Lea Michele is responding to the revelations of past on-set harassment made by a number of her former colleagues and attempting to clarify how that behavior will not follow her into her work on Funny Girl.
Speaking to The New York Times for a profile published Thursday ahead of her Sept. 6 debut in the Broadway musical revival, the Glee and Spring Awakening star offered her first response beyond her 2020 apology statement following online accusations of racism and bullying made by Michele’s former colleagues, including Glee co-star Heather Morrison, Samantha Marie Ware and others.
At least one of those colleagues, All Rise and Doom Patrol actress Ware, responded publicly to Michele’s Funny Girl casting, writing in a now-deleted tweet, “Yes, Broadway upholds whiteness.” Michele’s casting was also mired in controversy around the nature of her taking over the role from Beanie Feldstein, who departed the role early on July 31.
Ware declined comment to the Times for the profile, as did Michele — at least initially in an interview last month, citing that she didn’t “feel the need to handle things” through the media. But the actress ultimately did address them, telling the Times that her behavior was a byproduct of an intense work style and an early entertainment career as a child actor on Broadway that put her in a “semi-robotic state” due to its high demands.
“I have an edge to me. I work really hard. I leave no room for mistakes,” she said. “That level of perfectionism, or that pressure of perfectionism, left me with a lot of blind spots.”
Michele said that those allegations, which surfaced in early June 2020 after the Funny Girl star posted a statement in support of Black Lives Matter on Twitter, had led to an “intense time of reflection” about her conduct at work and is part of why she is able to lead a Broadway production for the first time since 2008’s Tony-winning Spring Awakening.
“I really understand the importance and value now of being a leader,” she said. “It means not only going and doing a good job when the camera’s rolling, but also when it’s not. And that wasn’t always the most important thing for me.”
She later added: “Everyone here has been through a lot, and I just have to come in and be prepared and do a good job and be respectful of the fact that this is their space.”
Ware and Morris were among the stars who described Michele’s on-set behavior on the hit FOX show, which ran from 2009 to 2015, as unprofessional. In a tweet that has since been deleted, Ware said Michele made her first TV role “a living hell” and made her “question a career in Hollywood.”
Part of that, the Black actor said, was Michele telling her she would “shit in my wig,” among other “traumatic microaggressions.” Fellow Black Glee actors Amber Riley and Alex Newell responded directly to Ware in shows of support, with Riley later saying in an Instagram live, that she wasn’t going to say Michele was “racist” but that she does hope “that she is grown and that she understands.”
Dabier Snell, who appeared in a 2014 episode of the show, quote tweeted Michele’s now deleted BLM-statement tweet, alleging the actress wouldn’t let him sit with other Glee cast members after being told he “didn’t belong there.”
Morrison, who declined comment for the Times piece but did make a public statement in 2020 on her own social media following Ware’s, said at the time that Michele was unpleasant to work with.
“[F]or Lea to treat others with the disrespect that she did for as long as she did, I believe she SHOULD be called out,” Morrison wrote. “But, at the current moment [it’s] implied that she is a racist and although I cannot comment on her beliefs, I think we’re assuming, and you know what happens when we all assume…”
In response, Michele released a statement on Instagram, noting that the response to her statement of support “for our friends and neighbors and communities of color during this really difficult time” had made her focus “on how my own behavior towards fellow cast members was perceived by them.”
At the time she declined remembering if she ever made “this specific statement,” in response to Ware and further denied that she ever “judged others by their background or color of their skin.”
“What matters is that I clearly acted in ways which hurt other people,” she wrote. “Whether it was my privileged position and perspective that caused me to be perceived as insensitive or inappropriate at times or whether it was just my immaturity and me just being unnecessarily difficult, I apologize for my behavior and for any pain which I have caused.”
While speaking to the Times, Michele also said she is fearful of responding to social media users and their criticisms of her, including an online discourse, derived from a joke Tumblr theory, that she can’t read. Michele attributes it to sexism.
“I went to Glee every single day; I knew my lines every single day,” she said. “And then there’s a rumor online that I can’t read or write? It’s sad. It really is. I think often if I were a man, a lot of this wouldn’t be the case.”