There was a time when the name of Glee character Will Schuester was more familiar to the public than the actor who portrayed him. Perhaps for some that's still the case. But you really can't blame anyone for that.
Whether it's because viewers strongly relate to having one educator who helped shape their identities or because they wished they had such a positive role model in their lives, Mr. Schue is an archetype who inspires fans to follow their dreams.
But the man who plays Mr. Schue is more than a symbol. Actor, dancer, musician and singer-songwriter Matthew Morrison is slated to headline the Houston Symphony's "Centennial Ball," scheduled for Saturday at Jones Hall. The fundraiser, chaired by Cora Sue and Harry Mach and Joella and Steven Mach, is a white-tie event that celebrates the curtain call of the orchestra's 100th anniversary season.
Ahead of the glitzy musicale, CultureMap chatted with Morrison over the phone to learn more about his journey in show biz.
CultureMap: We love Mr. Schue because he reminds us of that one high school teacher who really believed in us. Curious, did you have a role model like Mr. Schue growing up?
Matthew Morrison: I actually did. My teacher, his name was Mr. Doran, was my ninth grade English teacher. He's an enthusiastic guy — I don't know if he taught me how to use a comma — but you couldn't help being captivated by him. He owned the room, had an infectious attitude and you could tell he loved teaching, and that's why he made you love being a student in his class. He made you feel like you wanted to be there because he obviously wanted to be there.
I went to his classroom one day after I got Glee and said to him, "I am basing a lot of my character on you, and I would like to take something from your classroom to bring into my choir room." It's in probably almost every episode of Glee when you see the choir room. It's a porcelain wiener dog, a plant holder or something, that we switch around and put in different places. It's my homage to Mr. Doran.
CM: What's the most important value he imparted in you?
I think what I learned most from Cory was the power of dedication. He was so dedicated to getting better every single day.
MM: To enjoy live. That was in him. His thing was carpe diem, and that's something that was instilled in me.
CM: I'd like to think that everyone with whom we cross paths influences us in someway. Cory Monteith's death was tragic, a loss that affected everyone. What did you learn from Cory?
MM: When we started Glee, Cory was our biggest project. He was the person who we didn't know would work because he hadn't sung before professionally. He was kind of the question mark.
I think what I learned most from Cory was the power of dedication. He was so dedicated to getting better every single day. Throughout the years, I, as someone who was with him everyday, saw that growth. As a viewer you saw that, too, in his character, in his performance. I was really proud of him.
He would have been a lifelong friend for me. He was probably the person whom I was most close to in the show. It was a tragic loss — for everyone.
CM: Do you have a favorite Glee episode or one you watch the most?
MM: I think I watch the pilot episode more than others probably because it was the first one out. You see a script, and we thought it was a good script, but we didn't know what it was going to evolve into. After a couple of screenings, we would get together at someone's house and watch it. We would take a dinner break and watch it again. We couldn't believe how it turned out. It was so amazing and beautiful. It really set the tone for the rest of the series.
CM: How did you land the part of Mr. Schue in the first place?
MM: I was doing South Pacific on Broadway at the time, and I just put myself on tape. The producer saw it, they auditioned me in New York and I guess they really liked me. They flew me out to Los Angeles and I got the part. Luckily, South Pacific was good enough to let me out for a month to shoot the pilot. And that's how it happened.
I try to emulate the classic look of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Sammy Davis.
CM: I hear there was lucky footwear involved. Is that true?
MM: Ryan Murphy (Glee co-creator) is really into fashion. He was admiring my boots, a pair of beat up old motorcycle boots that he just absolutely loved. When I came into the audition, it wasn't about me. It was about the boots. We had a 15 minute conversation before I even got to audition.
CM: For your shows, you seem to pull off the classic look of the 1960s. Where do you shop?
MM: I do classic American standards. So I try to emulate the classic look of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Sammy Davis. Those are the people that I look to for style, but I put my own twist on it and modernize it with a bow tie or a little accessory that changes a whole outfit.
For my shows, I love Brooks Brothers. They've been around for a long time; they were around in that period. It's a classic American company. Especially in the past two years, because they did the Great Gatsby movie, they have many great pieces.
CM: From your albums and singles, what's the song that has the most personal meaning for you?
MM: There's a song called "My Name." It's a very personal song that I wrote with this English guy named Eg White. The song represents what I was going through at the time. It was a time when I would walk down the street and people would yell, "Mr. Schue, Mr. Schue!" That's how people identified me. No one really knew my name.
CM: Are wedding plans still on for next year? Where are you and Renee Puente getting married?
MM: They sure are. We've had a great time doing it, too. You hear all these horror stories about wedding planning, but we have this great wedding planer, his name is Kevin Covey. He's done a lot of weddings nationally and he's someone who's made life really easy for us. It's going to be a very small wedding in Hawaii.
I wanted to take a departure from Mr. Schuester. He's a dark character, a guy who's been running away from life.
CM: I hear you're about to start filming a new movie?
MM: That is true! It's called After the Reality. It's a script that I came across and I wanted to do it. I decided to executive produce it as well as star in it. It's a great indie flick. I've put a lot of work into reworking scenes.
For my role, I wanted to take a departure from Mr. Schuester. He's a dark character, a guy who's been running away from life. He and his sister, who's played by a great actress, Sarah Chalke, they are dealing with the death of their father so they have to come back home and rekindle things with their family. It's a great movie with a lot of twists and turns. We've assembled a great cast so expect a lot of fun cameos in it.
CM: What do you have planned for your Houston Symphony performance?
MM: I will be finishing up a long day on Friday with the movie and flying just in time for Saturday. I am excited also because Steven Reineke is conducting. He's someone with whom I just worked a couple of weeks ago for my Carnegie Hall debut. He's a fantastic conductor. He's already familiar with a lot of my songs, but I am going to throw in a few new songs that I haven't done before as well.
CM: Have you been to Houston before?
MM: My dad and I took a road trip years ago from New York to California. We drove through Houston but didn't stop there. Unfortunately I have to fly in and fly out.
CM: If you can, get in some barbecue while you are here.
MM: I will do that. Sounds like a great plan.
Matthew Morrison will star in the Houston Symphony's Centennial Ball, set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Jones Hall. Individual tickets start at $3,000 and be purchased by calling 713-238-1485 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Doors to Jones Hall open at 6 p.m.; the performance begins at 7 p.m., with no late seating. An after party starts at 10:30 p.m.