If Lauren Zizes were a country, according to a recent episode of Glee, her flag would be a big fist giving the rest of the world a finger. Likewise unfazed by criticism, Ashley Fink, the 24-year-old actress who plays the acerbic high school wrestler (currently subbing for Chris Colfer’s Kurt Hummel in the New Directions glee club), is proud to flip the “fat guy, skinny wife” sitcom stereotype through Lauren’s budding romance with Puck, Mark Salling’s sexy jock. Responding to Rosie O’Donnell’s recent remarks about the controversial storyline, Fink explains why Glee’s biggest loser is worthy of a win-win situation.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: Your character on Glee has resonated with gay viewers, but you first came to the gay audience’s attention in 2006 with your breakthrough role in Ash Christian’s Fat Girls.
Ashley Fink: Dude, that was crazy. I was only 17 when I got Fat Girls, and I turned 18 right before we shot it. We made that movie for less than you can buy a BMW, but we got to travel all over with it, it won an award at Outfest, and it gave me this insane gay following, which was fantastic. I felt right at home, because I’ve had this incredible connection with the gay community since I was 4 years old, growing up in Houston with two fabulous gay babysitters, Steve and Terry. There’s never been a better friend for me than the gays.
How do you explain that connection?
Growing up “other” in any way, whether it be gay, chubby, or whatever, you have to fight. Kurt’s bullying storyline on Glee has really resonated with me because middle school was terrible for me. I had curly blonde hair, I was chubby, I went to school with all these rich kids, and I was just miserable. I’d leave in tears every day. I remember thinking, This is not going to be my life. I had to find my power, so I developed a quick wit. After a while, I didn’t take anybody’s shit. I was like, You’ve pushed me around, and I’m bored with you. Luckily, I got a scholarship to a performing arts high school, and I ended up having a great high school experience. I overcame.
And now you’re on Glee. You’re a walking “It Gets Better” moment.
It’s true. It’s tough, but it does get better. I never wanted to give anyone the satisfaction of taking something away from me. People bully you because they see something in you that they don’t have. Now I’m actually involved with the Trevor Project, and I was out there with picket signs to protest Prop. 8… Gay causes are the causes I support the most.
The Lauren and Puck romance on Glee has been causing quite a stir in the blogosphere, but the controversy seems to have come to a head after last week’s episode with Rosie O’Donnell’s statements to Access Hollywood about the onscreen pairing. “Every woman I know who’s heavy has very strong feelings about that storyline,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Can you believe that? I think it’s horrible. That never happens in school. That character is so unlikable. Why didn’t they get a pretty heavy girl?’” She went on to say that “every story deserves to be told,” but what’s your take on her more unflattering observations?
It’s so crazy. Rosie’s been talking about me for a bit now, and it was very positive. Then she was on Access Hollywood, promoting a new hairstyle or something, and for some reason she decided to talk about me again. I’ve been a fan of Rosie’s for a long time — for Christmas one year I asked for a Koosh ball like she threw at people because I thought she was the coolest lady ever — so I am surprised at the comments she made. I’ve got swagger too, so I don’t find my storyline unrealistic. When I went to performing arts high school, I did date the cutest boy in school, and I sang whatever song I wanted. My storyline has resonated with a lot of people, plus-sized and not, who don’t feel “other,” so I’m honored to portray Lauren.
Rosie particularly expressed her problems with Lauren’s solo, “I Know What Boys Like,” because she expected more of a “Susan Boyle moment.”
Lauren was nervous. Everyone has a weak spot, and Lauren had stage fright. Glee club is opening up her heart, so I hope that the next time she sings she gets to shake the rafters.
You’re active on Twitter. What’s the fan response been since Rosie’s statements?
What a way to wake up on a Friday, right? My followers were like, “What?! Ashley’s beautiful!” I was like, OK, something must’ve happened while I was asleep.
Does it hurt to hear someone you so admire say unsupportive things about you and your character?
Not really, but I’ll possibly address it with her in the future. If I see her, I might be like, “Woman, let’s talk about this. Don’t be jealous ’cause a big girl’s doing her thing on Glee.” [Laughs] I love Rosie and I respect her opinion, so all I can say is that some of her comments were strange to me. But she was supportive originally, and I think she’s still supportive: She did say that she knows Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy are good navigators of this ship, and I agree. Besides, I don’t write the show, so I don’t have control over her complaints. But I’m really happy with my character, I’m proud to play her, and I’m having a blast. The whole plus-sized thing is so relevant in the media, but it’s so much less of a big deal in real life.
Because Lauren’s storylines do have potential to be sensitive — like Puck serenading Lauren with Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” — do the writers ever discuss them with you in advance to gauge your reaction?
No, they don’t necessarily ask me about things like that, but I know that they’d be willing to hear my concerns. I have complete faith in the Glee team and I’m very happy with where the character’s going. “Fat Bottomed Girls” is one of my favorite songs, and Mark’s version is amazing. I’ve been blasting it in my car since the day we shot it.
Glee stars a lot of skinny girls and guys with visible abs. What’s craft services like?
There is a lot of brown rice and avocado. [Laughs] Look, I’m not going to out any of those girls, but I see some of them eating bagels on the regular. I hear about other sets where actresses are paid not to eat, but Glee’s not that way at all. We can all get down. I’ve actually been losing weight because I’m working 12 hours a day, dancing my ass off.
Lauren is currently making Puck work hard to woo her, which means that you have the challenge of acting like the sexy Mark Salling isn’t rocking your world.
And that bitch is making it so difficult on me. He’s adorable. Our favorite thing is to make each other laugh when we’re not supposed to. When he was doing “Fat Bottomed Girls,” I’m going through all these emotions — I’m uncomfortable, everyone’s staring, I love him, but he’s singing about my butt — and he was being such a dork, trying so hard to make me laugh. He does not make my life easy.
Lauren said her “seven minutes in heaven” with Puck were more like “three minutes I’ll never get back.” But in reality, I’m guessing that was good stuff, right?
Yeah. It’s so awkward when you’re making out in front of cameras and getting direction, but I do have to say that out of all my onscreen love interests, Mark is the best kisser. I will give you that, lady.
Because Lauren pictured the glee club in their underwear during “I Know What Boys Like,” your gay fans scored a few heavenly minutes of their own.
You’re welcome. I’m taking one for the team, kissing Mark Salling and getting everyone half-naked for America. I’m a giver. Yeah, that day was grueling. I was like, If I have to see any more flesh today, I don’t know what I’m going to with myself.
Did you share Lauren’s nerves during your solo debut?
No, it was fun. I fuckin’ loved it. Honestly, I had to sing my face off in my auditions before I even got on the show, because they never really know where you’re going to end up. When Ryan was like, “You’re going to be singing in this episode” — I had no idea because we hadn’t gotten the whole script yet — I just thought “I Know What Boys Like” was the perfect song. Lauren clearly does know, because boys like confidence and integrity. And the fact there’s now a Glee song on iTunes with my name next to it? What the hell?
When did you find out that Lauren would replace Kurt in New Directions?
Literally, wardrobe called me and said, “Hey, we need you to come in for a fitting for the group number.” I was like, “Why would I need to match the rest of the cast for a group number?” They were like, “Oh, no. We ruined it.” I was like, “Ruined what?” Then I got my script and I still didn’t believe it. I texted Chris Colfer, “I join the glee club?!” I really thought it was a big ruse.
I read that Lauren wasn’t originally written as overweight, but your being cast helped to shape the character. Do your own interests and mannerisms continue to influence the character?
There are definitely things I’ve said on set that I’ve ended up saying on the show. There are even things I’ve said that other people have ended up saying on the show. Ryan is very attuned with us. Like when Lauren had to imagine everybody in their underwear, I was like, “OK, Sue needs to be in a dominatrix outfit. Mr. Schue needs to be in boxers, but even if I imagined him in his underwear, he’d still be in a vest.” So there are bits of me that pop up here and there, but I’m more enthusiastic than Lauren.
What’s been the highlight of your Glee experience so far?
Really, anytime I get to do a musical number. I’ve been coming in and out since the eighth episode, but the first time I got to sing and dance with all the kids, I was like, OK, am I going to wake up tomorrow? And the Golden Globes were obviously amazing. I was Chris Colfer’s date, and he was the best date ever.
How did he pop that question?
I got him a Burlesque poster signed by Cher and Christina Aguilera for Christmas because we were both obsessed with that movie. A couple days later, right before Christmas break, we were shooting a scene for “Silly Love Songs” at Breadstix where we were actually together — because the lamest thing is being on a show with one of your best friends, but every time I’m there, he’s not. So while we were shooting the scene, he got down on one knee and said, “I don’t want you to think this has anything to do with Cher, but will you be my date to the Golden Globes?” I was so honored, I teared up, and then I was like, “But Ryan Reynolds is single. He’s not available?” Then he won, Jane Lynch won, and the show won, so the camaraderie that night was something you tell your grandparents about. I mean grandkids. Grandparents don’t care. “I’m on a show called Glee!” “Oh, that’s great! Is it on Fox News?” “No.”
There’s also been some controversy surrounding Blaine’s questioning of his sexuality in tonight’s episode, “Blame it on the Alcohol.” Are gay fans riled up over nothing?
Well, I haven’t seen the episode yet. I was a little surprised when I read it, but I think it’s been blown out of proportion. I mean, the episode is called “Blame it on the Alcohol.” But I’m excited to see the feedback.
After Kurt’s inevitable return to New Directions, will Lauren stay in the club?
I hope she stays. She’s making good friends there, and I think she and Kurt would have a lot of fun together.
As would you and Chris, it sounds like.
Nah, we can’t stand each other. Our friendship is all for publicity.
Advocate.com, February 2011.