An Interview With: Naya RiveraTuesday, May 17, 2011
Imagine you’re alone with the one and only Naya Rivera in a high-rise hotel room in the middle of downtown San Francisco. She’s in a breathtakingly gorgeous, revealing gown sitting across from you smiling and laughing. And, yes, she’s just as gorgeous and friendly in person as you’d imagine. While it may be nearly impossible to not let your mind wander into fantasyland in her presence, truth be told, her manager and publicist are also in the room and one of the reasons she is so jubilant is she has just been told that she’s a frontrunner in the AfterEllen.com Hot 100 list for this year.
Regardless of any romantic fantasy, there’s no mistaking that Rivera has had one hell of a year and it’s also not a chore to believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg for her. As the role of Santana Lopez grew from a small role in the Glee pilot two years ago to a front-and-center storyline this season featuring her coming out and her unrequited love for her BFF, Brittany (played by Heather Morris), Rivera has handled the role so realistically and convincingly that she was asked to host this past weekend’s GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco. Just before starting her hosting duties, she sat down — yes, in her hotel room — to talk exclusively with AfterEllen.com.
AfterEllen.com: You’re hosting the GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco! What was your initial reaction when you were asked and the importance of it?
Naya Rivera: Naturally, I was just flabbergasted! To be asked to host anything – and I have never hosted anything ever – I feel honored and I feel that this is an event that is so important to so many people and it raises awareness and money for such a great cause. I just feel really blessed and it’s all happened so quickly. I mean, I just came out five episodes ago! But I thank the fans and I appreciate them so much because they’ve latched on and got me to where I am right now and I would not be here in beautiful San Francisco hosting the GLAAD Awards without them!
AE: I went back and watched the pilot of Glee recently and the fact that you’re now such a major player on the show…there’s no way you saw any of this coming, right?
NR: Never! If you would’ve asked me, I would never say ‘Yeah, I’m going to be a teenage lesbian icon!” [laughs] No! That’s amazing and it’s just been beyond anything I could have dreamt of or imagined for myself. I never thought about this.
AE: I’m guessing you’re hearing a lot from young girls who can relate to what Santana is going through.
NR: Tons of girls. I get very heartfelt tweets and fan letters everyday that just touch my soul and touch my heart. They say "Thank you so much. Because Santana was so brave, I came out to my friends or my parents." And I get crazy things like "I thought about killing myself" because I guess it’s unorthodox. It’s harder for girls because no one really takes them seriously. If they see two girls making out they say "that’s hot" but, no, for teenage girls in high school this is a serious thing.
AE: When the story first started with Santana and Brittany and there was brief mention of the two of them together, were there big discussions about the direction of all this? Whether they’d be bi or gay or what?
NR: No, actually we didn’t. In the beginning it was a fun thing and we all thought it was cute and funny; a little blurb here, a little blurb there and we never thought it would go any further. It was truly because of the fans that Brad [Falchuk, Executive Producer] and Ryan [Murphy, Executive Producer] started taking it seriously. They came to me one day and said "How would you feel about exploring this storyline?" I thought "Yes!" It’s great on every level and it’s just amazing.
AE: We all know that Santana is a girl who will do anything to get what she wants but it looks like she’s not going to get Brittany.
AE: How is she going to move on from that? Can she and Brittany still be friends?
NR: I feel like they still are friends and in the prom episode that just aired … that was right after she sang "Songbird" to her and continued to pour her heart out to Brittany and still didn’t get what she wanted. I think they’ll always be friends and I think that Santana values Brittany’s friendship above everything else, which is the softer side of [Santana]. I would like to see her find love outside of Brittany and I think that we had to deal with the hurt of being rejected to get to the softer side of this really hard and bitchy character.
AE: So you don’t want to see Santana play the field a little bit?
NR: I want to see her get in a relationship. I think that that’s something that hasn’t been explored. We’ve never seen her in a relationship with anybody and we’ve never really seen her give herself up and put someone else’s needs before her own and I think that would be a cool thing to explore.
AE: I personally don’t want Santana to get too soft. I like bitchy Santana, too!
NR: Oh no! Trust me, Santana will never get too soft and that’s the best thing about her. Ryan Murphy loves that she’s a raging bitch and I love the fact that she just says whatever she wants but people get it. It’s not that she’s mean for no reason. She gets what she wants.
AE: Your scenes with Heather Morris are just amazing. Do you spend a lot of time talking about how you’re going to play your scenes or is it more organic than that?
NR: It’s really just our chemistry and I think that we kind of feed off the same things and portray those things the same way. We just gel really well when we work together and I think that’s how ‘Brittana’ took off so much in the first place is that we have a really great working chemistry.
AE: Would Santana ever go back to boys even if it were in a conniving fashion or is that completely in her past?
NR: At this point….look…[laughs]…Santana will use anything that she needs to use if it’s a dire enough situation but I think we all know now that the boy thing is not where she’s truly at.
AE: We have two episodes left in the season. What is coming up for Santana?
NR: I will say that I love the last episode because it’s that end-of-the-season thing and there’s closure with every coupling and love triangle; there’s a resolution. There’s a resolution between Brittany and Santana and you get where they stand at that point. I think it’s sweet and everyone will be happy with where they go.
AE: Are there some seeds planted for next season?
NR: Yeah, some things are open-ended and some things come to a close. As a viewer, I think everyone will be happy with where it is.
AE: What songs are you singing in these next episodes?
NR: "Back to Black" comes out in the next episode, "Funeral," and I’m very excited about that because I love that song and I had a blast. It’s my second Amy Winehouse song so I can’t complain!
AE: Are there songs that you’re dying to sing and ones you’re pitching to the producers?
NR: "Valerie" and "Back to Black" were two that I wanted to sing because I’m such an Amy fan and I didn’t have to bribe anyone or anything and they just came to me and I was very excited about them. I would like to maybe sing "Make You Feel My Love" Adele’s version. That just kills me. Also, with "Songbird," I feel like I got such great songs this season.
AE: These are all such great, idyllic songs but how do you get past the fact that these are songs we all love and admire by these huge artists. How much pressure is that for you?
NR: I pretty much shut it off because it will just freak you out and you can’t perform at your peak if you’re worried about living up to what that person did and that’s always the double-edged sword of doing covers. I shut it off and I just want to do a good job and I know if I perform to the best of my ability then hopefully Amy Winehouse or Stevie Nicks will like what I’m doing.
AE: Have you heard from any of them about your singing the songs on the show?
NR: I know Amy has tweeted that she loves the show so I’m sure she’s seen it. Stevie Nicks came to set and she sent flowers after "Rumours" aired.
AE: Shifting gears, are you a fan of Pretty Little Liars?
NR: Yes! That is my guilty pleasure! I watch Pretty Little Liars with my best friend Telly. We go to each other’s houses when it airs and we watch it.
AE: What do you think of the gay storyline and how they’re handling it?
NR: I think Shay [Mitchell] does an amazing job. They do exactly what we do on a different platform and I feel like she’s beautiful girl and people look up to her.
AE: Do you know her?
NR: We met at the Golden Globe party and it was like "Hi! Everyone says we look alike!” She’s great and we talk all the time now.
AE: So you know there’s a little Hot 100 list happening on AfterEllen.com and you are currently in the top three.
NR: [laughs] That is crazy! I love my ladies.
AE: What are you going to do if you end up number one?
NR: First of all, that would be insane. Are you joking me? You have to film my reaction because I will freak out!
AE: Who else should be in the Hot 100? What’s the first name that comes to mind?
NR: Are you joking me? [laughs] I would say Halle Berry. She’s my idol. But that’s crazy! There are so many people who are hotter than me! You have no idea!
AR: I know your schedule is insane but how do you stay in such amazing shape?
NR: Thanks! Every time we have off I really try to work out. I do spinning every Saturday morning and spinning is brutal and great but it’s 30 minutes of spinning and 30 minutes of yoga. I do hot yoga with weights and I do cardio burn.
AR: Hot yoga?
NR: It’s yoga but you go through the vinyasas with weights so it’s kind of like cardio aerobics. We’re also going on tour so I’m sure I’ll drop five pounds in a month.
AR: Any food indulgences that you just can’t say no to?
NR: Right now, me and my cheeseburgers are insane. Stout Burgers in LA on Cahuenga is amazing.
AR: How do I not know about Stout Burger?
NR: Don’t go because you’ll never leave! If you have just one nice fat cheeseburger … I’m pretty much having two cheeseburgers a week now. It’s awful!
AE: It does not show at all!
NR: That’s why I’m working out so hard! Oh, and I also can’t say no to SunChips.
AE: Any new tattoos coming?
NR: I was obsessed with tattoos for awhile but I now have no other places to hide them and I don’t have any desire to get anymore so I’m done.