I joined the Glee Club: A starry-eyed fan reveals the joy, and humiliation, of landing a role in the hit TV series
I’m on the set of Glee. Yes, that’s right, the happiest television show of all time. And as I have been given a small but not insignificant role, this should be the happiest day of my life. I can see Rachel Berry, the dazzling – if geeky – star of the McKinley High School Glee Club. Mr Schuester, the lovable teacher who oversees the song-and-dance routines, is somewhere to my left but I’m not looking; because there, straight ahead, is Finn Hudson, the all-American heart-throb, boy of my dreams.
The lights are burning. The buzz of purposeful chatter has been silenced. Yet one man on the set does not seem so overwhelmed by joy. He looks a tad concerned, in fact. It’s the director. And he’s coming over for a word . . .
There’s no point denying it, I’m a Glee fanatic. Since its launch in 2009, the series, which follows the fortunes of an Ohio school song-and-dance troupe as it competes on the demanding ‘show choir’ circuit, has captivated millions in Britain and America. The fictional glee club, New Directions, has inspired thousands of imitators in real-life schools and village halls. And the songs featured in the show have even made the charts.
Libby Caudwell with new Glee star Damian McGinty, who plays an Irish exchange student
The three series aired so far have thrown up a stellar list of celebrity appearances, including cameos from Britney Spears, Gwyneth Paltrow and Broadway stalwart Kristin Chenoweth.
So, when I was given the chance to follow them down the corridors of McKinley High School and take part in an episode, nothing could stop me.
This opportunity came about because I was lucky enough to be given an auction prize from last year’s White Tie And Tiara Ball for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
But I’ve done a little acting before and once had my heart set on a film career. Could this trip to the Paramount Studios in Los Angeles be the start of a beautiful new life I arrived several pounds lighter than normal, petrified – and ready to dazzle.
Dazzling: Rachel Berry is one of the main attractions and right, Libby in make-up, which is kept minimal
Yet my introduction to the world of feel-good TV was a little dispiriting. Without the fierce set lights, the school looks a little sad and rather confusing. The stairs, the ones charged down by crowds of cheery students when the lesson bell sounds They lead to nowhere. And where were all the famous people
I imagine they had better things to do than say hello to me, which was fortunate. Because when Finn (Cory Monteith) introduced himself, I went to pieces. ‘My hands are shaking,’ I blushed.
It was no more glamorous when I had a bite to eat with Mr Schuester (Matthew Morrison). He looked wan and red-eyed as we shared a takeaway on set. He’d been up since 5am and here he was, still caked in make-up, eating a bit of cheap grease. I could see patches of dry skin on his arms. This guy was tired. His whirring brain could barely form a sentence. During filming, this weird warehouse is the cast’s entire realm of existence.
At last I was shown to my trailer and corralled into ‘wardrobe’ where I was informed that I was going to join McKinley High’s elite squad of cheerleaders and become a Cheerio! (These preening show-offs, remember, are the sworn enemies of our nerdy glee-club stars.)
Libby takes her places beside the show's heart-throb Cory Monteith
It was no easy task to convert a lumbering 6ft British woman into a vision of American girlhood. In fact, the wardrobe master had to dig out a pair of boy’s trainers for me; I just about wedged my misshapen feet into them. But by the time I was mauled, twisted and folded into the tiny costume, I reckon the wardrobe department could be satisfied with their work.
Then there was the make-up and hair trailer. I took my place next to my fellow Cheerio, the beautiful Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera). My brain screamed: ‘Like me, Naya! Let’s be buddies.’ My mouth simpered: ‘You looked lovely at the Emmys.’ She thanked me and went back to her life. She’ll be in touch. Maybe.
The make-up, I found, was minimal. This is meant to be Ohio, not New York, and the characters on screen are carefully scrubbed free of metropolitan gloss. The idea is to appear good-looking, but in a homely, mid-Western way.
So my hair was scraped back into the Cheerios’ trademark ‘high pony’ style, my face was swept with foundation, plus a little eye shadow and mascara. I was done in 40 minutes. I have a sneaky suspicion the main stars get rather more attention.
My scene turned out to be with an adorable new member of the cast, Damian McGinty, who plays foreign-exchange student Rory Flanagan, from Ireland. Rory finds himself shoved up against a metal locker by the school bully until Finn – naturally – steps in to defend the new lad.
I played the girlfriend who egged on the bully. I was told to look mildly affronted. My big moment. But, with adrenaline coursing through my veins, I reacted like someone who had just been speared in the side. I heard some crew members burst out laughing. My cheeks reddened. My eyes pricked with tears. The director took me to one side and said, kindly: ‘OK, what we’re gonna do is just take some of the energy out of your performance. So instead of looking annoyed, just stand there and do nothing. Absolutely nothing.’
Right. Nothing. That I can do. Do nothing and don’t cry.
I ask you, then, to switch immediately to Glee Season Three, Episode Four, go to 39 minutes and 20 seconds and check me out. The rigid hand on the hip. The woodenly bent leg. The quivering mouth and focused stare. A natural.
Some of the cast from the hit TV series Glee, which has inspired thousands of new school talent clubs
Cory Monteith was lovely in the face of my wounded pride and even tried to get me a little more time on screen. I thanked him. But by this stage, all I wanted to do was take up residence in ‘craft services’, as the on-set canteen is known, and eat until the only thing I felt was early-onset diabetes.
Meanwhile, the extras carried on walking around in circles to make the place seem busy.
My scene plays out in about 30 seconds, yet took more than an hour to film, although I like to think this was not all my fault.
Glee is shot with a single-camera set-up, allowing the director to employ close-ups and documentary-style interviews. The result is intimate, but it takes up a great deal of time, as filming is constantly interrupted to arrange new camera angles. So I stood there for take after take, angle after angle, doing absolutely nothing.
When it was all over, I gave Cory a little hug and he gave me a souvenir from the set: a fictional care leaflet from the school counsellor’s office charmingly entitled: ‘Why is there blood in my pee’ He did not ask for my number.
I left the set that day with a strange mix of elation and regret. I am not cut out for Hollywood; I have too little talent and too many tears. I cannot maintain that impossibly cheerful Glee demeanour and I have only respect for those who can.
So, from now on, Hollywood, I look forward to enjoying you from the comfort of my sofa, pizza in hand.
Unless of course, Cory fancies a night out. In which case: Cory, call me. Seriously.