John Moore's complete interview with Littleton's Melissa Benoist of Littleton follows. Here is a link to our feature story on Benoist joining the cast of "Glee" beginning Thursday (Sept. 13).
John Moore: I have to start by saying thank you for making me look smart when I named you one of Colorado's Can't-Miss Kids in The Denver Post back in 2006, because you've totally validated me as a writer.
Melissa: Awesome. And I'm not the only one, because Max Posner is doing some awesome stuff, too.
John: No doubt about it. So let's talk about keeping things in perspective: What's more meaningful to you: Getting cast on "Glee" ... Being named one of Zimbio.com's Fresh Faces of Fall TV 2012 ... or being named one of Colorado's "Can't-Miss Kids" by The Denver Post in 2006?
Melissa: Uh ... "Can't Miss Kids," duh.
John: Clearly. But seriously, congratulations. I can't even imagine what you are going through. How does it feel?
Melissa: It's really crazy, definitely. I haven't really had much time to process it. I am bracing myself for the realness that everyone is telling me is going to hit once it starts to air. Right now, all I am doing is working for 12 to 16 hours a day, and there is not a lot of time to think about what it really means. It feels like a job right now ... a really awesome job.
John: You are in that place where your life has changed, for sure, but it doesn't really change until your episodes start to air. Is it weird knowing that after Sept. 13, there is no taking it back? Your life as you knew it is over.
Melissa: It is a little scary because that was never anything I felt like I wanted or needed, and that isn't why I was pursuing this. But all of the other people in the cast have been telling me, 'You need to go and do as many public things as you can right now. Go to Disneyland and enjoy your anonymity while it lasts.' So it's a little more scary than it is cool for me because I enjoy doing those kinds of things. But that is the reality of it.
John: What was the process of getting on the show?
Melissa: It was very long and drawn-out. I auditioned in New York at the Roundabout Theatre. I did three auditions in New York - all different songs - and they kept bringing me back to put me on tape for the people in L.A. That was in May. Finally, in the middle of July, I get a call that says they want to test me. So I flew out to California and went to Fox. I met with the casting directors and the executives and Ryan Murphy and did a studio test with eight other girls. It was the most nerve-wracking audition I have ever experienced, and it kind of fell flat. Like, everyone I guess was so nervous that they didn't see what they wanted to see from anyone ... except I guess they liked something that I did. I flew back to New York, and three or four days later, they called and said, 'We want to bring you back for another two or three tests, with different girls, and we'll see what happens.' That very last leg of the audition was the cool part, because we did the test in the choir room that's in the show, and in the auditorium.
John: So it's one thing to be on the show. It's another when the first episode of the new season is called "The New Rachel," and you're the new Rachel. What did you think when you found out you got THAT role?
Melissa: Honestly, I didn't really realize what kind of role she was until I received a script about five days into getting the job. But I definitely had a feeling that she was a special character. Even in the scenes we were doing in the audition, I loved her. She's very sympathetic and really relatable. I actually found out on the last day of my last test. They called me back after we finished it, and they were like, 'Are you with the other girls?' and I said, "No," and they said, 'Well ... come back.' So I went back to the stage and they were like, 'You have to start working tomorrow, so we need to get you into wardrobe. And we need you to meet the choreographers and all these other people."
John: So you found out on what date that you were on this show?
Melissa: It was around July 30.
John: So, it's been less than a month since you found out, and you are going to be on the air in less than a month.
John: This is the speed of your life now.
Melissa. Yeah .. and it's really fast.
John: So what is OK for you to tell me about who your character Marely is?
Melissa: I can tell you she has a secret that no one knows when the season starts. She is a new student at the school. She has just transferred, and she is a sophomore. I can also tell you, because they released it, that my first song is a duet with Lea of "New York State of Mind."
John: I saw that online. I have to ask you, did you even know that song?
Melissa: Oh yeah. My dad would listen to it.
John: But that's really kind of perfect because you are singing it in Ohio while she's singing it in New York, so that it makes for a perfect arc between the girl with the dreams and the girl who is realizing them.
Melissa: I agree. I think people will really like it. I hope so.
John: So Marley sounds like a good girl.
Melissa: She is. I think she's at that point where she is trying to figure stuff out. She's just come from a really difficult struggle in her life. Her past is really kind of dark for a 16-year-old. But I think the glee club at school is going to allow her to kind of figure out who she is. Because she is a good girl ... and she is very shy.
John: So Ryan Murphy has already Tweeted out this whole "Jarley" business.
Melissa (laughs): Yeah.
John: I have a feeling you are going to be hearing that term in your sleep before long.
Melissa: Oh yeah ... Already.
John: I don't know if pressure is the right word, but do you already feel a kind of expectation given that there already are people like Ryan Murphy out there Tweeting that you and this kid Jake are the new Rachel and Finn? You haven't even been on the air yet.
Melissa: I know. Yeah, I do. There is a weird sense of pressure with all of that. Reading about myself on Perez Hilton was kind of the weirdest thing ever.
John: Well, I read about you on Perez Hilton, too, and I thought, "Well, that bastard better be nice to her!" hah. And I think they called you absolutely adorable or something like that, so that was nice.
John: But it's kind of nice that you are entering into a situation where the show was openly acknowledging the need for transition and change. Change can bring a lot of backlash from the fans ...
Melissa: Yes, it can ...
John: ... but it seems like they are really setting it up for you to not be antagonistically entering the show, so there is a fighting chance for fans to really love you.
Melissa: I hope so, because you're right, this is definitely going to be a transition season. The beginning of this season is very different from what the show has ever been. I think they are trying a lot of new things. But I personally think people will like.
John: Have you been following the show from the very beginning?
Melissa: I have. (Denver actor Patric Case) and I lived together in New York, and we would watch whole chunks of the season together.
John: So even though you have done all of this other television like "The Good Wife," were you at all starstruck toward any particular cast member when you first arrived on the set?
Melissa: Oh ... yeah.
John: Do you mind my asking who that might have been?
Melissa: My first day on set, I kept staring at Matthew Morrison. I was saying to myself, "Is this my life? How is he sitting, like, 10 feet away from me right now?" Because I saw him in New York on Broadway. I loved 'A Light in the Piazza.' He is so talented, so seeing him right there in front of me was surreal.
John: I was lucky enough to see the third performance of "Hairspray" on Broadway, with Matthew as Link Larkin.
Melissa: I bet he was awesome.
John: He was. So you are 23 now?
John: Here's something I've always wondered about. I love what "Glee" has done for the coolness factor of theater. And what it meant to the "It Gets Better" campaign. But it's weird when you are watching a show and you just know the actors are much older than the characters they are playing. When you see the women who play Rachel and Santana, you can see these are adult, mature women. But they are playing high school characters on an overtly sexual show. So I am wondering: Do you feel at all uncomfortable about what you might be asked to do, not as a 23-year-old woman -- but as an actor playing a 16-year-old sophomore?
Melissa: Yes, of course. Of course. ... Yes, I have. That's a good question because you're right. You'll even be watching the show and wondering, "How are they doing this?" It is really overtly sexual. I haven't personally experienced that yet, though. I have had some scenes where there is sexual tension, but Marly is so in a shell at this point in the beginning. I definitely think that is something I will have to face in the future. I have watched them film other scenes where I am like, "Oh my God, that was so sexy" (laughing). I just watched Lea Michele film something, and while I know (her character) is a college student now, still ... it's pretty racy."
John: Right. And I have watched the show always walking that line from the start. But then again, teenagers are teeming with hormones and it's interesting to me that the 16-18-year-olds in my life don't find "Glee" to be all that over the line. They look at it and say it's an expression of what is going through their own hearts and minds and bodies. Its like "Spring Awakening" in that way. This is the time in their lives when they are extremely sexualized ... and this show actually goes there.
Melissa; Yes, they do.
John: I do have to ask you ... how does it really feel to get Slushied?
Melissa: Oh, it's awful.
John: Help me out here, because I've never really understood how getting a Slurpee thrown in your face would be that much of a humiliation. Maybe because when I was in high school, the things the bullies did were so much worse.
Melissa: Essentially, before we shot that scene, everyone kept telling me, 'Don't worry. It just feels like a really cold, cold bitch-slap.' And I was like, Oh, OK, well that ... sucks. But then it happened, and it was like a permanent brain freeze for two minutes straight. A really intense one. Because that cold stuff is just sitting right on your bare forehead and on your scalp. So it is permeating your brain right there. And it hurt. And it stained everything. Everything I was wearing that day was completely ruined.
John: Well, promise me that they did at least did it in one take.
Melissa: Oh yeah, we only had to do it once. But I heard horror stories from everyone that they have had to do it over and over. Kevin McHale (Artie) said one night he had to do it 19 times. I can't even imagine.
John: Has anyone among the cast regulars been particularly welcoming so far?
Melissa: A lot of them have been really welcoming and really supportive and sharing their stories of when they were knew and kind of taking me in. Darren Criss is lovely. He's been really talkative and really wanting to get to know me and (the other two series newcomers). Heather Morris (Brittany) is totally great. They are just very aware of the enormousness of all this. They have experienced so many things I haven't with the fans. They all want to be supportive in helping us newbies to get ready for that.
John: You get a sense when you watch the show that the actors seem to be totally into each other's moments. It might be an occasional plot point that one character might getting too much attention, but the real actors all seem very generous of one another's time in the spotlight. At least that's the way it comes across on television.
Melissa: Yeah. It definitely is that way. It is a very supportive environment. Everyone keeps telling me the writers write for the cast. And for who these people are. The characters are heightened, but I think there is a piece of everyone as a human being in their characters, and that shows in the storylines.
John: Let's bring this back to Denver as we finish this up. Tell me one musical theater project that you have done that really gave you the confidence to believe you can play in this league.
Melissa: I would day there are two. When I played Bebe in "A Chorus Line" at Town Hall (in 2006), that changed my life, and I think was totally a precursor to this experience, because it was singing and acting and dancing -- having to be honest doing them all at once. We moved at a really fast pace, and learned really difficult material that (director) Michael Gorman was throwing at us every day. And it didn't stop. It was a really grueling and challenging experience for everyone in that show, and I learned so much. In college (at Marymount Manhattan College), I did "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and that was the first experience doing as much singing and acting and dancing as I was doing as the star. I had done Cinderella and those kinds of things, but I had never had to really, really give as much as I did in that show and hold it.
Melissa Benoist performs "Gimme, Gimme" in the tile role of Marymount Manhattan College's 2009 mainstage production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie."
John: I thought you swooned very believably as Kim McAfee in "Bye Bye Birdie."
Melissa: Thank you! Haha, that's hilarious.
John: I want to end this by reading you a quote that you gave me when you were 16, and then I want to know how you think 16-year-old Melissa Benoist would feel about the way 23-year-old Melissa has turned out. You told me of your future plans: "I have known for a long time that acting is what I want to do, so I haven't really tried anything else. It's pretty much all I'm really good at that I have discovered yet. It's so scary to think that, wow, I could go straight into being a starving actor less than a year from now. But I feel an obligation to go to college and get a degree. I just do." ... So you were true to that. You went to college, and now the rewards are really starting to play out. What do you think?
Melissa: I am definitely very proud. A lot of it still doesn't feel real, and not just "Glee." Everything that I have accomplished since 2006. Not to say that it's been easy. If I had any advice for my 16-year-old self, it would just be to stay strong, because acting is not an easy lifestyle, especially when you are starting out. That being said, it definitely makes it all worth it when it does happen.
John: So you will be playing a high-school sophomore?
John: Does that mean they signed you to a three-year contract? Melissa: I don't believe so. As of now, I am just a guest star ... but they renegotiate contracts all the time.
John: Suffice to say that, for now, you are unlike most 23-year-old actors in that you know exactly where you are going to be working, at least for the immediate future.
Melissa: Oh my gosh, every day I just thank the universe that I am as lucky as I am. Because, I went through periods of time when I didn't have a single bit of work. Months and months where I was auditioning all the time. I mean, all the time, and nothing was happening. To get this kind of opportunity, it's like you can't do anything but run with it and live each day fully immersed.
When we did the story on you in 2006, a big part of it was the mentorship you received from Annaleigh Ashford ("Kinky Boots"). Have you spoken with her since you have been cast?
Melissa: We will see each other at auditions every now and then, and we will sit and talk. The two of us have had similar career paths in that we both realize how difficult it is. I know Annaleigh has had her own struggles and really, really come out on top. She's doing so well, and she is so awesome.
John: The thing about the world you have chosen is that this your moment. You have worked your whole life to get to this point, but you know as well as anyone one that even though the "Glee" Thing hasn't even started yet ... the "Glee" Thing will end at some point.
John: Hopefully, that leads to feature films and other opportunities, but you never know. So you have to really seize this moment, because it is fleeting.
Melissa: Definitely: Everything about this business is bi-polar. "Fleeting" is the perfect word for it.
More on Melissa Benoist: Read the full story
Here's our feature story on Melissa Benoist joining the cast of "Glee" beginning Thursday (Sept. 13).
"Glee": Season 4
Episodes begin airing at 8 p.m. Thursday on Fox-31 (Note new day)
"Glee" fans: Meet Melissa Benoist in photos
Melissa Benoist of Littleton is a new series regular on "Glee." Here's a look back at her theatrical roots in Denver metro-area theater productions.
A look back: Our 2006 Colorado "Can't Miss Kids"
In 2006, we profiled five young actors who were demonstrating real potential to one day perform professionally - and new "Glee" cast member Melissa Benoist was one of them.