Navigating through youth and young adulthood isn't easy, and in Sorry Not Sorry, Naya Rivera shows us that we're not alone in the highs, lows, and in-betweens. Whether it's with love and dating, career and ambition, friends, or gossip, Naya inspires us to follow our own destiny and step over--or plod through--all the crap along the way. After her rise and fall from early childhood stardom, barely eking her way through high school, a brief stint as a Hooters waitress, going through thick and thin with her mom/manager, and resurrecting her acting career as Santana Lopez on Glee, Naya emerged from these experiences with some key life lessons:
- All those times I scrawled "I HATE MY MOM" in my journal. So many moms and teenage daughters don't get along--we just have to realize it's nothing personal on either side.
- At-home highlights and DIY hair extensions. Some things are best left to the experts, and hair dye is one of them.
- Falling in love with the idea of a person, instead of the actual person.
- That I don't always get along with everyone. Having people not like you is a risk you have to take to be real, and I'll take that over being fake any day.
- Laughing at the gossip instead of getting upset by it.
- Getting my financial disasters out of the way early--before I was married or had a family--so that the only credit score that I wrecked was my own.
Even with a successful career and a family that she loves more than anything else, Naya says, "There's still a thirteen-year-old girl inside of me making detailed lists of how I can improve, who's never sure of my own self-worth." Sorry Not Sorry is for that thirteen-year-old in all of us.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’
The Glee Years
WHEN I AUDITIONED for Glee, I was annoyed. This wasn’t super surprising, because at this point in my career, I hated auditions (still do, actually), but this one also involved driving out to a music store in Van Nuys to buy sheet music. Annoying errand aside, it did seem like one of the cooler auditions I’d been to in a long time because it involved singing. If I booked the role, it would be really awesome to be able to combine the two things I loved the most, but that was a big “if.” I’d gotten really familiar with “if” over the last few years and wasn’t counting on anything anymore. In fact, I so wasn’t counting on it that I stood outside, smoking a cigarette, right until it was time for me to go in and belt out Destiny’s Child’s “Emotion” (my choice) with all the runs included.
The character I was auditioning for—who would turn out to be the unforgettable Miss Santana Lopez—didn’t have any lines in the pilot, so I auditioned by reading Mercedes’s lines. It was a whole bit about how hard it was to get stank ass out of polyester, and I made sure to add extra panache.
Even after I booked it, I still wasn’t that excited—it was just a small role, and in a pilot episode. There was no telling if the show would be picked up or if I would be asked back if it was. When I showed up for the first day of filming, I walked into the production office and noticed that there were Nip/Tuck posters hanging everywhere. I was a huge fan of the show, and during one of my stints of unemployment, my mom and I had watched every episode together.
“Why are there Nip/Tuck posters everywhere?” I asked the kinda cute guy (who I would later make out with) behind the desk.
“This is Ryan Murphy’s office,” he said snidely.
“Who’s Ryan Murphy?” I was clearly winning him over.
“The creator of Nip/Tuck. This is his show.” I sucked in my breath, and ran outside to call my mom. Now, in spite of my best efforts to remain cool and not get too attached to the show, I had to admit that I was more than just kind of excited.
It’s crazy now to look back and think about how much time we had to rehearse in the early days, when a lot of the cast was just getting used to doing choreographed numbers. We’d work on one song for an entire week, whereas by the final season of the show, we’d run through it just a few times and then be ready to roll. Since Santana wasn’t part of the glee club in the beginning, she wasn’t in the iconic opening number—a rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” that blows their teacher, Mr. Schuester, away. The actors who were a part of that number had already been rehearsing together for a while.
I remember watching them as an outsider (much like my character would later in the show), and being kind of jealous of the bond they’d clearly already formed—they had all these inside jokes, like about how Cory couldn’t dance. My feeling like an outsider changed quickly, though, when I met Dianna Agron, who played my fellow cheerleader, Quinn, and who also hadn’t met anyone else yet. Dianna and I had all our scenes together, and we were instant friends. The trailers on set during the pilot were super small and divided in two. Dianna and I shared one, and we soon decided to take down the partition that separated it so we could make a bigger shared space.
I tried to think of ways I could make Santana stand out, even though she didn’t have any lines. I figured that if she was the bitchy sidekick, then I was going to make her a megabitch with extra kick. There was a big scene in the choir room, with a bunch of students sitting in chairs, and I was rolling my eyes and popping my neck at every joke. And I guess it must have worked! Ryan Murphy shot the pilot, and between scenes one day, Dianna and I were walking in our Cheerios uniforms when Ryan came up to us and said, “You should learn ‘I Say a Little Prayer.’”
“Okay!” I said. “What’s that?”
“A song. You might be singing it in the next episode.” Then he walked off.
Dianna and I turned to each other, eyes open wide, but tried to play it cool. Next episode? That meant I was coming back! And not only did I have lines, but also an actual song!
At first the show used two real high schools, one in Long Beach and one in Burbank, as stand-ins for McKinley High, so showing up to shoot felt like actually going back to school, with the football fields and linoleum-tiled hallways lined with rows of lockers. When wardrobe first handed me the cheerleading uniform, I was stoked. One, because I’d never played a cheerleader before, and two, because I was relieved that I got to wear a costume that made me look hot. I remember trying it on and doing a little jump when I looked in the mirror. I had no idea that I’d be wearing that same damn uniform for pretty much three years straight! My first scenes were all classic mean-girl shit, making fun of Rachel. My first line was a snide, tossed-off “get a room” as I walked by Will and Emma talking in the hallway.
Then the rest is bitchy history.
From the very beginning, we all knew that there was something special about Glee. For one, there weren’t any huge names attached to it. It wasn’t a show that just banked on an established star’s personality, and that meant people who watched it got to know the characters first and the actors second. I think that’s why Glee resonated with so many people. The show’s acceptance of all types of characters who lived all types of lifestyles made kids in real life feel more accepted. For a lot of people, I think Glee was the first show that made it possible for them to turn on the TV and see someone who looked like them or who was dealing with the same kinds of issues they were dealing with. Plus, we weren’t just a bunch of actors playing a band of misfits on TV—we really were a band of misfits. And we were inseparable.
LIVIN’ LA VIDA LOPEZ
We were all super young when we started—like twenty-one or twenty-two, and baby Chris Colfer was only nineteen—and for all practical purposes, we were still kids. Going to work was like going to school, except we got paid to be there, and there were real consequences if we skipped. Oh, and I had people to talk to, rather than spending every free moment on the phone with my mom so I looked popular.
Our call times were often brutally early in the morning, and everyone quickly fell into the routine. Some people would be in a horrible mood because it was so early, and others would be disturbingly cheerful. As soon as we hit hair and makeup, we’d start talking to one another, and no one would shut up for the rest of the day. Actors tend to be extroverts, and at least twenty times a day someone would do something that would have me laughing so hard that I’d be red in the face and unable to catch my breath.
Kevin McHale would always make weird faces. He did this one character he called Phil, where he’d contort his face until he looked weird and creepy. In the middle of scenes, Kevin would have his back to you, but then he’d turn around and there was Phil. Every time he did it, I thought Jenna Ushkowitz would pee her pants she laughed so hard. I also have video of Mark Salling skipping across the choir room, clapping his hands, and chanting, “Eat your veggies, kids! What makes you different makes you special!” because he thought our show had the morals of an after-school special.
Glee was quick and colorful, and shot in a way that was snappy and in-your-face. Everyone loves teen drama, and Glee pulled it off with a twist. All the characters had surprising sides to them, and the dialogue was laced with witty one-liners and double entendres. In what other show would I get to play an underage cheerleader who tells John Stamos, playing a dentist, “You can drill me any time”?
When the show first started, we’d have an entire week to rehearse dance numbers and get the choreography down. We’d rehearse at this dance studio on the Paramount lot called the Tin Shed, and a shed was just what it was—the AC once broke and we still had to spend two days dancing in that sweat box, rehearsing for an episode with Kristin Chenoweth. Lea Michele kept threatening to call SAG about the unsafe working conditions. For once, Lea and I were in total agreement. Zach, our choreographer, has video of me where I turn around and stare straight into the camera with sweat dripping down my face. “I hate this dannnnccccceeeee . . . ,” I growl.
“It’s not even a dance, Naya,” he says. “It’s just eight counts!”
Heather Morris and Harry Shum were the best dancers by far, since they were professionals, but it was hard to pick who was the worst—because there were so many of us who were just really, really bad. Cory would get super frustrated, and I remember one year when we were rehearsing “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” for a sectionals performance, he huffed and puffed his way through it and kept threatening to throw up. Luckily for him, he was often the lead, so eventually they’d just let him stand there and sing while everyone else danced around him.
Kevin was a pretty amazing dancer, even in a wheelchair—go figure. Chris Colfer was good at picking up choreography but didn’t have the best rhythm, so he eventually convinced the choreographers to let him use props, like brandishing a sword or swinging from the rafters in a cat suit.
Singing and performing in Glee was exhilarating and exhausting, especially for me, because I still get stage fright. Being on stage was usually fine, but performing in the choir room was actually far more nerve-racking. It’s 6:00 a.m., you’ve only been awake for an hour, and you’re the first person up. Some people are still scarfing down eggs, or sleeping while sitting up, and you’re there to belt out a really emotional song. And I knew that they were all secretly judging because—duh—that was exactly what I did too.
The first major song I got to perform was a duet of “The Boy Is Mine” with Amber Riley, and the whole thing stemmed from a joke. Ryan Murphy was a big fan of my Monica impression—I’d sing the song with all the warbling sass that she had, and Ryan was always randomly walking on set and requesting that I do it.
I made him laugh enough that he finally wrote it into the script. “Do you want me to sing it like me or sing it like Monica?” I asked, and we settled on half and half. It’s still one of my favorite numbers. Long live nineties R&B.
On-screen, Santana bedded Brittany, Finn, Puck, and Quinn (though the cameras only showed them cuddling postcoitally). In the Madonna episode, Santana took Finn’s virginity to “Like a Virgin,” and seduction to a song was about as awkward as one might imagine. Cory and I didn’t know each other that well at that point, but I had to crawl up his leg and pull his shirt and throw him on the bed and start grinding. He was supposed to chase me around the bed and pick me up and spin me, but I think he was a little hot-and-bothered/nervous about the whole thing, because everything was a little off. Instead of a slow spin, he picked me up awkwardly and turned around so fast that I practically got whiplash. “Oh, okay . . . ,” Zach would say. “Let’s try that again . . .”
But by far the worst scene I ever filmed was when Santana had to kiss the kid who had mono. One: we were shooting first thing in the morning. Two: they kept spritzing him with glycerin so he’d look extra icky and sweaty. Three: actual, real DNA-containing spit kept transferring from his lip to mine on every single take, and I swear he was doing it on purpose.
In the beginning, Santana and Brittany, Heather’s character, were just allowed quick pecks, because the writers had to assure the network that they were just dipping their toes in the gay pool. But as their relationship progressed, hookup scenes with Heather could also be pretty uncomfortable (though she never spit on me), especially when we were supposed to be in Love with a capital L, making out and then dropping jokes like, “Oh ha-ha, isn’t scissoring just great?” And at this point, Heather was a mom . . .
The biggest kiss we ever had was in a scene right before Santana and Brittany’s wedding, where the stage direction in the script said something like, “They share a kiss they can’t have in front of everyone else.” Brad Buecker, who was directing the episode, came up to us beforehand and gave us this bit of direction: “You know,” he said, “just really go at it.” I guess I did it right, because my mom screamed when she watched the episode and thought I really had stuck my tongue down Heather’s throat. (FYI: I didn’t. The trick is you go in with an open mouth, then close it as soon as you make contact.)
Like many things that went on to become major plot lines on Glee, Brittany and Santana’s relationship started out as a joke. Late one season, Brittany made reference to the fact that she and Santana had hooked up. It was a casual line, and later I asked Brad Falchuk, who’d written the episode, if Brittany and Santana really had a thing. “Well, I don’t know,” he said. But when we came back from hiatus, he’d figured it out: Santana was a lesbian.
At first, I was just happy that she was getting a story line (because, hello, more screen time for me), but as that story progressed, we all started to see how much it was resonating with people. It was no longer a joke or a way to spice things up but something that we should take seriously. As each new episode aired, I would get tweets from people thanking me and telling me how important the story line was to them. The writers would get similar praise—and also the occasional death threat from a lesbian warning them that they’d better not mess this up. I think we did a pretty good job; Santana and Brittany were able to show that a gay relationship was just that—a relationship, with no less or more of the ups and downs that happen in any relationship.
With Santana, I hit my stride after season two. In the beginning, she was super young, so her mean streak and cattiness were very typically high school—her insults were pointed and she looked for obvious weaknesses, like when she tells Rachel, “Nobody ever tells you anything because (a) you’re a blabbermouth, and (b) we all just pretend to like you.” Ouch.
I think people connected with her because everyone loves a good “tell it like it is” person, the only one who says what everyone is thinking. The more Santana’s character developed, the more she started to toss off insults casually, saying them as if she didn’t care if they hit their mark. This effect often made them funnier—and even more insulting.
Being from Lima Heights Adjacent, she was hot-tempered and emotional, but as she grew up, I learned how to show that she internalized pain—no sobbing necessary. I felt like I was growing up with the character because offscreen my life was changing just as much as hers was on-screen. As the show progressed, you could see her come to terms with her own issues, and the more she understood herself, the nicer she was to be around. In the beginning, Santana was a man-eating cheerleader with a chip on her shoulder; in the end she was married to her best friend and truly cared about people. Similarly, I ended Glee happily married with a baby on the way.
When the cameras weren’t rolling, the cast and crew were just as close-knit and the dynamics just as messy as they were on-screen. Between takes or during set turnarounds, we’d gossip and rehash our weekends or pick apart a date that someone had been on. We were all super involved in one another’s lives—sometimes maybe a little too much. After a brutal week of nonstop rehearsing and shooting and twenty-hour days, instead of all going our separate ways and heading home, we’d hang out in someone’s trailer and play spin the bottle or truth or dare, or we’d just go out to dinner.
In the second season, Kevin and Jenna became roommates, renting a house together, which became our ground zero for hanging out. We nicknamed it the Love Nest, after a tabloid rumor claimed that Kevin and Jenna were dating and had “shacked up in a Laurel Canyon love nest.”
But what happens at the Love Nest stays at the Love Nest. Though, trust me, I know everything that happened at the Love Nest because I was the unofficial third roommate, there every day, no invite needed. Kevin and Jenna didn’t mind, because it meant there was always an audience for Kevin’s impromptu, full-on dance performances around the living room.
The Love Nest was also where we got one of our castmates high for the first time, or at least tried to. We fed him a whole bag of weed gummy bears one New Year’s Eve, and he still didn’t feel a thing. We even got Lea up to the Love Nest, and Lea does not go out. She wanted to let her hair down, so she drank two hot toddies while she was there. The rest of us were slamming champagne and vodka, and Lea’s in the kitchen making tea.
In these early seasons, we definitely spent as much time hanging out together as we did working—and all we did was work. We would all go sing karaoke, we never missed a birthday (or other reason to celebrate), and we got dressed up and did something stupid every chance we got.
Kevin and our friend Telly Kousakis, who had started out as a production assistant on the show but quickly morphed into everyone’s new BFF, nicknamed me Snix, because they said Snix was the name of my alter ego, who only decided to show up when I was drunk. Snix was apparently off-the-charts sassy, whereas regular old sober Naya just registered about an eight or nine. Snix became such a hilarious topic of conversation that one of our producers even worked her into the show as Santana’s alter ego.
Every year, I’d throw a Christmas party called Snixmas. I freakin’ love the holidays, especially decorating my house for them, so I’d go all out for Snixmas. When I lived in Beverly Hills, I rented a giant machine that blew fake snow all over the front of the house, so it was goose-bump-inducing chilly as you walked up to the door. The inside was full of cinnamon candles, warm whiskey, and Christmas carols sung by real carolers. I had little people dressed as elves passing out champagne, and covered the pool so it turned into a dance floor that was made to look like an ice-skating rink. The neighbors loved it. Or, wait, I’m sure the neighbors would have loved it, if they’d been invited. Again, whoops.
One of our makeup artists also threw a giant Halloween party every year. We’d get as many people as we could together for a group costume, and then rent a party bus so we could stay together all night. We may have been partiers, but we were responsible partiers. Also, we could just imagine the TMZ headline: “Entire Cast of Glee Dies in Drunk-Driving Accident While Dressed as Looney Tunes Characters.” Yeah, no . . .
One of my favorite group costumes was when we were the Rugrats characters. None of us broke character all night—we even drank all our booze out of baby bottles and sippy cups (it’s surprisingly convenient—no spills!). Kevin was baby Dil, and we pushed him everywhere in a stroller. Dianna was Reptar (major props to Dianna for bucking the “girls just wanna be sluts” Halloween stereotype and wearing a head-to-toe fuzzy dino costume that was not sexy in the least). Harry and his girlfriend were Phil and Lil, and Telly—who is a not-small man, with facial hair—was Angelica. Telly made a beautiful toddler. One of our writers was the dog, Spike, and I, of course, was Susie Carmichael, one of the few ethnic Rugrats characters.
We had an iPhone boombox cued up to the theme song, which we blasted to announce our arrival, and carried a playpen. Everywhere we went, we’d set it up in the middle of the room (other partygoers be damned) and climb right in. In pictures, I am so drunk that I’m cross-eyed, sitting there in that damn playpen. After the party, on the way back to the bus, Kevin toppled out of his stroller and was as helpless as a real baby. It took about five of us, over the course of at least ten minutes, to get him back in. Yes, he could have just walked on his own two feet, but where is the fun in that? I think this might have been the moment when I realized how much I loved Kevin McHale and that we would be friends for the rest of our lives.
I also hung out a lot with Dianna outside of the group. Dianna was born fancy. She’s like Madonna—one day, she’d show up with a British accent, and you wouldn’t even question it. Because, hello—it’s Dianna. I nicknamed her Elizabeth Taylor because of her many male suitors (which I entirely approved of—have you seen how hot some of the guys she’s dated are?). We traveled by ourselves, and the first time I ever went to Paris was with Dianna. We were in Europe for the Glee tour and had two days off, so were like, “Screw it, let’s go!”
Dianna wore a pink wig the whole time, and talked to everyone and got us into all these swanky places—not because anyone knew who we were, but just because she worked her magic on them and charmed us right past the velvet ropes. We wandered the side streets, shopped at markets, and hung out in cafés with art students. We smoked nonstop (when in Paris . . .), ate ham-and-cheese baguettes, and drank white wine out of a box. Oui, oui, oui—it was truly the perfect way to do Paris.
The Glee tour was an intense experience for all of us—it was alternately exhilarating and exhausting. This was probably a good thing, because I was just too tired most of the time to realize how monumental it was or how big the venues were. I can get stricken with stage fright—that kind of “I’m going to puke” feeling that’s accompanied by sweaty pits. But when we performed in the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which is the arena where the Lakers play, I somehow thought it was no big deal. A few years later, I went there to watch a show and was in awe of how big it was and how many people were in the audience. Had that registered when we performed there, I probably would have passed out from fear.
There were times when we knew how special Glee was, but for the most part, day in and day out, it was a job. It took a lot of mental focus and a lot of physically hard work. I didn’t have time to think about the bigger picture, but the tour was when it hit me. The show was a full-on phenomenon and I had fans. Holy shit. At a show in Manchester, our choreographer came backstage and said, “Naya, you should go outside—there’s a girl waiting and she has a tattoo of your name.” I did not believe him until I went outside and there she was. I was pretty flabbergasted, like, “Are you sure you wanna . . . Maybe you shouldn’t . . . Oh, wait, you already did . . .” But I gave her my comp tickets for the night so she could at least get free, really good seats for the show.
We made the most out of our downtime as we traveled through all sorts of random places, and after the shows, we’d hang out in one another’s hotel rooms, staying up all night and goofing around. There was not a lot of sleep happening. One of the ways we would pass the time was by putting on what we called “Mousterpiece Theatre,” which was our version of a weird talent show. On Kevin’s birthday, we all gathered in his room to celebrate—he was the “mouster of ceremonies” and wore a cape made out of a bedsheet. He would call upon people to entertain him, and whomever he picked would have to jump up and perform. Heather did a dance in her panties, and I’m pretty sure Cory had a hard-on the entire time. No dis on Heather, because I also did a dance in my panties.
We were just that kind of cast.
The night of Kevin’s birthday “Mousterpiece,” Cory and I took a break and sat on the balcony smoking a cigarette, just the two of us. The conversation turned to why we’d never made out, maybe because he was fresh off of seeing me gyrate in my panties.
“How come, out of everybody here, you and I never hooked up?” Cory asked, passing me the American Spirit we were sharing. “I don’t know, Cory,” I said. “I just don’t see you that way.”
“We’ve never even kissed!” he protested.
I leaned over and pecked him. “There you go!” We laughed, and never brought it up again.
Minus that one incident of kissing, Cory and I had a very brotherly/sisterly relationship, which was rare in a cast that had the sex drive of bunnies and the bed-hopping skills of a polygamist cult. There was no pretense, and I think that made us closer. We were just bros—which was especially funny considering how often our characters insulted each other on-screen.
One summer I spent a ton of time at his house. If I was bored, my car would just automatically point itself in that direction—I didn’t need to call ahead but could just drop by and Cory would be welcoming and happy to see me. He had a million friends, and there was always a BBQ going.
That summer he’d rented a giant mansion in the Valley that looked like it was straight out of Scarface. It was pure marble and glass. He was always having pool parties, which was entirely unsafe, because every surface in the place was slippery when wet. It was amazing that heads didn’t crack open on a daily basis. I’d tiptoe across the puddled tile, always convinced I was one misstep away from death.
In the beginning, Cory was really open with all of us about his past and the problems he’d had with drugs and alcohol. He flat-out said, “I am a former addict,” and he didn’t drink or do any drugs. As far as I know, he was totally sober up through season three. After work one day that season, he and I went to this rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Wilshire. We sat there for four hours, talking and laughing. I’d just finished a scene where I had to cry, and he complimented me on how real it was. He asked, “How do you just start crying?”
“I dwell,” I said. “I’m a dweller. Use your shitty experiences. It’s like therapy, and it’s awesome.”
“Oh man,” he said. “I can’t do that. I can’t go there. You want to know what I do? I open my mouth for a really long time like I’m gonna yawn, and it makes my eyes water.” It was a sweet moment, but I look back and wonder what kind of pain he was blocking out, even then.
When we were shooting the last episode before going on tour, a bunch of us went out to dinner and decided to celebrate with cocktails because we knew we were going to be working until the wee hours, and there’d be no time to do it later. It was also Cory’s birthday, and when he decided to order a cocktail, it was the first time we had ever seen him drink.
He noticed that we noticed. He explained that he wanted to be able to drink in moderation, that he could do it and be just like everybody else. He seemed calm and confident about it, so we all just accepted it. To be honest, I don’t think many of us really understood how addiction worked, nor did we fully realize the extent of his former addiction.
I always thought of Cory as a recovering alcoholic, and completely forgot that he had also had a heroin problem. I guess he hid it well. I thought of heroin as a problem that was relegated to strung-out junkies who lived on the street, not my sweet, smart, talented friend who had plenty of money. He always knew his lines and choreography and was wide awake. Heroin was the opposite of awake.
When Cory and Lea started dating, it was a total surprise. The more serious they got, the less Cory hung out with us, and the more he seemed like a different person. One year he came back from the break between seasons super skinny. He said he’d been spending a lot of time at the gym and was trying to be responsible—not spending money all the time and buying crazy cars like he used to. My personal feelings for Lea aside, I knew that she wasn’t a partier, so I felt like maybe their relationship could actually be good for him. I was happy for Cory to have a stable influence in his life, wherever it was he found it.
A few months later, I was in London because my then-boyfriend Sean was performing at the Wireless Festival. It was after midnight and we were asleep in the hotel when my phone started ringing. Finally, I picked it up, and it was Telly, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Naya, Cory died.” I was shocked, and made him repeat it several times before it sunk in. Telly was inconsolable but also, as anyone who’s ever lost someone to drugs can identify with, angry.
“He died of a heroin overdose. Those fucking drugs! I knew it! I knew it, those fucking drugs!”
This also became a defining moment in my relationship with Sean—I started to realize that I was dating an incredibly selfish person. I shook Sean awake and told him that Cory had just died. He just said, “Oh man, babe, I’m really sorry about that,” and rolled over and went back to sleep. I was crying, and kept coming in and out of the room as I went out into the hallway to make phone calls, and he never got out of bed or even so much as sat up and turned on the light. This still blows my mind to this day.
Kevin just happened to be in London as well, and the news reached him at the same time. I got him on the phone and just sat in my pajamas on the hotel’s hallway floor, with him doing the same across town. We didn’t say much, and mainly just listened to each other cry. Finally, we had to decide what to do. Sean’s show was just a few hours later that day, and we decided we’d still go, mainly because we didn’t know what else to do. Kevin came and met me, and at the show we stayed backstage the whole time so no one would see us.
I had booked a week in London before I was scheduled to do an appearance in Italy, and Sean was going to be there the entire time as well—it was supposed to be our vacation. The next day, though, he decided to fly out early due to an undefined “schedule change,” leaving me alone in London. There were paparazzi camped outside the hotel, and I couldn’t do anything. I don’t mind being alone in cities, and normally I would have just shopped and gone to see the sights, but I didn’t want to be photographed “living it up” when my friend had just died, so I camped out in my hotel room, like Eloise, drinking tea and eating biscuits and crying.
Everyone deals with death in their own way, and some are better at it than others. In showbiz they always say “the show must go on,” and that’s true, but with Glee, we barely got a moment to breathe at all. Filming “The Quarterback” episode was one of the hardest, most emotional things I’ve ever done. I understand that the episode was created from a place that meant well—it was supposed to be our way of paying tribute to and mourning Cory on-screen, but most of us hadn’t gotten a chance to go through that process yet offscreen. Everything just happened so fast—after one take several of us were bawling and trying to pull ourselves together when someone popped their head in the room and said, “At least you guys are acting, right? It’s not like it’s real life. Great job!”
The one thing that did make me feel good about this episode was that Santana had a big part in it. I think that was the writers’ way of acknowledging the friendship Cory and I had, and since Lea was in no place emotionally to take the lead, they thought I was the next choice to step in. Mike O’Malley wrote me a very sweet note, telling me how he felt that people looked up to me on set, and that I needed to be extra strong to help pull everyone else through it. That was really comforting, and I tried, Mike, I tried.
From the outside, Cory’s life looked perfect—money, fame, beautiful girlfriend, millions of adoring fans—but I guess his same old demons were still there, raising as much mental and emotional hell as they always had. Maybe even more, now that everything was supposed to be okay. I think this is a common misconception about fame, or any kind of marker of “success” in life, be it landing your dream job, getting married, or having a kid: people think that you achieve these goals, you check off certain boxes, and all of a sudden life’s perfect and you don’t have any problems. That’s not true. You’re still going to wake up every morning, and your problems will still be there unless you figure out a way to make them go away. And more often than not, new ones will show up in their place.
I still think that Cory had so much to live for, and for me that’s the worst part about his death—that it was so unnecessary. I miss everything about him. I just miss his life, and I wish that he was here, experiencing in his own life the kind of things that I’m experiencing now in mine. A calm after the storm, if you will. Everything about his death seems unnecessary.
I doubt I’m alone in feeling a lot of regret about his death. Since he died, a lot of us have spent time wondering and talking about what would have happened if someone had stepped in or confronted him about what was going on.
Or what if he’d been trying to talk to someone about what was going on and just thought no one cared? Like, maybe that one time when it was just the two of us walking out to our cars, maybe if I would have just walked a little bit slower and hadn’t been in such a hurry to get home, maybe he would have seen it as an opportunity to bring something up. You can drive yourself crazy thinking like that, because no number of ifs will ever make anything different. Yes, we were a close-knit cast that loved a good session of real talk, but we were also all busy, stressed, and wrapped up in our own lives. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.
Cory’s gone, and I miss him, and that is what it is. The only consolation I have is that I’ve always trusted that God has a plan for me, and he must have had one for Cory too, even if I don’t understand it.
GLEEFUL AND GRATEFUL
I recently went back and started watching old episodes from the beginning, and I’m proud to say that a lot of them made me laugh out loud. And as soap-operatic and afterschool-specialish as some of the plot lines were, there were also a lot of truisms in the show, like when Santana declares, “Life is very high school, just with bigger stakes.”
If I had a dollar for every time my mom reminded me that God had a plan, I’d probably use them to buy a new Prada bag. But, point being, I didn’t always believe her, especially in some of the harder moments, when I was broke and hadn’t booked a role in years. Even when I was up for something that I didn’t really think I wanted, I’d be devastated when I didn’t get it, crying at the kitchen table about how I was doomed to just be a Hooters waitress for the rest of my life.
She’d just shake her head and tell me not to worry, that if God was shutting some doors, it was so I’d pay attention to the ones that were open. And she was right. If I’d gotten even just one of the roles I had thought I wanted, I might never have auditioned for Glee. And that’s where I truly believe I was destined to end up.
It would be an understatement to say that Glee changed my life. It overhauled it. It got me out of debt. It helped to cement my career. And before the show, I’d never had a group of people I was that close with. I think a lot of the other cast members would say the same thing (except, maybe not about the debt . . .). But while Glee changed our lives, it didn’t necessarily change who we were. We started the show as a ragtag group of misfits, and six seasons later, when we filmed the last episode, we were still the same bunch of misfits. Just now wearing more expensive jeans.
· Cory passing. Nothing was ever the same without him.
· The crunchy ringlet curls in my ponytail from seasons one to three.
· What felt like day 12,157 in a cheerleading uniform.
• Working hard and playing even harder.
• All the lifelong friendships I made: Heather, Chris, Amber, Dianna, Kevin, Jenna, Harry, Telly, and too many more to name all of them here.
• Playing Santana Lopez—a character who meant so much to so many people—and watching her grow up on-screen while I grew up offscreen.
• Spending six years dancing, singing, and working my ass off as part of something memorable and amazing.
Good read. Quick.