Harry Shum Jr Talks Gay Performer On “Fake Off” & Life After “Glee”

Harry Shum, Jr.Can Harry Shum Jr. do no wrong?

The man who can dance, sing, write, choreograph and act has been a favorite here at TheBacklot since he came on the scene as Mike Chang on Glee in 2009. Since then he’s shown his big heart in all facets of his performing, but also proven himself a straight ally to the LGBT community, even playing a gay role in the 2012 film White Frog. 

Shum’s latest chapter could be called ’Beyond Glee’ with the show’s recent end, but the Costa Rica-born/San Francisco native has always juggled multiple projects and now, just as he’s finished shooting Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II, he’s back at the judges’ table for the second season of truTV’s Fake Off.

The competition series takes groups of performers who put their own take on storytelling and using iconic pop culture moments in 90-second routines. And with a new crop of performers for the second season, you’ll also notice some new faces at the judges’ table, with Shum as choreographer. Laurieann Gibson and actor/choreographer (and JLo beau) Beau Casper Smart join the show as well, and singer/dancer/actor Corbin Bleu steps in as host, plus YouTube personality Meghan Camarena joins in as social media expert.

TheBacklot sat down with Shum recently in Los Angeles to talk about whether we’ll see any LGBT contestants on Fake Off this season, how he sums up his Glee experience and whether he’d be up for guesting on Ryan Murphy’s latest series, the upcoming Scream Queens.

Having watched the first episode, it seems one of the biggest hardships for the groups is that they get lost in the concept they’re going for?

Harry Shum, Jr.: Yeah. We say sometimes “simplicity is your best friend.” Go simple and you want to do the biggest things, you want to wow, but what I love about the show is the story is truly important. And we simplify the other things that actually help drive the story, and it’ll just be better entertainment at the end of the day. You can do all of these technical wows and amazing technical feats but sometimes it’s just about the story. So I think it does complicate things when the teams only want to try and make this theme incredible without thinking about the story.

And I liked the packages before the performances because you do find yourself rooting for some groups more just because you see their story.

HS: It’s just like when you watch a movie. You want to watch a good story and then you watch a TV show…if it’s not a good story you don’t even want to watch it.

How does the season play out? Is it pretty whittled down to the finale or…?

HS: There are 10 teams, so the first episode you only see five teams. The second episode is another five teams, different teams. So they’ll get voted off, too, and then they’ll combine the two together then it looks like a fresh, new take because they’re competing against totally new teams. So it dwindles down and a new team gets eliminated every single episode until there are four teams in the end. Then we’ll see who wins the Fake Off challenge. It definitely becomes a lot more competitive, but the teams are so different.

Fake Off Season 2: (l-r) Beau Casper Smart, Meghan Camarena,
Corbin Bleu, Laurieann Gibson & Shum (Turner)

Are there are any LGBT contestants this season?

HS: You won’t see it in the first episode. They’re the second episode. It’s a member of the group and it is really cool because they let him shine and you’ll see. I haven’t seen the episode but he becomes almost a fan favorite and you want him to come out and he’s an incredible dancer, tall, just gorgeous, and you’ll see that. It does become a personal story specifically with the group, the Academy of Villains.

The judges line-up is different this year and you have Corbin Bleu hosting so it’s a heightened energy in the second season.

HS: It’s been great because I love the show. I love what it stands for because it provides an outlet for theatrical performances and the arts, which no other show is really doing that specifically, just story-telling through visual arts. And these guys are amazing.

Like Laurieann I’ve known her since I started dancing. She’s done Lady Gaga and Missy Elliot. It’s cool, there’s a lot of references in the performances that sometimes people didn’t know that she was a big part of pushing like Missy Elliot’s trash bag. And Beau, I’ve known since we did Alex D. and he’s been making a mark in the creative world, creative directing world. He’s been doing Nicki Minaj, and J. Lo. So it’s really cool to see him grow, and be part of the panel, and Corbin, you know, Corbin’s incredible. He’s killing it as a host. The energy is so up there. Not too much, not too little. It’s in the right place.

What’s going on with your career outside of Fake Off, especially now that Glee is behind you?

HS: Yeah, a couple of things. It was really cool to jump on this show and before this I just finished Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 in New Zealand. That’s coming out on August 28. That’s going to be really fun because it’s doing a Netflix and IMAX release at the same time. So it’ll be a first ever.

Then I did this really cool, short film with the Wong Fu guys [and] with Kina Grannis. It’s about these two friends who kind of make this pact that if they’re still single by the time they’re 30, they’ll get married. So it’s a really cute, romantic love story. I’m really excited for these projects to come out.

You’re in your 30s now so I’m curious if that’s changed your career path or your focus at all in the projects you choose.

HS: I’m getting smarter. I think that’s what it is really. For me, it’s becoming smarter. Before I would be very ambitious on things I wanted to do, sometimes a little too much where it’s like too much on my plate. I feel like now it’s becoming more direct and focused, but also more open to trying new things. It’s been a really cool experience coming from Glee, then doing a show like Fake Off, where I’m a judge, and then going to do Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where I’m like a super-hero, and then going to a romantic comedy with Wong Fu…it’s been really cool to kind of walk around, try different things out, and see what I really love and want to do more of.

One of our favorite Harry Shum Jr gifs.

With the Glee experiences behind you, how would you sum it up?

HS: I would describe it as one of the longest and most satisfactory roller coasters I’ve ever been on. It literally was a roller coaster. Obviously there are highs and lows but it was just a fun journey that I don’t think a lot of people will get to experience and I’m really thankful for that because the amount of things we got through. Even when I  look back at pictures…I got to be like Michael Jackson, I got to be Janet Jackson. Like we play his music, Nat King Cole, things that I’ve dreamed about as a kid but also outside of that we got to go on tour and we got to meet the President and be on Oprah. It’s just these things that I was very lucky to experience at such a young age and going to all of the award shows. Like, “What am I doing here?” I think that was the theme of it all. “What am I doing here?”

I feel like Glee helped people see you as not just a dancer– because you did some really good acting on the show, too.

HS: It definitely opened up things that I wasn’t sure I was capable of. Even singing. I credit that to Ryan [Murphy] and just trusting me and seeing the amount of talent that I have was truly important for me. That’s another big take away because it’s definitely helped. I mean, Glee was a great training for Crouching, even though it’s completely different. I had to learn martial arts, I had to do these heavy, dramatic scenes and do wirework. So, it’s almost singing in its own way. I definitely am using a lot of the experience in Glee and taking it and using it.

Now we need to see you on Scream Queens or any other of Ryan’s shows. It would be fun to see you in some of those.

HS: Yeah, that would be fun. I’m down. I love Ryan. He’s given so many opportunities for me so, anytime he needs me, I’m there.

Fake Off airs Wednesdays at 10pm on truTV.