Glee's Harry Shum on Mike's Asian Anger, "Cool" Moves and Solo Singing Debut
by Denise Martin
When Mike Chang finally bursts into song, it won't be out of glee. It's epic parental pressure that causes him to crack.
In Tuesday's new episode of Glee, Mike's dad pays a visit to William McKinley to persuade his son to do the sensible thing after he brings home an A- (the episode is called "Asian F"): drop show choir and focus on getting into Harvard. What's a good glee clubber to do? Channel that pent-up anger into song! (West Side Story's "Cool" is just the thing.) TVGuide.com spoke to Harry Shum about getting his solo on, Season 3's slow-build strategy and what Mike's girlfriend Tina has to fear this year:
Your first solo has arrived! Have you been looking forward to this moment or dreading it?
Harry Shum: I'm definitely not a singer, and apparently I haven't been singing properly (laughs). I know this because I've been going to a vocal coach on my own. I thought if this time came, I wanted to be prepared. I am, after all, on a singing show.
You sound pretty damn convincing as a pissed-off student/Jet in "Cool."
Shum: Thank you! I wasn't really nervous. I was more excited to get to work on something new.
Jerome Robbins' choreography for "Cool" is famously athletic and technically demanding. Glee choreographer Zach Woodlee's adaptation is similar — and similarly amazing — but it doesn't seem much easier.
Shum: It was really rough because I don't dance like that — meaning, I'm not a technical dancer. I don't do pirouettes. Even some of that terminology I don't get. I'm like, "You have to show me that because I don't know what you're talking about." I was very sore. You know, you watch these movies and they rehearse a number for weeks, sometimes months. We had four hours to rehearse. We only came up with it the night before, I think because we couldn't get the tracks until way later and we were going to be making it up the day of [filming]. But that's the Glee way of rehearsing because there is just no time.
Within West Side Story — and within Glee — "Cool" is all about anger that's on the brink of boiling over. Mike's got some serious issues going on in this episode. He wants to dance but that's not what his dad wants. Will that be a struggle for Mike throughout the entire season or is this more of a stand-alone story?
Shum: Yes! What I loved about the number is that it is so raw. The turns, the way they land... but also, the emotion in the number. From what I've seen, I've got a story that will continue through senior year. You'll see Mike parents again, for sure... Ryan, Brad, Ian and the other writers I think are holding true to what they've said about bringing out other characters into the spotlight and discovering more things about them. It may take awhile but they're slowly taking care of the other characters. I'm really glad they're doing it.
How did you first hear that we'd be getting to know more about Mike this season?
Shum: I remember [Glee boss] Ryan Murphy looking into our minds over the summer, so to speak. He did interviews with us as our characters for Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, and while a lot of those didn't make it onto the screen, I remember he asked "Mike" what I was going to do after graduation. Off the top of my head, I just came up with, "Well, I don't know, it depends on what my parents want me to do. I don't know if I even want to go to school." I think he took that and spun it.
Finn (Cory Monteith) seems to also be questioning if college is the right move for him at the moment.
Shum: It's a feeling that's relatable to a lot of people. A lot of teens don't know what they want to do or what college they want to go to. I 'm really, really happy with what [the writers] come up with while thinking about that.
What were your own parents like while you were in high school?
Shum: As long as I wasn't failing, they were happy (laughs). I wasn't academic, but I was really involved in high school and always had the dance thing. I did drama, theater, I played sports, I was part of ASB (Associated Student Body)... I think they were just happy I wasn't doing drugs. I do remember one time they wanted to take me out of drama because I kept coming home with bloody noses...
How Glee boss Ryan Murphy plans to win you back in Season 3
Shum: The bloody noses actually had nothing to do with drama, they were just the result of a dry nose. They had to cauterize this vein. But my parents were super dramatic about it. They were like, "No, you can't do drama anymore." And I had to say, "Mom, it's not like I'm getting punched. I'm just defective."
Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) is so sweet and supportive of Mike, but do you know if she is going to be tackling her own challenges this season?
Shum: I don't know the answer for that. She is very supportive, but what comes with that obviously is the fear of what's going to happen; she's a junior and he's a senior. Where will that relationship go after graduation?
Have you heard anything else about graduation?
Shum: We haven't really talked about it. No one even thinks about it honestly. Everyone's happy with the way the stories have been written. It's coming up very slowly but I think they've been doing it in a way where you're following along and you're happy to be following along. It's not about looking so far ahead into the results, it's more about the journey.
Glee airs Tuesday at 8/7c on Fox. Are you excited to see Mike Chang both sing and dance?