“I think he has a crush on Rachel Maddow and it confuses him,” laughed Chris Colfer Sunday afternoon, describing the main character of his film Struck By Lightning, which had its world premiere Saturday night at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows Carson Phillips, an extremely ambitious high school senior who, uniquely for most stories with a high school setting, is devoid of a romantic plotline, or even an overt sexual orientation.
“For one, me of all people, I didn’t want to do another sexual identification story,” Colfer, who both wrote and starred in the movie, explained. “In my opinion, if you address a character’s orientation and they have a really strong message to tell, kids who don’t identify with that orientation won’t identify with the message. So I feel like if he was gay in the movie, straight kids wouldn’t listen as much, and if he was straight the gay kids wouldn’t identify as much. And I think, selfishly, being part of Glee, I didn’t want to do another couple! (Laughs.) I just wanted the point of the movie to be the message, not who he was sleeping with or what he jacked off to.”
The film has bigger fish to fry than sexual identity, as Carson fights against a variety of forces holding him back — inept teachers and administrators, a student body satisfied with the simple status quo, and a mother who thinks it’s better to sabotage his dreams then let him suffer the same fate of hope and rejection that’s befallen her. The trick of the film, however, is from the first moments you know Carson is doomed to never achieve his most lofty goals, as he’s struck by a bolt of lightning, with the film told in flashback through his senior year. Colfer says the real tragedy of the story is that Carson doesn’t realize he’s happy until just before his death.
“I think the point was that he focused so much on escaping that he forgot that he was actually doing what he wanted to do,” Colfer said. “He wanted to be this journalist, he wanted to change lives. He realized that, he found his bliss, and unfortunately he found it right before he died. He’s also such a driven person that it took a bolt of lightning to stop him.”
Colfer himself is equally driven, and luckily hasn’t met any stray lightning bolts in his 21 years. The script began as a way to vent his frustration while in high school in a similar town to fictional Clover. “I internalized everything in high school, I never said anything that I felt out loud,” Colfer explained. “So I created this character who did as a way to do that at home on my computer were no one could beat me up for saying it. I had never seen a character like this before with a passion for writing, except for Harriet the Spy.” As for other young people with similar aspirations, Colfer said the best inspiration he could give them was “pictures from last night.”
“I can’t believe, when I would sit in my small bedroom in the house where I grew up looking at my view of my side yard and gardening tools, and now I’m sitting here with a view of a Chrysler Building.” (When someone tries to claim it’s the Empire State Building, Colfer schools them — “I’ve seen Ninja Turtles, I know that’s the Chrysler Building!”)
Colfer, who is strongly identified with his breakout role of Kurt Hummel on Glee, pointed out many stark differences between Carson and Kurt and how they handle situations, nothing that they come from very different backgrounds.
“When Kurt walks into a room he thinks he’s the most fabulous but he doesn’t let people know. He lets people discover that for themselves. I think Kurt comes from a long line of very harsh bullying and has unfortunately learned to keep quiet. Like, you’re in a conservative town, you do not make yourself really known in this environment. Kurt’s more subdued and internal, where Carson doesn’t give a crap about anything. He’s very much more outward, he’ll never die of a heart attack. He has no filter.”
He also cited Glee as a training ground for being able to play Carson, noting “If this had been my first acting thing I would have been so stiff and terrified.” Colfer was admittedly nervous on Saturday night before the premiere, likening it to his wedding. “It kind of feels like my wedding, to be quite honest. Everyone I know is here, they’re all here supporting me.” The star took time to sign for fans on his way in, and he even described that as nervewracking. “I was shaking, I felt bad,” he said. “They probably have me on this pedestal and now they’re like ‘oh he’s a wimp.’”
He was calmer by Sunday, post a warm reception that included a standing ovation from a packed house of both people associated with the film and diehard fans, and celebrity supporters including two of his Glee co-stars, Ashley Fink and Amber Riley. Harry Potter star Emma Watson also attended, and managed to ask a question during the film’s Q&A session to which Colfer jokingly replied, “You look so familiar!”
Struck By Lightning isn’t the only project on the Golden Globe winner’s plate. His children’s novel “The Land of Stories” comes out July 17th, and he doesn’t yet have adaptation aspirations for that piece of work. “I really would like it just to be a book first. People jump the gun way too fast. Let’s let it be a book first, people!” He will, however, go into production for his next movie during the Glee hiatus this summer. “It’s a genre change for me, it takes place in a 1930s asylum, which is similar to high school but it’s a very different film. I wrote it as well, I play a supporting character. I’m a crazy ass patient, crazy crazy patient.”
Spare any freak lightning storms, there’s nothing stopping Chris Colfer right now.