Glee Project's Samuel Larsen on Christianity, Sexuality, and Cutting His Trademark Hair
Samuel Larsen wants people to know his acting skills aren’t limited to intense “Blue Steel” gazes. Of course, as the co-champion of The Glee Project‘s inaugural season, Samuel is now lined up with a seven-episode arc on Season 3 of the Glee mothership that should give him plenty of opportunity to prove his naysayers wrong. TVLine caught up with Samuel to talk about how his Christian beliefs inspired Glee creator Ryan Murphy, why he thinks he managed to avoid conflict and drama with his fellow contestants, and whether or not he’d sacrifice his trademark dreadlocks for his art.
TVLINE | I found it interesting that during The Glee Project, you said as late as Top 5 week that you’d never considered yourself an actor, and yet the goal of the show was to compete for a role on Glee.
I’d done some acting stuff when I was younger, around age nine. But then I just didn’t focus on it much, and it was surprising to get back into it. I’ve been going out and auditioning for stuff for the last year, but [The Glee Project] was the first time I’d felt like it wasn’t merely an audition, but being very exposed as an actor and really considering myself in that light.
TVLINE | What prompted you to audition in the first place?
I’d gone up for a role on Glee two years ago — I’d done a MySpace audition — and [casting director] Robert [Ulrich] kept me in mind after I didn’t get the part, and called me back for this.
TVLINE | You definitely looked like a front-runner this season — you were never in the Bottom 3 until Top 5 week — but were there times that was a hindrance, because you didn’t end up in front of Ryan and getting his feedback?
Absolutely, I always said I wished I’d been in the Bottom 3 a lot more than I was. I didn’t find out till very late in the series that Ryan wanted me to be vulnerable. I didn’t know until I’d spent nearly the entire season pushing through and being more intense.
TVLINE | When you did finally get in front of Ryan, he was fascinated to hear more about your Christianity and your religious beliefs. Did you ever think that aspect of your personality would play a significant role in inspiring the Glee writers?
Not at all. I always looked at being Christian and trying to make it in this business as opposites working against each other, because there’s a lot of iffy things that come up, and you have to be very secure in your faith to approach this business. I certainly never thought it would be a topic of inspiration or anything like that. It surprised me a lot, and I was initially thrilled to hear that. My parents are a little iffy about me being in this business because of my faith. But I think this proves it’s not always working against you.
TVLINE | On that topic, in the “Sexuality” episode, you had to portray a same-sex romance opposite Alex, and you mentioned being worried about your mom’s reaction. You weren’t really voicing any problems personally with the scene, though. Talk to me a little about that moment.
I didn’t mind at all. I knew going into Glee that it’s a show that explores sexuality, and I am completely fine with it. In the moment, my only concern was my mom’s response. I called her and told her, “Mom, it’s just a role.” I remember even the role I went out for two years ago [on Glee], there were rumors it would be a gay role. And that’s something that doesn’t bother me. I’m very comfortable with that.
TVLINE | There were a couple comments this season where people wondered if your acting ability went beyond giving intense stares. How do you react to that?
I definitely feel like I have something to prove. A lot of what I did during the show was playing to my strengths, giving off that intense look, but I feel like I have a lot more I can offer, and I want to be able to show that.
TVLINE | At the same time, you managed to avoid a lot of the behind-the-scenes drama. Did you have to consciously work to avoid getting involved in tiffs and disagreements with your fellow contestants?
What it came down to is that I wasn’t excited about doing a reality show. I treated the entire process as an audition. I just sat there and I was kinda quiet. I didn’t try to milk the whole reality aspect of it; I just wanted that role at the end.
TVLINE | Your hair was a frequent topic of discussion. If, for example, Glee decided to extend your seven-episode arc, but it was contingent on your character making a drastic change and getting a short preppy hairdo, or a buzzcut, would that be a deal-breaker?
Actually, I would love that. I’m very much over my hair. If it was up to me I’d have cut it a long time ago. I called my agent a year ago telling her I wanted to cut my hair because I thought it limited me too much. I wanted to try to get more mainstream roles, and she talked me out of it. I guess that Ryan liked it and I’m okay with that, but I do look at keeping my hair as more of a burden.
TVLINE | I also have to ask what was the deal with those hot-pink shorts you always wore to dance rehearsal.
I love the color pink. It makes a bold statement. It’s not an easy color to pull off. And the more I wear it, it just stands out. I try to collect things that are hot pink. [Laughs]
TVLINE |You chose “Jolene” as your season-finale performance. How did you settle on that, especially since it’s a ballad from the point of view of a woman singing to her man’s mistress?
The first time I heard “Jolene,” I was 12 years old and it was performed by Jack White. I remember watching that video and forgetting it was from a woman’s point of view, and forgetting it was a country song, and forgetting it was originally by Dolly Parton. I was just watching Jack White bare his soul in these lyrics that didn’t have very much to do with him. And that affected me, and made me a huge fan of the song and him. I just knew that if I could get somewhere close to that kind of a performance in front of Ryan, make him forget it’s supposed to be sung by a woman, it would give me something of an advantage, and so I just went for it. It was one of those cases where it was more about storytelling as opposed to something I could relate to.
TVLINE | What was the most difficult shoot for you out of all the videos you guys participated in during the season?
When we were doing “The Only Exception,” it wasn’t that the challenge was so hard, it was that the entire day I was in a weird, angry headspace, and it totally affected the way I wanted to do the video. And it was hard to pull myself out of it. That was unfortunate.
TVLINE | I imagine it’s a lonely experience in some ways. And it’s always hard to get perspective when you’re cut off from the people, places, and things you know.
We were very isolated. We didn’t have phones, we didn’t have the Internet. Plus, it was all of our biggest dreams — especially mine — and we would get in these funks and we could not get out of them. Man, I would cry myself to sleep every night because it’s just overwhelming. I loved being there, but at the same time it’s hard because you don’t want to let it go.
TVLINE | Ryan Murphy named you the winner of The Glee Project, and seconds later, said that Damian was also the winner. And then not only did you two get seven-episode arcs, but Lindsay and Alex were given two-episode arcs as well. What went through your mind as that moment played out?
When I won, obviously I was ecstatic. It felt amazing. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that anyone else lost, I was just in my own world. But when Ryan said Damian had won, too, it was almost like I’d won twice. I had told Damian many, many times if I don’t win, I want you to win. I connected to him, and we had a really great brotherhood. It was maybe a case of not wanting to go alone to the first day of school. And then when I found out Lindsay and Alex would be getting roles, too, it was kind of like keeping the whole family together. It felt really good that all of us would get a chance to prove ourselves.
TVLINE | Were there any moments from the season that were hard for you to watch back on TV?
I am very hard on myself with my performances in the music videos, and some of them didn’t turn out as well as I was hoping they would. One thing I’m looking forward to with Glee as opposed to The Glee Project is that on [the latter show], you don’t get to see any playback, they don’t show you what the scene looks like. You make a face and you hope for the best. On Glee, the director can be like “Hey, your face is looking a little too intense here.” And they can show me the screen and I can be like “I know exacrly what to do here.” Watching those [Glee Project] music videos at home, I’d always be like “Oh, if I had just lightened up a tad, I know how I could fix this.” That kind of annoyed me a little bit.
TVLINE | But you still don’t know what character you’re playing?
It’s all up in the air. I know Ryan is still working on the first few episodes. I’m not sure when he’s gonna introduce Damian and I, but I’m exited and I can’t wait.