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'Glee' Q&A: Meet Oliver Kieran-Jones, Kurt's New Man in NYC
Get to know the Welsh actor whose Adam has swept Kurt Hummel off his feet on the Fox series
Oliver Kieran-Jones can do a mean Marge Simpson impression. Tipped off by a fan, when we caught up with the Wales-born actor last week we quizzed him on his accents and impressions and along with the spot-on Simpsons character he also dropped in and out of Welsh, British, American and Irish with ease. Aside from his natural British accent, we don't think those particular skills will come in handy as his new gig as Adam Crawford, the first boy to sweep Kurt Hummel off his feet on "Glee" after this season's breakup of power-couple Klaine. (But it's "Glee" so we're not counting anything out!)
Oliver-as-Adam made his first appearance two weeks ago with a cheeky performance of "Baby Got Back" alongside his ragtag NYADA glee club, the Adam's Apples, and will continue for at least two more upcoming episodes this season. We caught up with Kieran-Jones to talk about his whirlwind "Glee" casting, what he thinks of his character Adam and the fan reaction to him, and what it's like jumping the pond to try his hand at the American film and TV scene.
So you're new to LA?
Brand new, I wasn't even meant to be staying. I came to do a bit of press on another show I was doing, then went in for "Glee" on a Tuesday, got it on a Wednesday and shot on a Friday. So it was… quick.
Were you familiar with "Glee" before you were cast as Adam?
When it first came out I was obsessed with it. Me and my friends were really into it in England. It's massive in the UK. I knew all the principal characters, I had watched season 1 and 2 but not season 3. I didn't know where the plot had gone too and I didn't know who the character was I was auditioning for. It was very secretive about who the character was and the names had changed. I didn't really know what I was auditioning for and I didn't know what I got until I got my first script.
So you didn't know he was meant to be Kurt's new love interest?
I knew he was the love interest of someone, because the scene was a love interest scene. Episode 11 was rewritten, they were originally more obvious that he fancied him. I was aware it was a guy, I was aware it was a gay or bisexual character. I didn't know it was Kurt, I didn't find that out until the formal offer came through.
Were you able to catch up on the show before you filmed?
Robert (Urlich), the casting director was amazing. They sent me the current season. Yeah, I kind of put a Glee drip into my arm, woke up singing "Don't Stop Believing" in the middle of the night. I watched as much as I could so I could see where everyone was emotionally in their lives. I thought that was important, what point in Kurt's life is Adam entering, and Rachel's as well.
What was your audition process like? What did you sing to get the part?
It was quite funny Audition story actually. I got the call a 2 o'clock on Tuesday and I was on Hollywood Blvd and I'd just gone to the gym. I had agreed to go pickup my friends kids from school in Pasadena and she doesn't have a phone. They wanted to see me for Glee at 5 o'clock and I had to two sides and two songs. I said, "I'm not a singer, I don't have two songs, and I have to get these kids I can't just leave them at school!" My agent said, "they're finding it really hard to cast this part and it has to start really soon, so this is kind of your last chance. If you get there you can, if you can't you can't."
I drove to Pasadena, picked the kids up and luckily my friend picked up her email and told me to go. I drove over and got there at half four. I'd just sung a song at my sister's wedding by this artist Daniel Merriweather, he's an Australian dude actually. "Red," it's a ballad. I'd sung it at my sister's wedding and it was the only song I knew all the words to! That's embarrassing to admit. They asked me to sing another song, an upbeat number. I went into this little room with Abraham Lim who was on The Glee Project, and went on the Internet to try and find another song to do. Originally I went in and read in American because they didn't know I was British, then they asked me to try it in British. Based on that, once I knew that t he character could be British, it gave me a different way of doing the character so I decided to do a British song. I did David Bowie, "Ziggy Stardust." I'd quite like Adam to sing it in the future. I don't know if you know the lyrics to "Ziggy Stardust" but once I'd chosen this song I realized the lyrics make no sense at all. But I sang it valiantly.
Are there any other songs you're hopeful to do on Glee?
I'd love to do some British influenced stuff, some Ed Sheeran. My voice is more funky, soul I feel. I'd like to do something with an edge to it. I've always sung, I've got quite a bit of range. I've been offered West End musicals before, but I really class myself as an actor.
Any music you're currently obsessed with?
I'm really into Lana Del Rey, which is probably a little behind the times. I come to things 5 steps behind but I do ti with a lots of enthusiasm. I'm a big classical music fan and I listen to classical music in my car. I like movie soundtracks as well, like the Juno soundtrack.
You have a very theatrical background in addition to your TV work on "Episodes" and UK television.
I've been very lucky, I trained at a place called LAMDA. I left when I was 20, 21, and my first job playing Octavius Caesar was opposite Ralph Fienes in Julius Caesar, then opposite Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic, then I did The Cherry Orchard in the West End, then The Tempest. Then i joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, so I've done a lot of very big theater with big names. I trained in classical theater. For me, as a young actor, it was invaluable. I learned so much about how to deal with classical texts, especially Chekhov and Shakespeare. There's so much depth required and technical charting of the role, like where they go from and where they end up. It really gave me an appreciation of the technical aspects.
Do you think you can translate that sort of training into how you approach "Glee"?
To me, acting is acting. Good acting is good acting. What that kind of stuff taught me is you can't play a two-note character. Actually arguably when you're moving so quickly with television it's easy to go, "okay,t his is the popular girl or this is the nasty bully." Before you know it there's no sides, but we all know the nasty guy has a sensitive side. That's what initially attracted me to Adam. There is so much to this character and his situation. It did take me a little bit of time a couple years ago to make the transition from theater to TV acting, because you are required a much more muscular approach to big stages. I've always been a fan of the American schools of acting anyway, and I come from the inside out rather than from the outside in anyway. I feel more comfortable [on TV].
How do you feel about Adam as a character?
I don't know what I'm allowed to say so I dare not say anything! My process of developing characters is to fall in love with them anyway, so I'm probably biased. I think he's an amazing, amazing person for a number of reasons, standalone and regardless to his relationship with Kurt. What intrigued me most and was difficult to make sense of is why this guy who from the outside seems he'd be relatively popular and have a lot of stuff going on for him. But he's the head of a group of misfits and running this glee club. There were two ways to go with the dialog I read -- you could make him a little bit arrogant and smarmy but kind of charming, or you can infuse him with warmth. I felt like, for me, that's where he comes from. Despite the outside, he actually feels extremely vulnerable and extremely like a misfit. I think that's perpetuated by the fact that he's gay and had to deal with that, perpetuated by the fact that he's in New York and feels like an outsider.
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I created quite a big backstory about where he came from, and his parents both being artists as well -- this is my interpretation -- his dad was part of the New York Symphony Orchestra and his mom was as well, but his mom wasn't quite as good as his dad and went back to England while he dad stayed in America. He's got dual citizenship and he never really knew where he belonged. I think of Adam as kind of having a Shallow Hal type of complex. He sees the innate potential in people, he sees what's on the inside not the outside. He's made a very conscious spiritual life decision to have glass half full and enjoy l ife at every opportunity. His glee club is not about competition or winning sectionals, it not about competing or about who's the best singer or who's the best looking. It's about who's got the most spirit and who can have the most fun. What I think is great about him is he doesn't care what people think of him, he doesn't care who likes him. I mean, to some extent we all do, but he's a leader. He's able to lead them because he stands by his values and he's not afraid to stand up for people.
I originally thought of Adam as an acting major who did singing for fun, but then I thought he's at a musical theater place so maybe that should be his thing. But maybe in the way that I'm a stronger actor than I'm a singer -- I mean I can sing, but I'm not Lea Michelle. So maybe that's his thing, he desperately wants to do it but he's so good at building everyone else up that he ignores himself. That gives him a vulnerability and a neediness, and that comes out in future episodes as well. There's so much speculation about what Kurt needs, which is fantastic and I think Adam would be very good for him in that sense. I also hope that if they continue with it that they think about what Adam needs, and I think he needs someone to tell him he's great as well.
Any new character that comes between the popular pairings on the show tends to get a lot of backlash at them and often at the actor as well. Did you ask for any advice or otherwise seek out how to handle fan reaction, either from Chris Colfer or people like Grant Gustin (Sebastian, who pursued Blaine last season)?
I've never met Grant, he's not on the show at the moment. But Chris has been great, Chris and I get on really well. I think it was strange for Chris because I know they were looking for the guy for ages and they screen tested quite a few people. They couldn't find the right balance, someone who wasn't just goofy. But I didn't test with Chris so I was a little nervous meeting him. The great thing has been -- Chris and I like a lot of the same things, we have a very similar sense of humor, we're obsessed with Summer Heights High, we literally do impressions of Summer Heights High on the set.
I really like what they've done with the relationship. I enjoy the show but I'm not a gleek. I was a little perturbed by the initial reaction to the character before they even met me. At least give him a chance! But at the same time I thought, you know what, Adam's not the bad person. If Kurt wants to be with Blaine, I think Adam will be happy for him to be with Blaine. I think the way they've written Adam he really likes Kurt. Kurt's obviously still torn between him and Blaine, but Adam isn't putting any pressure on him. He's not going to try and be horrible to Blaine, as far as I can tell. They way they are handling the storyline so far and what attracted me to is it was like real life. No one is ever perfect. The thing about Adam -- and Blaine in turn -- maybe Blaine was right for him then and Adam is right for him now, or maybe Adam is right for him for 3 months and then Blaine will be right forever. Or maybe they will outgrow each other and Adam and Kurt will be forever. But actually I don't actually think you can tell that until you see how the relationship blossoms.
How do you feel about the reaction to Adam by the fans now?
I am pleased with the reaction so far to Adam, and I think he's a good person to have around. He's a good role model -- every type of character comes in a different box and I think everyone should be represented. More importantly than who Kurt should end up with is what's best for all of the characters, and I think that's the truth of real life. I don't think you can decide who ends up with who until you see how we get on. It's true with the actors too, Chris and I could have hated each other and that would have come across on the screen. I think what's great bout the storyline is it feels true and has legs.
Aside from the passionate Klaine fans, your first appearance on Glee was also clouded by some issues with the network and the arrangement of "Baby Got Back" they may have used. How was that for you?
I obviously noticed it and I knew there was stuff going on. I didn't take any of it personally, I just sung the song I was told to sing and had no idea. I still don't really know what happened because I don't want to get too involved as it's not my place. I don't know how all that legal stuff works. It's difficult to gauge the reaction to the character generally because that was the song that it was associated with. Ironically it probably ended up getting more views than any other song because so many people were paying attention.
Seeing that you've done both, are you more drawn to TV or film over live theater, or vice versa?
I just really like interesting characters and good projects. That's a little bit of a cop out, but anything that I feel, "oh yeah, i can do something with that." I like things that are challenging, and my theater background helps with that. Now that I'm in LA I'm probably more into film and television.
How does "Glee" set compare to other TV sets you've worked on?
It's pretty fast. It's been good for me, but it's very different from the English way of working. Episodes was co-produced by Showtime so it was half British, half American so we filmed it in England. I was kind of used to the American way of working but Glee is fast. I got episode 15, which I just shot and I didn't know I was in until I got a call Monday night and I was filming on a Tuesday morning. I did three word-heavy scenes and I'm not used to working like that. I have done acting classes over here that are more geared to that kind of work, though. What I do like is that spontaneity of it. You can just go for it, rather than really really working stuff out which I think can be detrimental sometimes. The great thing about Glee is the cast and crew are so nice and like a family. I found it all very kind of easy in that sense. I felt very welcome by everyone.
Have you interacted with the rest of the cast beyond Chris much?
I'm so in awe of the rest of the cast. I think they're so talented. I hope they won't just let Adam be around only if he's Kurt's love interest. If Blaine and him do get back together maybe they can be friends, because that's real life. And I really hope the Apples come back, they're brilliant. I filmed last week a lot with Lea and Naya, and Chris. I get on really well with them, and also Dean, who plays Brody. When I first got the job I went to The Glee Project concert at the Roxy and met quite a few of them there, like Blake. It's strange because you are split into two casts so naturally you don't see the other cast as much because you're not on the set at the same time. Everyone's been so welcoming and friendly. Darren (Criss) has been adorable, I'm sure the fans want to know that. Darren was actually the first person I met, I met him before I even met Chris. One the first day when I was doing pre-record for the song I had a tour of the set and I met Darren in the makeup trailer. He was just so excited, I've never seen anyone so excited. I've seen him a couple times since, and when we were filming "Baby Got Back" he missed the actual filming and he came at the end of the night to see Joey (Richter, an Adam's Apple and part of Team StarKid with Criss). I think he's just really excited to see what my interaction was going to bring to their storyline as well. They seem really excited. I think it was needed at some point, inevitably.
What's next for you outside Glee?
I'm doing season 3 of "Episodes," which starts in June. That's the only thing I have booked, but I think "Glee" goes til the end of March anyway so I don't have much time. I also write, I'm a writer. I work with a partner and we have four TV shows in development in the UK.
You and Chris have that in common!
We actually haven't discussed it! He writes all the time. We'll do a scene and then he'll get on his laptop and write and I'll throw a pencil at him and he'll get angry.
Is it hard to juggle for you?
My life is crazy. I've only been writing for two years, we started selling stuff that we wrote like an episode of My Family, which is kind of like Modern Family over here. Then we co-wrote a British series called Shelfstackers. It's pretty new, but all of last year I did lot of writing. It's kind of worked out because I finished the bulk of the project right before I got Glee. It's very early stages, but that's definitely where I want to move to in the future.