Glee's Harry Shum Jr. Speaks! (And He Wants His Gaga Costume)
Harry Shum Jr. plays Mike Chang—the “Other Asian”/chorus boy—on Glee, and though he never gets to say a single word on the show, I’m always happy when he appears in a scene, not only because he’s hot as hell but also because he’s an amazing dancer. (Remember those grooving iPod silhouettes? He was the one that was least embarrassing to watch.) Harry skipped out on a rehearsal the other day to chat with me about Glee, his unconventional path to the pinnacle of dance-movie stardom, and his hopes and dreams for the future—which bizarrely involve Michael Jackson, Gaga costumes, harnesses, flying, diet soda, and the gotcha moment inherent in 3-D films.
Brett Berk: “Harry! Hey. How are you?”
Harry Shum Jr.: “I’m good. Thanks.”
I have to say, I’m in awe just hearing your voice. I feel like Annie Sullivan when Helen Keller spoke her first words.
[Laughs.] That’s so funny.
I heard from some of your cast mates that you’re going to get to actually talk and get involved in a plot—on the show—sometime soon. What are your first words and what’s your plotline about?
Well, it gets a little heavy toward the end of this season. As a group, as a whole, we go through things that a group goes through, trying to make sure that we win. We all go through a huge roller-coaster ride. I get some lines there. But, you know, they won’t be the first words I utter. I’ve actually had a few lines here and there.
So, they've just been working up to your star turn, trying to get a feel for what your character’s personality and voice would be like for, like, the past 18 episodes?
To be honest, when I came in for the auditions, I was just there for a day-player deal at first. That turned into a few days, and then a week, and then 20-odd episodes. It’s one of the biggest ensemble casts that are out there right now. So, Ryan [Murphy, the show’s creator] and them need to give time and attention to all the characters that were there already, initially, at the start. You’ve seen, like, Santana and Brittany getting their time, and that’s great. Heather [Morris, who plays Brittany] is just hysterical with her one-liners. I think Mike will be next.
Well, you’re clearly the most talented dancer on the program. But I feel like, while the show has expanded in these back nine to give more plotlines and songs to some of the secondary characters, it’s sloughed off a bit on the thrilling chorography. Is it a singer-vs.-dancer battle on the set?
Ha. No. It’s not really a battle. Everyone has different talents, different styles and talents. Matt—Matthew Morrisson [who plays Mr. Shue]—is a talented dancer. And then you have someone like Corey [Monteith, who plays Finn], who is … learning, learning, learning. He does some moves that I don’t think anyone else has ever done. Even Chris [Colfer, who plays Kurt]. Chris is funny. He wants to learn certain things like the Michael Jackson turn, or the moonwalk.
So are we going to see more, real, full-cast choreographed dancing soon?
Yes. Definitely. It’s getting a little more complicated. When we started off, Zach [Woodlee, the show’s choreographer] had to take it a little easy, but everyone’s getting up to speed now. In these upcoming episodes, you’re going to see another exciting boys’ number. And there’s a Lady Gaga episode coming up. That’s one of my favorites. The costumes and the choreography were just incredible. I actually wish I got to wear one of those costumes. I totally would have gotten up there. Unfortunately I just had to be a viewer for that one.
That sounds like fun. And I would love to see you in that costume. I would also love to talk about Glee for our entire interview. But, given your filmic oeuvre, I have to take a little break and pay some respects. Aside from, maybe, cheerleader movies, the dance-off film is probably my favorite genre. And you were in You Got Served, Stomp the Yard, and the absolutely perfect Step Up 2: The Streets, which are like the holy trinity of contemporary dance-off movies. I may be one of the few childless 41-year-old men who have seen every one of these movies in the theater. How did you end up being in all of these?
That is the best three-sentence review of my career I’ve heard in my entire life, so kudos to you for that. [Laughs.] Now … what was the question again?
Ha! Right. It was pretty much just me totally geeking out as a fan of the dance-off film. But I guess the question was: How did you end up in all of these movies?
I was always an actor, starting in middle school. I was in all the plays and all that. But dancing didn’t come into my life until late into high school. I actually got dared to audition for the dance team. All my track-and-field buddies dared me to audition, and I was one of the few guys who did it. There were, like, four of us, and we were used basically as props. I didn’t like that. Usher and Ginuwine were getting big back then, and I thought guys could get some shine. So I started choreographing, and from there some of the jocks and football players began to join, and it got sort of to be this cool thing. From there I grew a passion for it, and started looking for parts, and I landed parts in those movies.
Now, I’ve heard that they’re making a Step Up 3 in 3-D? Is that finished shooting? Please tell me everything about it.
It’s done shooting. I just saw the screening about a month and a half ago. In it, I come back with some of the other characters from Step Up 2—Moose [Adam Sevani], the young kid, and some others—and we come back and help the new characters win a battle. We sort of save them. The talent in Step Up 2 was amazing, but the talent in number three is really incredible.
Did you have to learn or do anything special in terms of your moves for a 3-D movie?
Not really. I always dance in 3-D.
Ha! Right. Duh.
The cool thing was that we got to see it in 3-D as we were shooting. It was shot in 3-D, unlike a lot of other movies that are shot in 2-D and then transferred. So it’s not one of those 3-D movies where there’s stuff always coming at you. It’s just like: you’re there.
So there's not those moments where you’re like, Oh my god! That guy's foot is going to go right into my eye!
Well, there are some in-your-face shots in the movie. In fact, I have one of those little moments, personally, which is great. Ever since I saw Captain EO, with Michael Jackson, at Disneyland when I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to do one of those cool coming-at-you scenes in 3-D. So I can die happy now.
What’s your little moment, your 3-D moment in the movie?
It’s, like, my hand coming out at you. I guess, when I say it like that, it doesn’t sound that cool.
You’re right. It doesn’t.
Well, it was. Really. I swear it was.
Sure it was, Harry. So you were shooting Step Up in breaks from Glee?
No. Actually, it was really difficult, because I was doing Glee during that time, as well as the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers—I choreographed a dance with my choreography partner Chris Scott for the Oscars back then. So I was glad to be able to squeeze the movie in.
The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers? Is that some sort of break-dancing superhero comic?
No. It’s an online dance show. It’s about to launch online. It’s a series where we do storytelling through dance.
I’m going to have to check that out. Especially if there’s a dance-off of any kind. Speaking of which, let’s get back to Step Up 3-D for one more sec. When is it going to be out in theaters? I want to be there opening night. That is a total black-tie event for me and my friends.
It comes out August 6.
I’m pre-buying tickets right now. [Author taps on keyboard, pretending to purchase advance seats on mythic ticketing Web site.] O.K., done! Now, back to Glee. According to Wikipedia, you just had your birthday. Unless you lie about when your birthday is.
No. It’s true. It was just the other day.
O.K., then, first off, happy birthday. But now—and don’t take this the wrong way. I think you’re absolutely adorable and very young looking—but what’s it like playing a high schooler at the age of 28?
I think it’s cool because you get to go back to high school and re-live those moments. You’ve been through that before, and you know what it’s like. You know how you acted, and what you thought, and that whole thing. And that’s what acting is like: taking a situation and figuring out how to behave in it in a way that feels real. So having gone through it already actually helps. I actually love it.
Are you one of the older “kids” on the show? Because I know some of them are, like, still teenagers.
Some others are close to my age. I think everyone is pretty much in their twenties. Or just reaching their twenties. I think that’s why the cast gets along so well. We’re all young, and there’s no crazy egos among us. Everyone is just happy to be there. We actually hang out after shoots all the time. So, after spending, like, 14 hours together, we’ll still go hang out, which is really odd.
Does the age disparity create any weird dynamics, where you’re like, “We’re going to the bar after rehearsal,” and the younger kids are like, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese?”
That’s funny. No. No one really does like that. We’re a really chill group. We go to each others’ houses. Or get something to eat. Sushi is everyone’s favorite, so if anyone brings that up, we’ll all go for that. We go for that a lot.
Sushi with the Glee kids. That sounds like an article I should be pitching. O.K., last question. I’ve been asking all your cast mates what they would do if they could play a prank on the last night of the Live Show at Radio City Music Hall. Kevin said he’d jump up out of his wheelchair, Heather would want to do a pratfall down some stairs, Chris said he would wear assless jeans for the end of “Don’t Stop Believing.” What would your prank be?
My prank? I would love to rig something in the back—I don’t know if this is even possible—but my dream would be to rig something so I could go hanging out above the audience. You know, the way they have someone fly above the crowd? But I would want to fly over them and just spray soda at everyone. I’d do it while we’re singing, like, “Somebody to Love.” You wouldn’t see me onstage, and then all a sudden, I’d come whizzing above the audience spraying soda everywhere.
Mmmm. Charming. And sticky. Any special kind of soda?
Diet Coke. I’d pay homage to Chris Colfer, because that kid drinks so much Diet Coke. I would grab all of his Diet Coke from backstage and spray it onto the audience. They’d have a little bit of Chris Colfer on them.
I can imagine that many of the fans would be able to die happy with a bit of Chris on them.
Unf, he is so fine. He can get it anytime he wants. I'm excited to maybe hear his voice in the next few episodes.