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Grant Gustin happy being 'Glee's' smooth criminal

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  • Sebastian (Grant Gustin) faces off against Santana (Naya Rivera) in the "Michael" episode of "Glee."
Sebastian (Grant Gustin) faces off against Santana (Naya Rivera) in the… (Fox )
January 30, 2012|By Curt Wagner | RedEye

Grant Gustin's road to"Glee"started in Chicago.

The 22-year-old, who plays Sebastian on the Fox series, was living in Lincoln Park last year with castmates from the national touring company of "West Side Story" when he submitted an audition video to appear as a tap dancer in the Season 3 premiere of "Glee."

"I submitted a video of myself doing 'Good Morning' from 'Singing in the Rain' and they liked me but I wasn't right for the role I guess," he said.

Good thing, too, because the show's creator, Ryan Murphy, thought of Gustin again when it came time to cast Sebastian, the scheming member of the Warblers singing group. After a later audition in front of the "Glee" team Gustin won the role, but not without a few angsty weeks waiting to hear the news. When he finally did, Gustin was once again onstage in Tucson, Ariz., playing Baby Jon when his manager called.

"I called him back right in the middle of the show and found out I got it," he said. "I did one more performance the next night. I was on a plane Saturday morning and filming on Monday. It was crazy."

Since then, Sebastian has angered fans because he tried to split up fan favorite couple Blaine (Darren Criss) and Kurt (Chris Colfer). Sebastian causes even more trouble in "Michael," the show's tribute episode to Michael Jackson airing at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 on Fox. Sebastian slushies Blaine and faces the wrath of Santana (Naya Rivera) and the other members of New Directions.

"[Santana] comes and gives Sebastian a piece of her mind" by singing Jackson's "Smooth Criminal," Gustin said. "It was amazing. It was probably my favorite day of filming thus far."

Gustin also sings “Bad” with the entire cast in a number that pits the Warblers against New Directions as they battle to decide who will get to sing Michael Jackson songs at Regionals.

Growing up in Norfolk, Va., Gustin lived a “Glee”-like early life. He started performing in community theater when he was about 10 and attended a performing arts high school where he focused on musical theater. I had to ask if he’d ever been slushied himself.

“No slushies,” he said, laughing. “But yeah, I definitely was not the most popular kid in school when I was taking tap-dance as an 11-year-old.”

Gustin and I chatted more about Sebastian, the “Michael” episode, his time in Chicago and, yes, I asked him the sexuality question. (Watch a video interview with Gustin and see clips from "Michael" by clicking the link in the related column to the left.)

Give me the scoop on the songs you sing on the “Michael” episode.
One of the songs is “Smooth Criminal” with Santana—Naya—and it was amazing. It was probably my favorite day of filming thus far. We got a lot of free reign with that number. It’s not really true choreography with that song, but as far as the choreography or staging was concerned it was pretty loose and we got to have fun with it, which was great.

And “I Want You Back” is the Warblers number that we’re doing. That one is unbelievable. That was definitely one of my favorite, if not my favorite, Jackson 5 songs growing up. ... It was my mom’s favorite song. She freaked out when she heard I was doing it. So that was pretty amazing. (Note from Curt: The "I Want You Back" number was cut from the final version so won't be part of the episode.]

It’s also an exciting episode for the Warblers just because we get to dance and no one’s really seen the Warblers really dance that much. And granted, we’re not blowing people away with the dance numbers we’re doing in this episode, but it’s definitely some very cool, exciting choreography happening in both “I Want You Back” and in “Bad,” which is kind of a Warblers versus New Directions number. And there’s some pretty fun, exciting dance moves going on, so I think people are going to love that.

This isn’t a competition episode, is it?
No, it’s not, but both schools want Michael Jackson to go to Regionals, so we’re kind of discouraging each other to see who gets to use his music for Regionals.

If Sebastian and Santana are singing that song together, does that mean that there’s going to be some scheming going on?
Yes. I don’t want to give too much, but there has been a picture released of Sebastian slushing Blaine … I won’t say how or why, but Blaine gets hurt from that slushing. It’s been tampered with slightly.

You would think that Sebastian would have slushied Kurt.
You would think that, but there’s a little twist.

Nice tease. Are you having fun on the show?
Yeah, I’m having the time of my life. I’m getting to do what I love to do on a high profile TV show and I would have never expected to be doing that even three months ago. So yeah, it’s pretty amazing. It’s great.

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