This Tuesday’s Glee (Fox, 8/7c) features a little something for everyone, from those who’ve been longing for Mercedes to seize the spotlight again to those wanting more deets on Mike Chang (who has come a long way from being “Other Asian”). Among its strengths, the hour boasts one of Jayma Mays’ best acting performances, as guidance counselor-slash-school musical director Emma Pillsbury gets an unwelcome blast from the past.
TVLine invited Mays to weigh in on Emma’s new gig, “ginger supremacy” and whether Will can ever “fix” his OCD sweetheart. Plus, get the scoop on the joyous duet Mays is doing for Glee‘s Christmas album.
TVLINE | How excited were you to get folded back into Glee’s main action, as a co-director of the school musical?
I was really excited – and I love the fact that they put Coach Beiste, Artie and me, the three most unlikely people to direct the school play, together. We pick on each other a lot, but we’ve been having a lot of fun.
TVLINE | How do you envision Emma’s approach to casting? Is she the most practical, or is that Artie? Is she of the mindset, “Everybody gets a trophy”?
Artie probably is the most practical, the most opinionated and the most creative. [Laughs] That’s the funny thing, on this show the kids are all actually smarter than the adults!
TVLINE | Emma is the Paula Abdul. “You were wonderful, and you were wonderful….”
Everybody’s a winner! Emma’s always kind of championing everyone, but I love that about her. That’s a great quality for her to have.
TVLINE | I like how the co-directors were tiptoeing around things like, “Kurt’s not whatever enough to be Tony,” or “So-and-so isn’t Latina enough to be Maria….”
Right? Emma clearly was rooting for Kurt, but almost from a “safety” point of view. Because Emma’s still a virgin and she hasn’t experienced anything too bizarre in her life as far as sexuality goes, Kurt felt like the safe way to go. It would be comfortable for people to watch him; we don’t need brooding sexuality on the stage.
TVLINE | I thought Chris Colfer did really well with that Romeo and Juliet performance in the deeper voice. I was actually at mad at Beiste for laughing at him.
Wasn’t it good? When we were filming, I kept thinking he’s not doing it bad enough, and I’m laughing and I don’t really know why – especially since they’re supposed to be high school students. Watching the episode, I was like, “Oh my gosh, we look horrible, laughing at everybody….”
TVLINE | Tell me about Emma’s folks, played by Donny Most (Happy Days) and Valerie Mahaffey (Desperate Housewives). What brings them to town? Is it a big love fest between the three of them?
I don’t know exactly how much I can give away about this, but… I definitely wouldn’t say it’s a happy reunion. And as for what brings them to town, if I say that it will give away too much.
TVLINE | Oh man, they’re there to announce they’re splitting up, aren’t they? That’s like the only reason parents come to town on a TV show.
[Laughs] No, no, that’s not why. They’re invited, but… Emma’s not happy to have them.
TVLINE | Emma’s parents tout themselves as “ginger supremacists” – can you personally relate to that struggle?
Totally. Anytime I pass a ginger on the street, you know we have that secret nod that we do, with a little wink. But if it’s a faux ginger, I won’t even look you in the eye. No, maybe my parents were a little disappointed that my husband [actor Adam Campbell] wasn’t a redhead, but what can you do?
TVLINE | Did you behold any reverence for the Ralph Malph? Or does Happy Days predate you?
Oh my gosh, I was so excited. When they told me, I said, “What? He’s my father?!” He was super, super lovely to work with. And so was Valerie. They both had me laughing so hard. We were doing one particular scene and they were shooting their coverage and I was like, “I’m so sorry, the back of my shoulders were shaking because I was laughing so hard.”
TVLINE | Now that Valerie has played Emma’s mom, what will we do if Susan Sarandon ever wants to swing by?
I know! She could totally be my aunt. She could be anything she wants to be! Maybe she could be the head of the Ginger Supremacists group? I think she could pull that off.
TVLINE | At end of this week’s episode, there’s a very emotional sequence as Will sings “Fix You” to Emma. Ultimately, do you think he can?
Oh, that’s a very deep question…. I… I don’t know that anybody can fix anybody, but I do feel that if I’m going to be sentimental about it, there are elements to both Emma and Will that bring out the best in each other, and that’s what good about well-written couples. I definitely think that Will has the ability to do that for Emma.
TVLINE | What do you think was the net result of Emma’s whirlwind, intermittently presented romance with Carl (played by John Stamos)? What do you think we gained from that?
[Laughs] Well, I don’t know what you gained, but Emma needed that. Emma’s never done anything without thinking it through a year in advance, and to have that moment of being spontaneous and frivolous about the way she felt about something was a good thing for her to go through. It’s almost like she needed to be extreme in the other direction to see what it’s like to live.
TVLINE | There’s been a lot of talk of this season being “back to basics” for Glee, and “Asian F” seems like a strong step in that direction. Is that how you feel?
You know, we’ve got some new writers, and I feel like they’re killing it, they’re really writing good stuff for everybody. We’re getting to know everybody even more this season, which is great. Like, all the stuff with Mike Chang’s parents I just love, and Mercedes coming into her own…. I’m loving it so much this season.
TVLINE | Any performances coming up for you this season? I feel like the last time you sang, it was in that Puritan “Afternoon Delight” costume.
Which was my favorite thing to wear, ever. I want to have a party at home and answer the door in it. I was so happy in that costume – though I don’t know what that says about me as a person. A ruffle around the neck isn’t go to hurt anything! So no, no [on camera] performances, but Matt [Morrison] and I are doing a duet on the Glee Christmas album, which is very fun for me because I’ve never laid down an original song before. We’re doing an original song that Adam Anders, our music producer, wrote for us, and I felt flattered and honored to do that. Plus, it’s just nice to sing Christmas songs. I wore red pants the day I sang it!