by Julie Miller, Vanity Fair
At the age of 22, Chris Colfer is a Golden Globe-winning actor, a New York Times best-selling author, and, with Struck by Lightning, which opens in theaters on Friday, a first-time screenwriter. In the black comedy, Colfer stars as a precocious high-school misfit, Carson Phillips, who--unlike his flamboyant character, Kurt Hummel, on Glee--does not have a singing support group to turn to in his small town. After he is struck dead by lightning in the first few moments of the film, Carson has flashbacks to different moments in his dissatisfied life, in particular his attempts to wrangle fellow students into producing a literary magazine-- a résumé-building effort that he hoped would help him get accepted into a prestigious college. The cast is rounded out by Rebel Wilson (who plays Carson's best friend), Allison Janney (his medicated mother), Dermot Mulroney (his oblivious father), and Christina Hendricks (his father's pharmacist girlfriend).
Last month, Colfer phoned VF.com to discuss his debut as a feature screenwriter, his author-ly endorphin rushes, and the one scenario in which he would sell, um, bottled tears.
Julie Miller: I had no idea how dark your sense of humor was before seeing Struck by Lightning! When did you realize you had such a black sense of humor? Were you an eight-year-old doing gallows knock-knock jokes?
Chris Colfer: I think so. I have a very large, witty, dark-humor family. That is part of the reason why I became that way, but I've always had a dark sense of humor. I always found things that people might find to be obnoxious or extreme to be funny.
At one point, Allison Janney jokes about how she used to Roofie you with antidepressants as a child. Where did that come from?
I used to come up with these conspiracy theories against my parents when I was younger because I wanted something really cool to hold against them. I never really [followed through], but maybe that was one of the things I came up with.
Your character blackmails his classmates. Without giving away the victims' names, what is Chris Colfer's proudest moment in blackmail?
In senior year of high school, I did a show called Shirley Todd, which is a spoof of Sweeney Todd. To get my friends to be in the show with me was a really big challenge and I blackmailed a couple of them to be in it. One of the girls was a very proud vegetarian, and I found a hamburger receipt in her car and used that against her.
Did you break into her car?
No. We were riding to lunch one day or something. I saw it and said, "Wait, aren't you a vegetarian?" And she said, "Of course, I'm a diehard vegetarian." And I said, "Then what is this Wendy's receipt doing on the floor here?"
You named the high school, Clover, pretty closely after your hometown, Clovis, California. Are you hoping that your former classmates see the movie?
Not really. No character is really an exact duplicate of someone I knew except for the character of Malerie [played by Rebel Wilson]. She is based on a friend I very much had in high school. I'm not really worried about other people seeing it. I just think that the name of the high school is hopefully more of a wink to the people that I grew up with.
Did you have a superlative in high school?
I was not voted anything!
What would you have wanted to be voted?
I would have loved "Next Big Star" or "Next Big Writer," but I was never popular enough for those titles, I guess.
At what point did you meet Rebel Wilson?
Her being in this movie was really a miracle, because we cast her the night before we started filming. We had gone through dozens of auditions, and everyone who auditioned for the role was amazing but they just weren't the exact right type for the character. She auditioned the night before, and we cast her right then. My initial response was probably a little scary to her, because I kept saying, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for being a part of this! You saved the movie!"
So you wrote this script and you are writing the sequel to your children's novel, The Land of Stories, now. Do you have a strict writing regimen?
Whether it's a chapter or a scene that I'm writing, I always try to do a quick skeleton of it first and get it all out. Then I go back and edit it to perfection, to my greatest capability.
Do you reward yourself after?
Just the feeling alone is the greatest reward. I finished a chapter last night for The Land of Stories sequel and you get, like, this endorphin release that you've accomplished something and that your day was not a waste. I usually treat myself before I start writing, though. [Laughs.]
In another interview, you said that you would love to retire by the age of 25. Do you still feel that way?
No. I feel like I'm going to be one of those people who has to be forced into retirement, probably with a court order. But as long as I am able to keep doing what I love doing, which is making movies, writing books, and having some kind of TV base, to kind of go off, then I'll always be happy.
Kurt is such an empowering character on television. How much responsibility do you feel to that TV audience when you branch out into film and books?
Thank you for saying that. I do probably receive a thousand letters from people a week who love [Kurt] and feel empowered by him, but I always feel responsibility as a role model in the public eye in how I present myself personally. But I never feel pressure as an actor or a writer. I never feel that I can't write this or play that role. It's always just like when I'm being interviewed or how I present myself in the real world.
Speaking of Kurt, he got an internship at Vogue this season and interacted with, I suppose, Anna Wintour's Glee surrogate, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Are you as into fashion as Kurt is, and have you ever interacted with Wintour?
I've never met her, but I've seen The September Issue like eight times. It is one of my favorite documentaries, especially because I really was not very into fashion before I saw it. But after seeing that and watching her in her interviews, I have nothing but respect for her. I was kind of like the rest of people who don't really understand it, but once I heard her passion from her point of view, my whole entire perspective was changed. I had nothing but respect for her.
You've tried television, film, children's novels--what's next? A fragrance?
I don't know that people want to smell like me!
Well, if you had to create a scent, what would it be called?
It's funny because I don't think it would have anything to do with me, but if I ever did something like that, it would have to be a merchandise line to go along with The Land of Stories. In it, the kids have to collect fairy tears, so I think that would be a cool perfume. Fairy Tears--not by Chris Colfer, but by Land of Stories. Let that be clarified. [Laughs.]
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