Monday night, as Twitter erupted in the hours after police tear-gassed peaceful protesters outside the White House so President Trump could walk across the street for his Bible photo op, an unrelated trending topic broke through: Lea Michele.
“LMAO REMEMBER WHEN YOU MADE MY FIRST TELEVISON GIG A LIVING HELL?!?!” Ware wrote. “CAUSE ILL NEVER FORGET. I BELIEVE YOU TOLD EVERYONE THAT IF TOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY YOU WOULD ‘S--- IN MY WIG!’ AMONGST OTHER TRAUMATIC MICROAGRESSIONS THAT MADE ME QUESTION A CAREER IN HOLLYWOOD …”
One actor publicly calling out another always captures attention ― but what further fueled Ware’s tweet was that more of Michele’s black co-stars immediately jumped in to agree. “I felt every one of those capital letters,” tweeted Yvette Nicole Brown, who worked with Michele on ABC’s “The Mayor.” “Felt like claps!!" added Alex Newell, another “Glee” star. Amber Riley, a member of “Glee’s” main cast since Season 1 alongside Michele, simply tweeted a GIF of herself giving side-eye as she sipped out of a mug.
June 2, 2020
Although Michele didn’t respond at the time, she released a statement Wednesday morning on Instagram. She said her tweet was meant as “a show of support for our friends and neighbors and communities of color during this really difficult time,” but the responses prompted her to think about “how my own behavior toward fellow cast members was perceived by them.”
“While I don’t remember ever making this specific statement and I have never judged others by their background or color of their skin, that’s not really the point,” she wrote in part. “What matters is that I clearly acted in ways which hurt other people … I apologize for my behavior and for any pain which I have caused.” Michele, who is pregnant, added that she knows she needs to “keep working to make myself better” so she can be a role model for her child.
For many, the statement was too little too late (especially the line about how it was “perceived” behavior by her co-stars). Meal-kit company HelloFresh already confirmed that it dropped her as a spokesperson. Michele’s former “Spring Awakening” co-star Gerard Canonico commented on her post and said she was “nothing but a nightmare” to him and his fellow understudies during production: “You made us feel like we didn’t belong there.”
So, how has Michele, who is nowhere near the level of fame that she reached during the “Glee” years of 2009 through 2015, managed to become an actual story during this historic and horrifying time? One possible explanation is that it’s the exact kind of juicy Hollywood story that is the perfect brief distraction from the horrors of real life. But another is a schadenfreude that goes deeper.
After “Glee” became a phenomenon in the late aughts, with Michele cast as lead role Rachel Berry, there were rumors heard about her being “difficult” or clashing with other cast members ― similar to her character, the ultracompetitive and often disliked high school student whose dream was to be on Broadway. Naya Rivera, also an early “Glee” star, seemingly confirmed this in her 2016 memoir as she described her and Michele’s “heated” interactions.
In the past, Michele shot down these headlines. “I can assure you that [the diva rumors] aren’t real. It’s super-frustrating sometimes, and I used to fight back, but now I feel like, you can think what you want about me — that’s OK,” Michele told Marie Claire in 2012, right after reports surfaced that “Glee” guest star Kate Hudson said she was a “nightmare” co-worker. (Michele denied she and Hudson had any issues.) “I have the most amazing fans, friends, and family members who have stood by me, and I know that my cast and crew really enjoy working with me.”
But now, seeing all the “Glee” stars publicly share their true feelings, it’s clear that wasn’t the case. For many, it’s cathartic to see someone who allegedly hurt people get their comeuppance — even if it’s an actor they don’t actually know in real life and will never meet.
And, of course, there are also just as many who are trying to put the story in perspective. “My first job in Hollywood was as a PR assistant at 20th TV, and the Lea Michele stories were pretty insane. Here are my favorites,” tweeted Ryan Aguirre, a public relations director at Starz, in a thread that has been retweeted more than 8,000 times. In the thread that followed, he posted multiple links to support organizations fighting racism and police brutality.