, but at that point I was like, “Okay, these have become Artie’s glasses. I have to get my own.” So I finally got new glasses.

Artie seems to fancy himself a bit of a funk soul brother. Was that your input?

Definitely him being a little more ghetto at times is from me. I do it joking around, but yeah. It’s pretty funny, because I feel like Artie has no “medium” — he’s either super nerdy or ghetto as hell. I tried to play the medium between them, but I don’t know, I guess it’s some repressed gene for me to be that ghetto sometimes.

Artie has had some classic little blink-and-you-miss-’em moments in the big numbers, like holding up the “Jump” sign during “Jump,” and the little hand wave during “Beautiful.” Where do those come from?

The “Jump” sign wasn’t originally in the script. Right before we started the first take, I went up to Elodie, the director — ‘cause I wasn’t doing anything the entire number, and I was like, “Can I just hold a sign that says ‘Jump’ on it?” And she was like, “Huh, try it and see.” So one of the ADs drew it up real quick with permanent marker, and it stuck, ‘cause it was just so ridiculous. And in “Beautiful,” I’ve been doing that since “Golddigger.” Ryan [Murphy] saw me doing it in the studio when Amber was recording, and he was like, “Put that in.” There’s a number coming up where I do it and it’s so uncalled for — we’re doing like, a rock ballad, and I’m doing this soul into-it wave. We always do stuff to make each other laugh in the scene, and Ryan wanted me to do it, but it was also kind of for Naya [Rivera] — she was making me laugh, and I was like, watch this thing. This week’s episode, I think all of our inside jokes are caught on camera — every embarrassing dorky thing I do made it in.

We heard this is a big week for Artie …

I definitely get into the more ghetto part of Artie — I do a rap song. And it’s a really fun episode — we just did two kind of crazy episodes, Madonna and then “Home,” which was really serious, and this one’s kind of in between; it’s more satirical. It’s a huge difference in feel from what we’ve done before.

Read our recap of this week’s episode here.

LopezLopez seems to think you must have major biceps from all your wheeling. Do you have great wheel skills at this point?

Oh, right. Two very different things. My wheeling skills are pretty good, my biceps are not. The thing is, I’m pushing myself around on a flat, flat surface on the stages, and I’m very light, and the chair’s very light, so I’m not really pushing around anything. If I had to actually do any work, going uphill, that might change things, but I’m still weak as ever.

Chadams notes that Wizard Magazine recently said that you should be the next Spider-Man, and would like to know if anyone is working on making that awesome idea happen for you.

Well, hell yeah. I’d love to be Spider-Man, but one, it doesn’t fit into the Glee schedule [laughs]. I’m sure, and I’m not sure how far along in the process they are, but no one’s asked me about it. So, we’ll see! I did hear about this on the Internet, but I think they just took all the nerds from TV who looked like they could be Spider-Man. I’m like, nobody knows who I am! I’m incredibly self-deprecating.

MrsChuckBass echoes the thoughts of many of us: Is there any chance of an Artie/Other Asian duet? She, and we, feel this would be magical.

Well, there’s not a duet coming up — there’s something he’s involved in with me … I can’t say anything about it yet, it’s not something we’ve ever done before. But there is something coming up. But I would do anything with him; he’s a genius. You know, it would be fun to do a Michael Jackson thing. I’m obsessed with Michael Jackson, and he does an amazing Michael Jackson impression, dancing. That would be fun. I’ll go with that. I think we should do it!

Read our recap of this week’s episode here.

Glee’s Kevin McHale on Artie’s Rap