It’s ballbusting work being part of TV’s biggest phenomenon. For Dianna Agron, the actress who plays alpha cheerleader Quinn Fabray on the FOX musical series Glee, it takes five time zones, four days, and one delayed flight to the UK (with a daytrip to Paris along the way), before she even has a moment to pop on the phone to chat quickly about her blossoming career. When she does, it’s 1:30 a.m. after a performance in Manchester, England—the first UK stop on the Glee Live! stadium tour—and she’s not even close to sleepy. “I’m a night owl,” Agron explains, “and you get such adrenaline from the show—it’s really hard to pass out straight away.”
It sounds like typical performer hype—the energy of the audience, blah, blah, blah—but to really grasp what she’s getting at you pretty much have to remember, this is Glee we’re talking about. The Gleeks, as the show’s rainbow coalition of dedicated fans call themselves, take Glee very. Very. Seriously. Internet forums are filled with fan fiction about co-star couplings and debates rage about which of the show’s female stars is the hottest. (For the record, Agron ranks as the show’s number one “classic beauty.”) Millions upon millions of people tune in every week to learn life lessons to a pop-music soundtrack as the show dishes out morals on unprotected sex (Agron’s character gives a baby up for adoption), inner beauty (her mean-girl Quinn hides an obese past), and sexuality (she loses the prom queen vote to a gay male character).
When Glee Live! arrives to Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum to shoot two performances for the upcoming film Glee Live! In 3D!, gaggles of tweens and middle-aged ladies froth at the mouth. There is chaos when America’s favorite high school pep squad goes through their greatest hits. Twenty-something girls in silk shirts gyrate to G-rated covers of Britney and Beyoncé while their bored boyfriends smoke cigarettes outside. (At one show in Philadelphia, a group of grown women tailgated with thermoses full of Pinot Grigio.) The roar of the crowd reaches a fever pitch as Agron skips across the stage in jeans and a T-shirt, her newly bobbed hair bouncing behind her. And when her on-screen, on-again-off-again boyfriend Cory Monteith hits the stage, a girl falls to her knees shrieking, ”He’s so beautiful!” A ghoulish siren call from the tween abyss.
It gets intense. Like a Gathering of the Juggalos for the purity ring set.
The concert tour has given Agron a chance to cure some wanderlust, and to connect with fans, but most of the time, from the stage, she just sees a sea of BlackBerries and camera flashes. She recalls a show where, right next to the real filming crew, was a guy with an iPad recording the show. “I think it’s so hard,” Agron says of accepting the new ways fans interact with the show, “because people are so joyous in the moment, and want to be able to look back on it or share it with their friends, but you’ll see that more often than not, they’re watching the concert through the recording device. To me, that’s putting yourself back in front of the TV. You are part of it; you feel the energy. You’ll never see or feel that from a video, ever.”
It took a last-minute casting call for the 25-year-old actress to land the life-changing role just a few weeks before filming started three years ago. It wasn’t her first brush with Hollywood—Agron had already sold a screenplay and had bit parts on CSI: New York and Heroes—but it was one of those star-making moments. Since then, she’s sat on Oprah’s couch, been a guest at the White House, and had her first tabloid relationship flameout. She’s also taken her movie-star good looks to the big screen with the mega-budgeted I Am Number 4 and directed a music video for San Francisco indie rockers Thao with the Get Down Stay Down in conjunction with Oxfam. For now, though, it’s all about Glee, and this season may be her last, as the current set of characters are set to graduate high school. So she’s enjoying it while it lasts.
While she’s open to possibilities for the future—after Glee, Agron plans to continue telling stories, one way or another, as an actor, writer, director, or producer—she’s also open to possibilities about the past. Not one, but two, psychics have asked her about a mysterious Charlie that she may have been in a past life. This curiosity about bygone times is a concept that assists her creatively. Sometimes, to find inspiration, she’ll clear her mind and let it wander: “If this was six years ago, what would I be doing in the exact same place or situation? It’s something that, when I write, it could be a situation or a person that is similar to something that I know, but I go in a completely different direction with it, based off of one small change.”
Agron recently celebrated her 25th birthday with another small change—cutting her blonde hair short, something she’d wanted to do for a while. She announced the move by posting a video called “Seven Year Itch” to her Tumblr, sending minor shockwaves through the celebrity blogosphere. “It’s almost like putting on the glasses and all of a sudden you’re smarter. It’s a very interesting and lovely observation that I keep having of how people treat me now that my hair’s different,” she said of the change. The suggestion that it must be strange, though, to be under the constant scrutiny of legions of fans is batted away without even a slight hesitation. “I’m the happiest that I’ve ever been,” Agron says. “Ever. High school, middle school—I’ve loved every part of getting older and growing, but I definitely think that this is the most I’ve ever felt like myself and that I’m being treated like who I feel I am.”
It’s difficult work being part of something so widespread and global, for sure. The constant flights, the dizzying two shows-a-day schedule, the autographs, the interviews. But at the end of the day, when the reward is changing people’s perspective of what’s normal, and giving a voice to a part of America that still needs one, you almost never want to go to sleep.