There comes a time in every pop culture devotee’s life when worlds collide, and for me that moment happened on a Wednesday night in November. Teasers for the next episode of Glee revealed the appearance of actor Michael Hitchcock, whose career I’d followed for nearly fifteen years, after seeing him in my favorite film, Waiting For Guffman. I’m not sure what sounds came out of me when I saw that he would be appearing on Glee, but I am sure they did not befit a woman of my age. Or species.
Michael Hitchcock plays Dalton Rumba, choir director at the Haverbrook School for the Deaf, clad in a bow tie and horn-rimmed glasses, with a determination to give his kids a voice. Take away the quirky costume, and you’ll find a talent like no other. The man oozes versatility. Whether he's fawning over Corky St. Clair in Guffman, or hearing confession as Father Eduardo in the brilliant-but-cancelled Pushing Daisies, Hitchcock is a master of timing and subtlety. He steals every scene. In addition to his acting credits, Michael is an accomplished writer. During his time as a writer at MADtv, the show earned three Writer’s Guild of America nominations for Outstanding Writing of a Comedy/Variety Series.
Michael was kind enough to take time to correspond with me recently about his own high school experience, working on Glee, and a few of his current projects.
WWEPW: Let's start with a topical question. Who are you wearing?
MH: Right now, sweats because I just worked out! But I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy, so I usually wear casual stuff from stores like Banana Republic and J Crew.
WWEPW: Glee has turned itself from the little-high-school-dramedy-that-could into a show that appeals to a much wider audience. What's your take on the show from the perspective of an actor and writer?
MH: GLEE has been one of the most creatively fun shows I've done in a long time. The writer/producers Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan are all very funny people, so the scripts are very biting - and just when you're ready to laugh at something, they take a wild turn and the show becomes very poignant. I was a fan of the show before appearing on it as Dalton Rumba. There was a moment in almost every episode that made me tear up.
WWEPW: Like the characters on Glee, you're from Ohio! What was your own high school experience like? At that time, where did you see your future self?
MH: I was born in Defiance, Ohio, which is about a half hour away from Lima, where the show is set. I have been in Lima many times. In fact, I still have relatives who live there. My family moved to the Chicago suburbs when I was in sixth grade, so my high school years were no longer in the Buckeye State - but still very solid Midwest. My high school had 5,000 students - it was, and still is, so big that the school is broken up into two campuses. I was into drama and band and all the other geeky stuff, so I can definitely relate to what the kids in New Directions are going through. I remember during my Freshman year, a large kid picked me up, threw me against a locker and shouted at me, "Tell me you're ugly." Since he was huge and I weighed about 3 pounds, I did what I was told. Satisfied with my answer, he dropped me on the floor and went on his way. Strangely, I didn't really hold it against him since I'd never met him before and I knew it was nothing personal. I was his entertainment for the hour!
Luckily for me, our town had a great community theater, and I also directed and wrote our school's annual student comedy/variety show that raised money for the student union. As far as the future, I knew I wanted to do something in entertainment, whether it be writing, directing or acting -- but moving to Los Angeles seemed like a dream - something out of reach. It wasn't until I was at Northwestern University, where I majored in Television and Film production, did I begin to think about actually making the move.
WWEPW: Glee walks the line with sensitive topics, but treats them so carefully that nothing ever feels disrespectful, even when we're laughing. Your role as rival show choir director Dalton Rumba was hilarious and touching. How did you approach this role? Will we see you on Glee again?
MH: When I read the part of Dalton Rumba, I knew I wanted to play him. He had an underdog quality that I always find fascinating in people. He was full of indignation that the kids he taught weren't getting a fair shake, from McKinley High, and quite possibly the world! During my character breakdown of Dalton I wanted to bring these qualities out and give them nuance. Since Dalton's school Haverbrook lost to McKinley at Sectionals, there is no need for Dalton to come back in the second part of this season, but I'm hoping the producers find an excuse to have him show up at some point - he's really fun to play!
WWEPW: Your work with improv troupe the Groundlings led to memorable roles in Christopher Guest's films. Fans of your work in these movies went bonkers with excitement when you appeared in previews for "Hairography." I'm curious about the improvisation factor on Glee. You obviously have mad skills there. How much did they come into play?
MH: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan let me improvise after we'd done a few takes of each scene. Matthew Morrison, Jayma Mays, and, of course, the amazing Jane Lynch improvised as well, which really made it fun.
WWEPW: Tell me about your recent trip to Iraq to perform for the troops.
MH: I went to Iraq and Kuwait over the holidays to do improv for the troops with five other alumni of the Groundlings Theatre here in Los Angeles. They included Wendi McClendon-Covey from RENO 911, Michaela Watkins from SNL, Jordan Black from PUNK'd, Kerri Turner from JAG, and Tim Bagley from MONK and WILL & GRACE. Dave Price from CBS News also accompanied us, doing stand-up. We did 6 shows at 6 different bases. Our "home base" was Camp Victory in Baghdad, and then we either flew by Blackhawk helicopter or were convoyed in armored vehicles called MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambused Protected) to the other bases. It's a life-changing experience to get to meet the very brave and hard-working troops who are serving overseas. We were sponsored by the organization Stars for Stripes.
WWEPW: What projects are you currently working on? What's coming up?
MH: I'm currently playing Scott Bakula's boss Dave on the TNT series MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE created by Ray Romano, starring Ray, Scott, and Andre Braugher. I will also be appearing as Toni Collette's neighbor Ted Mayo on the second season of UNITED STATES OF TARA premiering March 22 on Showtime. If you haven't caught those shows, you're missing out - they're both incredibly well-written. Toni just won the Emmy for her work on the first season of TARA, and it was just announced today that MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE was picked up for a second season.
A million thanks to Michael Hitchcock for this opportunity. Fans of Glee would love to see Michael return to the show as Dalton Rumba. Few moments were as moving as the deaf choir's performance of "Imagine." I hope they find a way to weave them, and Michael's character, into future episodes. In the meantime, it's great to know that we can enjoy Michael's talent in his current projects. Congratulations to Michael and everyone from MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE on their well-deserved second season.
Watch Michael Hitchcock on Men of a Certain Age, Mondays at 10/9c on TNT.
See Michael on The United States of Tara, beginning March 22 on Showtime.
On the web:
Michael Hitchcock: Official Website
Follow Michael on Twitter
Michael Hitchcock's Filmography on IMDB