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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 26, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 34
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Telly Leung, Glee's other Warbler
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Telly Leung, Glee's other Warbler

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Most of America first met Telly Leung as Wes Montgomery, one of the Warblers who joined Glee (along with Darren Criss) last fall. The singer/dancer/actor was only supposed to appear in a few episodes, but he ended up doing seven of them. Leung is cute, talented, and a versatile performer - he's starred in Rent, Wicked, Pacific Overtures, and Flower Drum Song's national Broadway tours - and recently spoke with Seattle Gay News about his role on Glee, a recent casting in a Broadway show, and his memories of touring Seattle with Rent.

At the moment, Leung's fans won't be seeing him in town any time soon. However, the star told SGN that he absolutely loves Seattle. 'The first time I was there, I was on tour with Flower Drum Song, and we played the 5th

Avenue Theatre,' he said. 'I fell in love with Seattle.'

Leung says he was 'thrilled to return to Seattle in 2009' with Rent: The Broadway Tour at the Paramount Theatre.

You guys have the best food ever,' he said. 'I ate my way through Seattle. I love Purple, Dragon Fish, and The Crumpet Shot. My Rent buddy Andy and I started doing a lot of video blogging when we were on tour, and we did a whole episode on Seattle, which is on YouTube.'

The Emerald City is many miles away from where the talented young actor was raised. Leung grew up in Bay Ridge, an Italian and Irish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.

'Believe it or not, up until I went to acting school at Carnegie Mellon [for hours of voice and dialects classes], I had a pretty strong Brooklyn and New York accent,' Leung told SGN. 'I used to say 'coffee' like 'cawwwfy.' It was definitely quite a sight to see this little Asian kid say 'cawwwfy' and 'chawwwcolate' at Carnegie Mellon. I still keep in touch with a lot of my friends from Bay Ridge.'

Leung says he grew up in a traditional Chinese home and that his parents definitely did not want him to go into show business. 'They didn't want their only son to be a starving actor,' he explained. 'They had dreams of me going to some Ivy League school and making six figures being a doctor or lawyer or something.'

The actor says his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong with very little. 'To them, the American dream was solely a monetary one,' he said. 'To me, the American dream is more than that - it's having the freedom to be who you want to be, to dream big, and choose what it is you want from your life. 'Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' And there is no monetary value on 'happiness.' I think they are coming around, but it took them a while to be supportive of my showbiz dreams.'

Television programming has begun to change, and with it, network execs have ushered in a stable of ethnically diverse and LGBT-focused actors. It seems these days that everyone is represented & except Asians.

Leung says it is a fact that is visible to Asian youth. 'I feel very lucky to have been able to do the things that I've done,' he told SGN. 'But, I know a lot of talented actors in the Asian community who aren't given a shot. There just aren't enough people writing roles for us in films, TV, or theater.'

'Where are the stories that are specific to our community, and why aren't they being green-lit?' he asked. 'That is why I'm thrilled to be a part of Allegiance.'

Recently, Leung was involved in the development of a new musical called Allegiance (www.allegiancemusical.com), which stars openly Gay George Takei (of Star Trek fame) and Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon, Les Miserables). Allegiance is about a Japanese-American family in the internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. Takei plays Old Sam, who recalls his teenage years in the camps. Leung plays Young Sam.

'I'm thrilled to be a part of this original musical, featuring some of the most incredible Broadway Asian talent,' said Leung. 'We are slated to do our out-of-town try-out in San Diego, California, at the Old Globe next year, with an imminent Broadway arrival shortly after that.'

'I would love to see a sitcom or an hour-long drama that focuses on an Asian-American family that wasn't only centered on them being Asian,' he continued. 'Of course, that is a part of it, but I think the key is finding a way to make that Asian-American family relatable to all people. They are a family, with ups and downs like every family, that just so happens to be Asian.'

Leung says the series would reflect Modern Family.

'I love Modern Family because the creators found a way to make a very unconventional family seem conventional and relatable,' he said. 'Maybe, one day, the powers that be will agree with me.'

For now, Leung says he won't complain too loud as he is fresh off a successful season two of Glee, in which he played a member of the hugely popular Warblers. On the show, his character is straight, but Leung says he believes you don't play 'Gay' or 'straight' - you just act.

'I had great acting training at Carnegie Mellon, and one of the many lessons I learned there, when playing any scene - regardless of the character's sexual orientation - is love is love,' he told SGN. 'A good actor should be able to play love honestly and believably, regardless of their personal sexual orientation. The minute an actor plays the general qualities of what we think is 'straight' or 'Gay,' they are dead in the water. They are playing stereotypes and qualities, and not playing the scene - and it isn't believable, because it doesn't reflect real life. In our lives, we all know very masculine Gay men and very feminine straight men, and when they feel love, they feel it the same. Love is love. So actors have to dig a little deeper and say to themselves, 'I can't just play Gay or play straight.' All characters we tackle are three-dimensional human beings that are more than their sexual stereotypes.'

As for the Gay-themed romance between Kurt and Blaine on Glee, Leung says he is proud of the way the show's writers handle it. 'Of course I root for them because they were my blazer-wearing Warbler brothers, but as a fan of the show, I watched it when the episode aired and I was rooting for them then, too,' he said. 'Chris Colfer [Kurt] and Darren Criss [Blaine] have wonderful chemistry together, and I love that the 'Klaine' relationship isn't always perfect and that they both have things to work on as they discover love together. I'm also thrilled that they even tackled it in the first place. Think of how many teens struggling with their sexual identity have been touched by that storyline. I can't wait to see what happens to them in season three.'

Leung is not under contract with Glee, but is on a 'recurring basis with them' so we might see him in a few episodes this season - set to air on FOX.

Leung says that, to him, Glee encompasses what it means to be an actor. 'Singing and acting go hand-in-hand,' he said. 'The best singers are those who act through music, and the great singers are simply story-tellers who use their voice to tell that story. There are a lot of good singers out there, but the great ones are the people who not only sing, but make you feel something when they do it.'

More than just an actor, Leung has become an advocate for the LGBT community. 'As a New Yorker, Gay pride certainly meant something extra special to me this year,' he said. 'A bunch of folks from the theater community in New York volunteered at phone banks right before the marriage equality vote, and we were thrilled that Gay marriage finally passed in New York!'

'This year's Gay Pride was a huge celebration - not just for the LGBT community, but for all New Yorkers,' said Leung. 'I'm optimistic that the vote in New York will spark a marriage equality wildfire, and other states will jump on board.'

This fall, Leung will be back on Broadway in a revival of Godspell, which opens at the Circle in the Square Theater November 7. 'The show hasn't been revived in 40 years, and I can't wait to do Godspell for a whole new generation of theater-goers,' said Leung. 'It's going to be a great show and I think folks will love hearing that incredible score on Broadway again.'

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