Jenna Ushkowitz on 'Glee' Rumors, Ratings & Future: 'Tina's Time Will Come'
Jenna Ushkowitz may be best known for playing Tina Cohen-Chang, the formerly stuttering founding member of New Directions on "Glee," but the 25-year-old actress has had a longstanding career in entertainment before she graced McKinley High.
Ushkowitz' first role was at age 3 on "Sesame Street," and she went on to appear on Broadway at 9 in the 1996 revival of "The King and I," as well as serving as an understudy for "Spring Awakening" around the filming of "Glee's" first season in 2009.
On "Glee" she gets to showcase all her talents, from taking on songs like "Tonight" from "West Side Story" and Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," to her dance moves, most notably as part of the iconic "Single Ladies" dance with Kurt and Brittany in Season 1, and her dramatic flair coming clean about her fake-stutter and navigating the dynamics of teenage love opposite Artie (Kevin McHale) and Mike (Harry Shum, Jr.). We caught up with Ushkowitz during a lunch break on set to talk what's next for Tina, where she takes her musical inspiration from, and what kind of roles she'd like to take on post-Glee.
First, rumor has it you're part of Lady Gaga's next music video, for "Marry The Night." Can you tell me anything about that?
Um. Where did you hear that from? (Laughs) I can't confirm or deny anything at this point.
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Harry Shum Jr.
Well, you Tweeted this so I think you can confirm -- you were in the studio recording a song for "Glee." Everyone is anxious to hear her sing again... can you tell us what she's performing?
I sing a little, it's not a solo for Tina, but I was in the studio for one of our mashup numbers that we weren't going to be doing. It's episode 6. There's a couple of really fun mashups and I get to sing a little on those.
Do you know about any upcoming solos for Tina?
Not that I know of for my character. I'm just patiently waiting, I know Tina's time will come. But nothing as of right now.
What episode are you filming now?
We're on six and seven. We're past "West Side Story" at this point and getting toward Sectionals and who's going to come back into New Directions. It's a little bit like -- we lose some members and we gain some members back, are we going to have the full group by sectionals?
Where does Tina stand in terms of the competing glee clubs?
We saw that Mercedes wants to go over, and I think she's really sad about Mercedes. Mercedes is her buddy and she's always been there for her, and she was there when it was the start of the club with five awful people. She's sad, Tina tends to get really emotional.
True, she is emotional. The last few times she sang she's been in tears!
I know! I'd love for a future number to be a nice, victorious, rise to the top number.
Speaking of "West Side Story," is Tina part of the show? We didn't see many names on the cast list.
Yes, Tina is in the show believe it or not! She's in the ensemble, she plays Consuela in the "America" number.
The other major plotline right now is the class presidency race. Who is Tina supporting?
It's never written, but I've sort of decided to have my allegiance with Kurt. I feel like she'd be mad at Rachel for wanting to run, and not think it's fair she'd do that to her friend. And Brittany is a funny person, but Tina's a little bit smarter than that and wouldn't want her running her school.
What are you hoping for this season for Tina?
At this point I'd love something, some challenge or issue that has to do with her own life rather than a relationship. I think we've discovered that whole thing, so I would love some song that has to do with a conflict of hers. We could go into a dream sequence maybe.
Any artists in particular you'd want to sing on the show?
I've always wanted to do Adele, but I also want to do Sara Bareilles, or Pink, something fun like that. I think that fits Tina's range of things.
Do you guys pay attention to ratings or how songs are selling?
No, it's just a matter of getting through this year and doing really good work. If we notice it's mostly positive, its usually "Oh hey, congrats, your song is No. 2 today." It's more of a support and proud feeling than "We stink and we're going to get canceled."
Last episode we met Mike Chang's parents. Have you thought about who Tina's parents would be and how they'd interact?
It would be pretty interesting. Nothing has been set or written, but we always thought Tina's mom was extremely feminist and very traditional, and her father was Jewish. Mike's parents are so traditional in their ways and would get along with Tina's mother more than her father. I've always wanted Sandra Oh to come on and play my aunt.
This season Tina's fashion has changed a bit from before. Were you part of that decision or the thinking behind it?
It was an evolution. It started with the idea that we weren't going to do blue hair anymore. I had this blonde at the bottom of my hair and I asked them if I could keep it and they said yes. I was going to do blue with it, but then I said you know what, it's been two years now. Her freshman and sophomore year she's worn it. I don't think any teenager stays the same from year to year. I thought of it as growth. In Season 2 she went from that punky thing to more leather and corsets, to now a little more retro and a little more grown up.
Did you have a similar growth period as a high schooler?
Totally. We wore uniforms in class, but outside of school I went from sparkles and stars and butterfly clips to senior year Hollister, Abercombie prep girl.
We asked fans what they wanted to know and the overwhelmingly top question was do you want Artie and Tina back together and how should they get back together?
I would love for Tina and Mike to live out his senior year together, but considering that Tina and Artie are both juniors and will be together next year and sort of just have each other at this point, I would love to see them at the end try and rekindle something that they lost. I think it needs to be done in due time, but yes, I would love if Tina and Artie got back together. I think we never got that full shot to have that. It was always drama and fighting.
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Harry Shum Jr.
It was just announced that Chord Overstreet might be back soon. Have you heard anything about that?
We actually are on set and we just saw it online. We kind of stay away from the online unless we hear it from Ryan Murphy or Brad Ellis' mouth. That's great if he does come back, but we have no idea if that's happening. I don't think anyone has spoken to him yet. Everybody was on their Twitter at the same time like, "What is happening?"
Do you track each other online?
Not really. I don't think anybody likes to hear things about themselves. We try to stay away from that stuff because we don't know if it's true. We'll ask, if it's actually really huge, but otherwise we stay away from that because it's just silly.
You've been on Broadway, you've done Glee for 3 years, what do you want to do next?
It's funny, the only thing I haven't really done so far is movies. I've got the music and TV thing from "Glee," I've done Broadway. I'd love to try out on the movie scene. And I don't know, I haven't found a sound for myself yet, but I'd love to try music for a personal thing, not just a "Glee" thing.
Do you have any sort of sound or artists you take as personal inspiration?
Everything, but particularly for my sound Florence and the Machine, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Sara Bareilles -- it's a lot of that women diva songwriters. Pink, I love Pink. A little alternative, a little pop.
Do you play any instruments?
I've dabbled in piano, dabbled. One thing I'd love to do is take piano lessons and I'd love to start writing, but I just don't know how to do that with all the free time we don't have.
Is it hard to make time for projects with Glee happening?
We have to be really passionate about it and really care about it to go to Ryan and say, "I want to do this, please let me out of three episodes to go do this." But they're really great with this, they're really good at giving us time. Darren (Criss) is going to do "How To Succeed" and Lea (Michele) went to do New Year's Eve. They want us to succeed and want us to do other things, but I wouldn't ask unless it was something I really care about.
You're from the New York area… Is there anything on Broadway now that you'd like to be in?
I'm trying to think what's on right now, it's so weird not to know what's around. I've always wanted to be in "Avenue Q," and that's off Broadway so I could do that. I've always wanted to do "RENT" too.
Who's your dream "RENT" role?
Either Maureen or Joanne. Maureen's songs are so great.
What kind of TV or movie roles would you like to pursue?
I'm willing to do anything, really, but for me it's not about a specific role as it is the versatility of it and the arc of it. It has to have a great start and finish. The next thing I want to do is something totally different from Tina. I'm totally different form her, and I'd love to show a different side so people don't get stuck thinking I am Tina Cohen-Chang. Darker roles are really fun to me, maybe an action film, or a really good indie with great actors. It's just a matter of finding the whole combination of who you're working with and where you're coming from.