Almost overnight, Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt Hummel on “Glee,” is turning into a one-man cottage industry. Whereas several of his cast mates have recorded albums or pursued jobs on stage, Mr. Colfer has turned to writing books and movies.
The 22-year-old actor wrote, stars in and executive produced an independent feature, “Struck By Lightning,” that Tribeca Films will release this fall. Meanwhile, his first young adult novel, “The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell,” entered the New York Times Bestseller Children’s Books list at No. 1 over the weekend, where it remains this Sunday.
Besides shooting the fourth season of “Glee,” Mr. Colfer said he is at work on a sequel to “The Land of Stories,” several other screenplays and recently adapted the children’s book “The Little Leftover Witch” for the Disney Channel, which, for the moment has decided not to produce a pilot.
What made you want to write “The Land of Stories”?
Well some of my best memories are going to the bookstore for the midnight parties for the next “Harry Potter” books. And when I was 8, I was obsessed with fairy tales. I wanted to write a book about adventures in the fairy tale world and I came up with the whole plot. But it was really hard to write it then, so when I was 10, I put it on the back burner. It was probably my biggest to-do on my to-do list.
Did your management team feel like it was a good move?
After I was fortunate enough to win a Golden Globe, I got an offer to do an autobiography. I was 20 at the time, and I did not want to do that. I said, “Thank you for the offer, but I would really like to do a children’s fantasy series, if that’s at all interesting to anyone.” They asked for three chapters. I wrote the first five, enough to leave them on a cliffhanger. They signed me for a two-book deal.
When would you write?
The first book was madness. I was making “Struck By Lightning” and on a “Glee” world concert tour. I would write on the bus, underneath the stage, in between shows, during performances, on the plane. It was crazy. I’ve always been a little bit of a multitasker, even since high school. But it was a really crucial time. If and when you’re handed all these things, I thought I would be stupid to try not to tackle them. It took me about six months to write the book, though, and I think we went through two drafts. I’m kind of like the Energizer Bunny, I don’t have the time to stop and smell the roses.
How do you feel about other celebrities who write young-adult fiction?
As far as I know, most of them have ghostwriters and that’s something I definitely did not want. My biggest fear was that I, Chris Colfer, as the writer, would be damaging to the story in some way. I didn’t want readers to think they were reading a book from the actor from “Glee.” I wanted it to seem as legit as possible.
Do you think an actor has to write his own projects to get ahead in Hollywood these days?
No one’s going to hand you things. To be completely frank, if you’re someone like me, and you’re a really specific, niche type of person, you really have to make opportunities yourself. You don’t have to be a genius to think that. When I look back at my childhood heroes, I realize there was no one who was me in a nutshell. There wasn’t one person I wanted to be. I wanted to be Tina Fey slash Woody Allen slash Mickey Mouse. So, I had to be a template for myself.
What was it like getting notes from executives on your Disney pilot?
I have my frustrations with it like any writer would. But, it’s not my call, it’s someone else’s network, it’s someone else’s vision. I was just excited to be working for the Mouse. It was cool to have a badge that said I was a Disney employee. But it was almost like a writing class. One day they would say, “We want you to change the pilot from 12- year-olds to 15-year-olds,” and in the next draft, two weeks later, they’d say, “Now we want it to be drama.” It’s very different when you’re working on a book, because the only person I really had to please was myself.
What kinds of things do you tend to read in your spare time?
I’m really not as big of a reader as I’d like to be. I prefer writing to reading. I think the last trendy thing I read was “Harry Potter.” I skipped the “Twilight” series and “The Hunger Games” series. I tend to read autobiographies by friends, like Andy Cohen, Kristin Chenoweth and Kathy Griffin. I recently started reading “A Discovery of Witches” but the only thing I typically have time to read is “Glee” scripts. But I’m always quoting Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” That’s absolutely one of my favorite books I’ve ever read.
That’s a surprising choice.
Everything that he says about politics is still relevant today, it’s just the landscapes have changed.
Can you apply it to your life in Hollywood?
Probably. Being here, there’s no way you can please everyone, and that drives me up a wall.