“I find it funny that it’s Time Out because I wish I had time out,” Darren Criss says by phone. The harried 24-year-old is taking a quick break from rehearsing for Glee Live! In Concert!—whose exclamatory title can’t begin to reflect the gleeky enthusiasm that’s greeted Criss since he first appeared on Fox’s Glee last fall as gay teen Blaine Anderson. Before his cover of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” lit up the Billboard charts, Criss and his University of Michigan classmates were a YouTube sensation with their Harry Potter spoof-icals; their theater company StarKid is now based in Chicago. “I might have to go in, like, the drop of a dime,” Criss breathlessly says, “but not right now, so what’s up, man?”
Of course you’ll be singing “Teenage Dream” on the tour, right?
Um, probably not that song. Didn’t really ever do too well.
As long as you’re okay with the riots that’ll ensue.
I’m hoping for a very calm, collected enjoyment.
Good luck with that. You’ve said you auditioned a few times for Glee before you got this role. How’d you keep getting auditions if they weren’t picking you?
Well, the media gets a little confused. Um, hold on a sec. [Talks to someone] That was Lea [Michele]. I was telling her how beautiful her voice is. I have these moments where I’m hanging out with these guys—’cause Lea’s this fun girl I hang out with, and then I realize, Holy crap! You’re so talented! Oh my God, you’re, like, amazing! What the hell!
So…your Glee auditions?
Oh, yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah. The media gets a little confused. I went out two, three years ago now, but I certainly don’t think the higher-ups knew that I went out for it. I just like to say it as kind of a story. It’s not like getting a black belt where you just stick around long enough, they’ll give you one.
Did anyone in your life express concern about you as a straight guy playing a very visible gay character?
No, that’s actually never even occurred to me. I don’t think that’s how myself or my team—I don’t think any of us are wired that way. You see a good character, and that’s it. But maybe that is a very naive way to look at things.
Growing up in San Francisco must’ve informed your understanding of sexual difference.
Oh yeah, oh yeah. Big time. The thing I always joke about is I was raised by the gay community. It was an interesting way to grow up. It does give you an awareness of what’s possible for people and what lives in all of us, I guess. I’m being incredibly vague. You don’t understand, I’m looking at a huge stadium right now and things are flying at me, so I’m trying to stay focused.
Your joke about being raised by the gay community—how so?
I did a lot of semiprofessional theater where I’d be the kid in it. These guys doing musical theater were very sweet to my mom and my dad, and they would drive me home late at night and get me, like, a burger and a milkshake. I hate even pinning it as, like, the fact that they’re the young gay community of San Francisco because it was just these awesome people who I totally admired, like, “Cool, they give me burgers and shakes! These guys are rad!” [Laughs] Not until later in life did I understand that I was being exposed to a certain culture, especially in the sense that all the burgers and fries were usually in the Castro. Honestly, man, even the way I phrase that, I’m like, that’s neither here nor there. It just wasn’t a thing.
On Glee, we hear and see a lot about the teens’ sexual lives—but not your character, Blaine, and his boyfriend, Kurt. We’ve seen them kiss, but that’s it. Will that side of their relationship develop?
I mean, who knows? Something as big as gay teens on television, you gotta take things a step at a time. I’m just interested in their relationship. I really hope that they can continue to learn from each other and grow as people.
But you guys must be aware of the discrepancy. We see the other teens have sex, get pregnant.
Um, honestly, no, I disagree. I don’t see that. I see them as the standout couple that is much more solid than some of the other relationships, and to make any big jumps from that could potentially dismantle the security they have.
Earlier this year when asked about suddenly going from recent college grad to heartthrob, you said you hadn’t really noticed. Surely now you’re feeling touched by fame?
I mean, I know who I am. I’m this goofball. I look at myself in the mirror, and the person that I know doesn’t match up to what I think people love to perceive me as. I’ve never sought this life that I’ve been given. It could be overwhelming if I didn’t think I could handle it. I’m just some random dude, you know. I’m just some guy.
Glee Live! stops at Allstate Arena June 3 and 4.