Darren Criss Q&A: On 'Angry' Blaine and Music vs Acting
'Glee' Star Opens Up on Kurt/Blaine, His Approach to Iconic Songs, and His 'All Over the Place' Album Plans
Former Billboard cover boy Darren Criss has had an eventful year since we featured him and his breakout role as Blaine Anderson, Lima's preppy, bowtie-wearing, dreamboat boyfriend to Kurt Hummel. All he's had on his plate is a tour and new production from his Team StarKid theater company, a 3-week stint as a leading man on Broadway, an international summer arena tour and 3D movie, a film role opposite Kristin Wiig, and, oh yeah, that little show called "Glee." No big deal.
In this week's episode, the first back after a lengthy winter hiatus that leads into the final episodes of the season, the former Warbler takes center stage in Big Brother, which focuses on Blaine's troubled relationship with his "famous" older brother Cooper (played by "White Collar"'s Matt Bomer). We caught up with Criss to talk about Blaine's anger issues, what Criss's solo music might sound like and the most exciting moment in his whirlwind year of fame (Hint: It's fuzzy and green.)
We'll get to this week's episode in a moment, but first -- FOX just released
This weekend in Los Angeles you got up on stage with Theo Katzman to play some songs, and said you were opting to play old tunes instead of new ones you're working on. Any time fans can expect to hear the new music?
That show was so short, and it was kind of a gathering of friends, but we got cut off. I had a few more songs I wanted to sing, I had these horns and I was so excited to play some more with them. We were rehearsing all day, but we didn't get to do any of it. It was a good chance to get all our friends together under one roof and play together, though. There's always new stuff, but I figure out my setlist usually when I get there. When I got there I felt like doing something fun that was practiced, as opposed to trying to bust something new out. You know, when you're a novelist and someone asks you if you're writing a new book, the answer is always yes. Doesn't necessarily mean you have a release date or specific mindset to do X by Y time. There's always new songs for StarKid or for myself or otherwise. Those are the songs I'll play, but I wanted to hold those back a little longer until they're polished.
The cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" caught our ear especially. Are you leaning more in that wheelhouse nowadays?
It will be all over the map. I'm very proud of myself being all over the place. My love of genres is something I'd like to infuse in whatever I put out. We are a categorically obsessed culture, where we have to compartmentalize everything in reference to another thing, like "what does it sound like? Does it sound like this?" More and more we're at the verge of our personal taste being varied. We're the iPod generation, we like playlists, we like one album sounding like different things. If I do some kind of collection or an album, it will definitely be all over the place. I would like to have a little bit of folk, I'd like to have a little bit of rock n' roll, I'd like to have a little bit of soul, in some kind of healthy way we'd put it into one palatable thing, not too crazy and not too hodgepodge. I like putting on different hats. I believe singing should be like being an actor. People shouldn't have any problem buying an actor being in a comedy or a drama or a horror film. That should be the same way with music. You should be able to dive into the world of a soul performance with horns and give it the same energy you would as putting on a suit and tie and doing a Nat King Cole tune.
How do you find time to work on other projects right now?
The cool thing about music is no one can take music away from you, writing wise. Acting you're inherently waiting to be called for something bigger than yourself. Where you're not in the drivers seat of creation of it -- not to say you don't get to create a role because obviously I get to do that. But with music I always have my guitar around, or a piano around, or when you're sleeping and before you go to sleep at night you can always hear music and write music. It's easy to always be working on it some way, shape or form. I always make time for the things that are important to me. I'm very busy, but music will never be impossible to work on.
Any inspirations or current artists you think are the most interesting right now? A next big thing on your radar that you're obsessed with?
They are the big thing right now, but I'm a huge Brittany Howard fan. I was about to Tweet that the other day but then I realized "oh, I never Tweet." (Laughs). She's the frontwoman for Alabama Shakes, and she's a huge buzz person and that's a big buzz band. It's really cool to see someone like her doing her thing. Even though they are a throwback band, she's got such cool, raw energy you don't expect. The Of Monsters and Men record just came out, and I love that record because I'm always a sucker for anyone with a Scandinavian accent singing harmonies with a guy and a girl. Then there's a cool LA band right now that I love called Capital Cities. Those are three completely different bands, you have an Americana band, a folky Icelandic band, and a dance pop electronic band, Capital Cities. That EP is amazing.
Any other projects right now?
There's always something. I was working on "The Glee Project" for a while, but that just wrapped. I went out to Chicago to see StarKid's 'Holy Musical B@man,' although I didn't have anything to do with it creatively I went to support them. Basically I'm just plotting my next move. It takes a lot of time!
What's the crop of talent like on "The Glee Project" this summer?
Just like last year they're extremely talented, and there's a place for everybody. At the end of it it's a really hard process to figure out who will be on the show next.
Hopefully! I'm working that out. They're coming to my turf, so I should hope so. TBD, but that would be good!
You had your first stint on Broadway this January in "How To Succeed," and you were just back in the city seeing "Newsies." Any shows on Broadway right now you're dying to see, or wishing you could perform in?
I'm a huge "Newsies" fan, and I love that show. I wouldn't deign to think I could be in that show because I can't sing or dance like those kids. They put me to shame. Jeremy Jordan, who plays Jack Kelly, knocks it out of the park. I added him to my long list of people who I wish I could sing like. I was so blown away by that guy. I have a lot of friends in "Nice Work If You Can Get It," which is a fun Gershwin musical, and I want to see Once. I really want to see that show.
Last year this time Billboard put you on the cover. What's the most unexpected or weirdest thing that's happened to you in the past year that made you go, "Whoa!"
Meeting Kermit. Bar none, meeting Kermit and singing with Kermit was one of the biggest things that ever happened to me in my life.