Sue Sylvester may have called him “The Other Asian” last season on “Glee,” but we’re predicting that Harry Shum, Jr., who plays Mike Chang on the Fox series, will become a household name this year. After all, “Glee” isn’t Shum’s only project these days. He’s reprising his role as Cable in the dance movie “Step Up 3D” (in theaters August 6), and stars in and choreographs “The LXD,” a new dance series for the web directed by Jon Chu.
This week, Shum’s first appearance in “The LXD” hits Hulu, so we asked the actor/dancer/choreographer to tell us more about the series, let us know what’s it’s like going up on stage with Beyonce, and share a few teasers about the next season of “Glee.” Two words: Britney episode. Find out what he’s talking about below. — Rebecca Harper (firstname.lastname@example.org), Hulu Editor, for the Yahoo! TV Blog
Although you’re a co-choreographer on “The LXD” (Legion of Extraordinary Dancers), you make your on-camera debut in “The LXD” this week in an episode called “Elliot’s Shoes.” Can you set up the storyline?
Elliot’s Shoes is the story about your average, everyday guy. He’s not really involved in the arts. He loves watching it, but he feels like he can’t do it. And that’s the way it is with a lot of things in his life. He inherits this house from his grandpa who’s just passed away. He moves into this house and somehow knocks into the wall and finds these shoes hidden in there. He ends up putting them on and finds out that these shoes almost take over his body and allow him to do things that have always been inside him but have never been released. Elliot is one of those characters with something that lives in him that’s waiting to be unleashed. He gets a little help from these X7 shoes.
Elliot ends up dancing to a mix of songs in the episode. Did you have any input in the song choice?
Charles Oliver was the director on this particular episode, and it was really fun. Me and Jon wrote the script and we placed and left it open, you know, “we’ll do something with the shoes and let them control you.” And I’ve always loved to be able to have that physical comedy and also bring in dance as well, but in different styles, and have a lot of fun with it. A lot of the inspiration comes from the Steve Martin and his old movies. I put the mix together of different songs that inspired and Charles and I started placing them together.
When Jon Chu set out to create this series about these superhero dancers, did you have any idea it would get so much attention? After all, the LXD was asked to perform in front of Al Gore and Bill Gates at the TED conference, and then the Oscars.
All this really happened organically. Jon and I met on “Step Up 2″ and we had a friendship there. Then he had this idea to bring dancers to the forefront. What’s awesome about it is that we made the first four episodes so long ago, almost a year ago. We originally thought, OK, let’s make a show and then after that we’ll roll back into live performances. It kind of happened the other way around. Jeff Thacker [co-executive producer on “So You Think You Can Dance”] was searching for clips for the show and he was typing in “epic.” Somehow our group came up, and he’d never heard of The LXD before. Then he saw us and said “I’d love to see these guys translate what they do on film on the stage.” He hit us up, and that was a little challenge for us, you know, because we were so into just putting it on the screen. And the story started like that. We had to bring it on stage. From “So You Think You Can Dance,” it was the Oscars with Adam Shankman [a “SYTYCD” judge), and then TED called us on. It was a big surprise to us, but at the same time we knew it was something special that we had, and that we were part of. We’re just fortunate that everyone responded well to it.
“The LXD” highlights a number of different dancers, many specializing in a certain type of dance. As a choreographer, what’s the creative process like? How involved are the individual dancers, and how do you mesh all of their individual styles into one cohesive story?
When we put the episodes together, we kind of throw ideas to Jon in terms of what we’d love to do with dance. And Jon is a storyteller, so he’s able to put it all together and bring the story and the dance onto paper and also bring it to life. But it really comes down to these individual dancers. We look to specific dancers that we want to write an episode about, or we look to bring in certain characters for the story. Really, we’re looking for ways showcase what they do in an innovative way, but also raise it together with the story, so we have one cohesive episode and also a whole storyline that goes along with the series.
When we go in there, it’s about the dancers and how they move. We try and place certain things on them, but at the end of the day, it really comes down to what their unique style is and how they’re going to incorporate it into the scene or into the sequence.
Is it improvised then, or is it all pretty much strict choreography?
It’s a little bit of both. There are moments, especially how our shooting schedules are. We shoot an episode sometimes in one day. We have to all fit in one day, but we do have enough rehearsal time so there is a format and staging. We try to keep it where it’s choreographed in a sense, and that’s where we both collaborate with the dancers, me and Chris, but also there’s always room for improvising because that’s when a lot of the magic happens, especially with street dance. That’s where it came from. It really came people just improvising and free styling and doing what they do best, because sometimes as a choreographer, you might not know what that is. You’ve only seen what the dancer’s done, and sometimes they have more up their sleeve. You want to allow them to show that, as well.
You’ve said that your goal along has been to be an actor. Has your dance career helped?
Oh it’s definitely helped open so many doors. To be honest, when I moved [to L.A.], that was I wanted to do, to act. I didn’t know that there was a career in dance. You see all these past dancers-slash-actors like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire do both, which I always wanted to do, but I was just strictly dancing for a couple years. I was making a good living from it, so from there it opened up more opportunities as far as acting, and being able to do both, or just dancing or acting. It really allowed me to learn a lot about the business. I’ve done a lot of things that a lot of actors haven’t been able to do, in terms of performing with these awesome artists and traveling all over the world and teaching. I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I feel like I’m so lucky and so fortunate.
Your character, Mike Chang, was pretty silent on “Glee” in Season 1. Will we see — and hear — more of you next season?
Right now, there’s going to be a little storyline, a little love triangle between Artie and Tina and Mike Chang. I think this season, as Ryan Murphy said, they’re diving into the characters a lot more. They’re trying to go into the characters and just see who they are. As far as Brittany, who’s played by Heather Morris, she’s getting an episode where she’s singing Britney, which is so awesome. Only time will tell. Hopefully I’ll get that opportunity, slowly but surely. Last season I wasn’t doing much and this season I’m doing a little more.
It seems like the fans would like that. I have to ask: if Brittany gets to be Britney, who would Mike Chang be if he gets his own episode?
Man, there’s so many different things I would love to be. I would say this, though, I would love to be Michael. That’s really, really hard to live up to on my part, but I think that would be a dream come true.
In the “Dream On” episode, you do some stage time with Jenna Uskowitz, who plays Tina, while Artie (Kevin McHale) sings “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Did you do any of the choreography for that tap dance number?
Oh man, I don’t think they even want my input on tap. I’d never tapped before, not until three days before the shoot. They gave us tap shoes and they put us in a room for about two and half hours and we had to learn tap. Jenna at least had some experience with tapping, but that was my first time putting tap shoes on. And it is so hard. I gained a new respect for tapping. You look at it and think, “Oh, I think I can do that,” then you start doing it and it is so difficult! Even though we learned it three days before, but we pretty much had three hours to get it before we had to shoot. In my sleep, I would try to pretend that I could tap the air. We ended up doing it, and I’m pretty proud considering how little time we had.
Have you sustained any injuries?
I’ve been very lucky. It’s been minor, you know, like your back is sore. Nothing has put me out of commission — knock on wood. It gets a little crazy as far as the stuff that we do. For the most part, they keep us pretty safe and make sure no one gets injured. I can’t say the same for Vocal Adrenaline. When they did “Bohemian Rhapsody,” oh, they were dropping like flies. Everything was safe, but that dance was so intense, with so many lifts and running back across stage and getting to the other side. I think it was all worth it, and I think the dancers would say the same, because that turned out to be, for me, one of the most awesome dances on “Glee.”
Can you share any upcoming surprises?
Specifics, I don’t know, but I can tell you after reading the first two scripts, the writers aren’t holding back. They’re so brilliant in writing for the show, that when I opened up the first five pages, I was like “Oh wow, they are going for it.” I don’t think it’s going to disappoint fans when they come out with the opener. They’re really going to get to know the characters a lot more and get into their home lives and find out what their backgrounds are. In terms of musical numbers: Britney. I think that’s going to be one to look forward to. It’s going to be done in a hallucinogenic way, Ryan said — whatever that means, I’m sure it’s going to be crazy.
What was more intimidating? Dancing with Beyonce or coming up with choreography that was going to be seen by Bill Gates and Al Gore (at the TED conference) and all of Hollywood (at the Oscars)?
[Laughs.] Two totally different worlds! As a nerd, you know, we heard that we’re doing TED and that we were performing for the likes of Bill Gates, Will Smith and Al Gore, and just the smartest people in the world. They’re scientists, so most of them aren’t really into dancing. So that was the harder crowd, because I didn’t know if they were going to appreciate us. But I think both are intimidating — and also, Beyonce, she’s like the queen of all that she does. Being on stage with her is intimidating, especially the first time. Both are, in different ways.
Check out Harry Shum in the “Elliot’s Shoes” episode of “The LXD” on Hulu Wednesday. Catch him in “Step Up 3D” in theaters August 6. Here’s a sneak peek: