A ruthless brunette with a killer set of pipes who bulldozes through high school with starry ambitions? Takes one to play one. Lea Michele, who launched her Broadway career at 8, seems to feel nothing but warm kinship for Rachel Berry, the alter ego she plays on Fox's new show "Glee" (Wednesdays at 9 p.m.).
A singing, dancing glee club member with a pair of stage dads and an eye on stardom, Rachel at one point announces, "There is nothing ironic about show choir." A Manhattan native, Michele has lived in her own apartment since she graduated from high school (she's putting college on permanent hold) and was most recently spotted on Broadway in "Spring Awakening" (Michele freely admits she can't read music, but it looks as if that hasn't hurt). Freshly returned to her new Los Angeles digs from a "Glee" publicity tour, Michele spoke with The Washington Post's Ruth McCann on the eve of her 23rd birthday.
You've done a lot of theater. Are you learning to act on camera?
I was kind of just thrown into this - this is one of the first television jobs I've ever had. Of course, being able to sing helps bring a sense of comfort. The character I'm playing is really outgoing - she performs in her everyday life as though she's performing in front of a huge audience.
Do you think Rachel Berry is the type of person who's in high schools everywhere?
I was very much like Rachel when I was in high school. I so appreciate her confidence, who she is and what she wants. I think that it's so possible in high school for kids to get caught up in what people think is cool, and what I love about Rachel is that she knows what she wants, and she's sticking with that.
How do you imagine Rachel when she was younger?
Well. Rachel was raised by two gay men in Ohio, and I think that she grew up watching a lot of classic movies - "Funny Girl" and "Cabaret," "West Side Story" - I definitely think that she was very much like me as a child, talking at a very young age and always putting on shows in her living room. . . . Her fathers have taught her to be proud of who she is and comfortable in her own skin.
Were you ever in a glee club?
I wasn't. I was in choir in school. I kind of just did it. I already knew I wanted to sing. My music program in my school wasn't really great - people didn't really want to be part of the choir, they didn't want to do the plays and stuff like that. It definitely wasn't the cool thing to do.
Do you have an ideal musical role?
I want to be in "Funny Girl." And I want ["Glee" creator] Ryan Murphy to direct it.
Would you do it on Broadway?
I would do it in a basement in Brooklyn if somebody would let me do it! It's the best role ever - any Jewish girl would want to play Fanny Brice!
Do you remember the first song you ever sang?
The first song I ever sang was in the audition of the first job that I ever got.
And that was the first time that you had . . .
. . . ever sang! Like, literally I had never sang before, and I went on an audition for "Les Miz" on Broadway - there was an open call in my hometown. And I just thought it was fun 'cause my friend was doing it, so I was like, "Eh! I'll do it, too!" And I was a really outgoing, funny kid, so I was just like "Yeah! What the heck!" And the only Broadway musical I'd ever seen, I'd gone to a week earlier - it was "Phantom of the Opera." And I was mesmerized - I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, like, loving it. And I listened to the CD at home, and I was able to pick up the sounds and learn the song, and I was in the audition room, and the first song I ever sang was "Angel of Music," and I haven't stopped singing since.