Interview: Glee’s Matthew Morrison

He’s pals with Gwyneth Paltrow and sings with Elton John, but have money and gossip changed him?

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On screen as Will Schuester (“Mr Schue”), the Glee club’s teacher, Matthew Morrison is kind of geeky, nervous, insecure. In life he’s just the opposite, brimming with an all-American confidence and optimism.

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He is about to break out from Glee (which comes to the end of its second series this week) – if only briefly – because he’s recorded an album of songs that he’s taking on tour. The songs are bold, a mix of Broadway melodies and duets with Elton John, Sting and, of course, Gwyneth Paltrow.

After she appeared on Glee as a substitute teacher and they stole an episode singing and dancing in the rain – in homage to Gene Kelly – they became fast friends. So much so that there were rumours that their delight in each other’s company was something more. In fact, within the space of just a few months, Morrison had been linked to Kelly Brook, Princess Beatrice and Paltrow. How did that feel?

“It feels not real because it isn’t real. I actually don’t Google myself because of that. Working with Gwyneth, she became such a great friend and someone I look up to. She’s had so much fame, and an Oscar, yet she’s the most down-to-earth, humble person. She brought her kids to the set, and is the best mum and wife. A person first, an actress second.”

Does being constantly linked to any woman he happens to be standing next to affect his real-life romantic prospects, how he’d feel if a relationship were real and under constant scrutiny? “No, people can think what they like. I know that I am a very good boyfriend. I take it very seriously. And I am comfortable in my own skin.”

What he does not take seriously is his newly acquired sex-symbol status. He squirms when it is mentioned. Morrison is quite a serious 32-year-old. He worked for ten years on Broadway from the age of 19 before he got his big break. “I always wanted to be on Broadway, and towards the end of that ten years I had a bigger dream, to work in television and film. I got small parts here and there, but Glee has definitely been…” He pauses for the word – amazing, magnificent, wonderful?

Instead he just sighs and says, “I’m very fortunate and very lucky. I thought I’d be doing something in the medical profession. My parents were nurses in the military and then when I was five or six we settled in northern California, masters in nursing.”

His father specialised in delivering babies yet only had one child himself. Did being an only child mean that Matthew had lots of time on his own to cook up his dreams and be in his own head from an early age? “I think so. I had a wild imagination. I created stories in my head and a whole cast of characters and worlds. I think that’s why I became an actor, because I was more comfortable in other people’s skins than my own.”

Was he shy growing up? “No. Because my parents were in the military we moved around a lot, so I had to make friends fast.”

Life must be quite different being in a number one show, what with the attention, the invasion of privacy, the financial security. Does he see his life as before Glee and after Glee? “You know,” he says, putting on a voice that is sage and soft and calm, “I’m so happy it happened at the time it did. I’m grateful for my slow rise in the ranks. It’s really prepared me for where I am now. Yes, I’m a household name, but for me it’s just another job that I love doing. I still live like a starving actor, to be honest. I’m very frugal with money because I’m scared of losing my job, so I still have starving-actor mentality.”

He doesn’t like spending money on clothes or anything frivolous. “I’m very tight with money and real estate is the only thing I’ve put my money into. I’ve bought a home in Los Angeles. I don’t think anyone can be fully prepared for how much this kind of fame can change a person’s life…”

He’s careful not to complain about anything. Nothing negative, nothing moany. It’s been rumoured that he’d like to capitalise on his fame as Mr Schue and break free of Glee. Because of the intense filming schedules it’s very difficult to take on a film role and still do the show. So gossip circulates that he’s ready to move on.

“That’s just a wicked rumour and it came from somebody asking me if I missed Broadway. I love being on Glee, but I do miss the interaction with a live audience [he starred in the original Broadway production of the musical Hairspray]. It would be impossible to rehearse and have even a small run on a Broadway show, but there’s time enough for some live performances. That’s why I wanted to do an album and tour, so I would get the opportunity to perform live.

“To sing with Sting and Elton on the record was amazing. With Sting I did a song called Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot and we had a big gospel choir behind us,” he says, still sounding some- what amazed. “My life is pretty good right now and I can’t complain about anything. I’m a person who is in the present the whole time and I stay in the present.”

What makes him miserable? “Miserable people. I’m optimistic and I like surrounding myself with optimistic people. I have friends that I can bounce things off who keep me in check and keep me humble so that my life never gets too big.”

He says that the cast of Glee are like a family, and just like when he was a child he’s used to making intense friendships quickly and in the moment. In the next series he plans to direct an episode. Is that a means to cut his teeth as director for future projects? “Absolutely. I’ve learnt a lot from my time at Glee. Directors come and go and I see the good ones and the bad ones. I’ve learnt a lot in the process.”

Is his character, Mr Schue, based on an actual teacher? “Yes. The director of my performing arts high school in southern California, Dr Ralph Opacic. When I was there I was torn between arts and athletics, rather like [Glee character] Finn. He sat me down and said, ‘You’re really something special and I think you can have a great career in acting’. He pushed me down that road and I thank God he did.”

Does he ever wonder what would have happened if he’d taken the athletic path? He pauses, not wanting to think about the past even for a minute. “I’ve led a pretty charmed life. I’ve had really big dreams and I’ve seen a lot of those dreams come true. I always just hope for the best.”

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Matthew Morrison’s album is on sale now. He is touring the UK tour in June; for more details, go to www.aeglive.co.uk