Glee has landed yet another legendary guest star, and this time it’s one Shirley MacLaine, who will appear in two episodes this season as June Dolloway, a wealthy socialite and NYADA donor who takes a special interest in Blaine (Darren Criss) when they cross paths.
In anticipation of MacLaine’s Glee debut on April 29 (at 8 p.m. on Fox), the showbiz great chatted with EW about the show’s grueling schedule and how it felt to kick her heels up once again.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The first question: Are you a big Glee fan? Do you watch the show?
SHIRLEY MACLAINE: Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It’s one of those things. Love the talent of all the kids, love that they can do so much in a week. It’s extraordinary. All my young friends really loved the idea [of me doing the show]. I don’t know why, but they do!
How long has it been since you’ve last dug into this musical side?
Oh come on, I haven’t lifted a leg or sung a note even in the shower. This is not something I’m really accustomed to. So it’s very stimulating… I’m loving it, let’s put it that way.
You’re playing a powerful New York socialite, an arts patron who takes an interest in Blaine. What immediately popped into your head about this character?
She’s who they all want to be. She’s very talented herself and also has this appreciation for talent. She is a tastemaker, and she really has a nose like a bloodhound for who will make it. And she’s also very colorfully inclined how she dresses and how she really flaunts her money, and yet at the same time she can sit down with her shoes off and her legs crossed and just have a bullsh–t session. I think she has her opinions about this and that, about what the young people that she thinks are good ought to do with their lives and their work.
Did you get to have any input into the songs you sing?
Of course not—there’s no time! Somebody pushes a button and the music comes on and you just go do what you think to do.
You sing “Piece of My Heart” on the show. Have you ever dared to sing Janis Joplin before, even in the shower?
Are you kidding? No, dear, no—but I do now! My version.
What leads your character to perform?
I don’t know. Ask the guy who writes it. I guess she didn’t make it so she likes to perform at the showcases she gives for other people.
What other songs do you get to sing?
I’m going to sing a song from Pippin. “No Time at All.” A lot of very complicated important Stephen Schwartz lyrics!
How was it working with Darren Criss? Was he intimidated by you?
Oh, he’s really a darling guy. He’s a pro, so he does all the pro things, and he was very helpful to me because he’s used to this rhythm. Really, it’s like a talent bootcamp over there.
They’re the hardest working teenage twenty-somethings in the business.
Yeah, they really are. I was fascinated by how they retain six songs in four days. How do they do that?
Was the schedule the biggest challenge for you?
Oh yes. The dialogue’s not a challenge, the scene’s not a challenge, none of that. But the music! You need to know your character, you need to know what key you’re going to sing in. There’s not even time to find that out! They can change it all in the studio anyway.
What surprised you most about this experience?
That they can do so much in so little time. Really, it’s a shock. And for me, too! I am surprised at that. Someone like me, who was trained my whole life with a sense of understanding that creativity takes time. But I expected it would be fun, because a musical environment is always fun for me.
Is this making you want to get back into musicals? You do have a Broadway background.
I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t know how serious I am because I don’t know what I would do with 8 shows a week, to tell you the truth. Would I move back east? Would I walk across town to the west side 8 times a week? I don’t know! I would like to create [a new role] though.
What excites you about dipping a toe back into this music world?
Doing music and doing movement and the integration of laughter and joy. And I guess there is some joy to not having enough time. It’s in a different land of joy. I just love being around musical stuff, and these kids are just fabulous. All of them! What are they going to do when this show is over, I ask them?
Just as your character June sees promise in Blaine, did you see major star potential in any of these actors?
I don’t know that you can really find your serious potential for longevity when you’ve only got 12 minutes. That’s the only thing that bothers me for them in the future, because they’re so fabulous and so talented and so everything that I…maybe the best thing is that… is the show going to run another year?
Yes, one more after this current one, and then they’ll be free to do other things.
What do you mean? They’ll be free to have lunch! It’s kind of interesting to me, this differential in the kind of times that I grew up in and the kind of times that we’re working in and living in now. People have an Internet rhythm about their talent.
True. You’re on Twitter, right? Do you embrace the Internet rhythm?
I do. I like it all, I think there’s wonderful potential for the future, but I’m not even interested in whether I washed my hair today.
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.