Lea Michele doesn’t stray too far from her Glee character Rachel Berry in Garry Marshall’s star-packed New Year’s Eve: Once again, she plays a precocious singing talent matched with a tall, amiable galoof (in this case, Ashton Kutcher). Still, the film is notable as Michele’s first big-screen endeavor, and even bigger things may be to come for the 25-year-old actress, as rumors have her on the very select short list to play Eponine in Tom Hooper’s movie version of Les Miserables. An enthusiastic Michele recently sat down with Vulture to talk about her fear of romancing Kutcher, the scrutiny that comes with those Les Miz rumors, and the aesthetic influence of her Glee showrunner Ryan Murphy.
So walk me through the logistics of making this movie, because you shot it while Glee was still in full swing last year, right?
I did, but Ryan Murphy was so sweet to give me two weeks off to go to New York. It’s funny, because the episode I was shooting when I left was the “Born This Way” episode where Rachel breaks her nose, and you’d think I wouldn’t be in a lot of that episode, but I managed to do this movie and not really make it look like Rachel was absent at all.
And then you went back for an additional shoot just two months ago, again while shooting Glee. Between all that shooting and the summer tours you do, how do you manage to stay in good health when you travel so much?
Listen, if you were with me on a plane? I’m embarrassed for the people who sit next to me. I have such a regimen! I, like, pound on the face cream because your face will dry out, I get the stuff you put in your nose so no nose germs come in, I take elderberry for immunity, I wear a scarf … I mean, I go to the extreme, because I fly almost literally every other weekend.
Were you cast first in New Year’s Eve, or was Ashton?
I was. I think I was one of the first people cast.
So were you curious what star they’d cast as your love interest?
I was! Garry was like, “Who do you think is cute? What guys do you like? Who do you want to be in this movie with you?” And I was like, “I don’t know, I’ve never been asked before!” I didn’t mention Ashton’s name just because, I gotta say, I kinda felt like he was a little out of my league. You know, this guy’s like, the hottest guy, and then when they called and said that Ashton was doing it, I was really freaked out. I thought I should have picked someone else and said, “You have to use this person!” so I wouldn’t have been nervous. But I’m so glad, because he challenged me, and it was a really great pairing, I think.
How many reporters have asked you about Les Miz while you’ve been promoting this movie?
A lot, I can’t believe it. How embarrassing if I don’t get it! [Laughs.] I was just talking to my publicist yesterday that it didn’t used to be like this in the business: I’ve been up for a lot of movies before that I really wanted to get, but now, people know a lot more than they used to and it’s all out there. Like, I remember when my co-star Dianna [Agron] was up for Spider-Man that the news was online, and I felt really uncomfortable for her. I mean, yeah, it’s super cool that you’re in consideration, but it’s also a really private thing, and then if you don’t get it … but I’m happy to be considered, and I’m happy to be in the realm of the other girls who are being considered because that’s the coolest thing for me. When I heard the other people they were considering, I was like, Wow, this is awesome. I became like, a fan dork girl.
How do you feel about Rachel’s arc this season on Glee?
My goal this year was to show she’s matured. She still has her moments, but especially as a girlfriend and in her relationship with Finn, we’re working on some very heavy stuff right now. Cory [Monteith] and I are spending a lot of time together, and I had to sing a song to him the other day and he was just sitting in a chair and I had to hold his hand and look him in the eyes — I was closer to him than I even am to you now — and I was more nervous doing that than when we had to fake having sex! It was really intimate, and I appreciate their progression and their maturity. We’re not chasing each other around the piano cat-and-mouse-style anymore. If you like Glee and you care about stuff coming up, there is some big, big stuff coming up between them.
Rachel’s sense of style has definitely evolved over the course of the show, and this season, she looks like she stepped out of some very mod sixties musical.
Yes, I love it! Oh my God. Season one, she was always in cardigans, skirts, knee-highs, and loafers, and I hated it. Season two, we went a little bit more girly, and a lot of my clothes were from Forever 21, and there were some short dresses — very comfortable, but cutesy. Now, season three, we’re going vintage. You know, she went to New York at the end of season two, and we imagined that Rachel and her dads went to the local vintage shop in Ohio and they picked out a whole set of clothes for her to go to the city, so that was the inspiration for that episode, and then when season three started we said, “This is what we’re doing, it’s all vintage.” So we did that for the first ten or eleven episodes, and now we’re getting a bit more mod, so a lot of the stuff I’m wearing now is super-cute colors with black tights.
And you’re in heaven, I can tell.
Playing with her wardrobe is so fun. I’ve got to tell you something: I work with some of the most beautiful girls in this business. If you know what Dianna Agron looks like at six in the morning, it’s stunning — like, it’s gorgeous — but when I come in sometimes in these new Rachel Berry outfits, I get some double takes from the boys. It’s like, “All right, Rachel! You’ve got it going on!” [Laughs.]
Although, I have to confess that my favorite Rachel outfit is one of her dorkiest: the weird nightgown thing she wore when she threw a drunken party in her basement last season.
That green dress! Everyone expected it to be like, this Betsey Johnson party dress, but Ryan and I and Lou [Eyrich], our costume designer, had this idea that she would be in this caftan like it’s the sixties and she’s throwing a party. Again, we imagined that she went to some vintage shop and just thought, “This is going to make me look like I’m grown-up, like I’m the hostess of some dinner party.” That was one of my favorite episodes we’ve ever done, too.
I’ve heard that Ryan is often involved down to the smallest visual detail when it comes to the looks of his characters.
Ryan’s the greatest. He called me the other day and he goes, “Doll, they’re writing a story that we hate each other! I’m so upset, how could they make that up?” I mean, he’s been my best friend for years, and it’s so funny the stuff that people make up, because the reason that his shows are so successful is because he’s such a genius and he’s so involved. He’s there every single day, he picks the wardrobe — the other day, we were doing this incredible thing for the Christmas episode, and he was looking at pictures online and he was like, “I want this lip color.” It’s why our show is so successful, for sure.
Are you watching his other show, American Horror Story?
Are you crazy?
Are they crazy, you mean!
He called me the other day, and I was like, “I can’t talk to you, I’m watching Horror Story.” He was like, “I’ll tell you what happens,” and I was like, “Shut the fuck up. You better not.” [Laughs.]