In a recent interview with The Advocate, Glee’s Heather Morris described Brittany, her ditzy character, as “a lost puppy dog” who “follows Santana around and does whatever she tells her to do.” As Santana Lopez, the slutty head cheerleader who thinks bake sales are bougie, Naya Rivera has her gay fans on an even tighter leash. Readying to go on the Glee Live! In Concert! tour, Rivera addresses those Mark Salling dating rumors and explains why Santana and Brittany should totally be together.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: Do I even have to tell you that Santana is a gay fan favorite on Glee?
Naya Rivera: Well, I love my gay bars — I go all the time — and we’ll literally be recognized more at gay bars than anywhere else. In fact, I don’t get recognized anywhere except for gay bars. The gay boys will be like, “Oh, my God, I’m talking to Santana!” They only call me “Santana.” It’s awesome.
We love a good bitch.
That’s exactly why they love Santana. The gay guys that work on the show love all of Santana’s bitch-faces, so yes, the gays do love a good bitch.
Do you like playing a bitch?
I do. It’s invigorating and kind of therapeutic.
Which bitches have inspired your performance?
I definitely took from Mean Girls but more so from the actual bitches I went to high school with. I was on the other end of the bitchiness back then.
Has any of Santana’s bitchiness rubbed off on you?
No, not really. I do have a little bit of her feistiness and sass in me, but I’m definitely not as quick to chop people down.
Will we ever see a softer side of Santana?
I definitely think that’s a possibility, and I would love to explore that. She does have some redeeming qualities, and a lot of what she does is all in good fun — typical high school stuff. Hopefully the writers will give me something to get her a little sympathy, but I’d always want her to be edgy.
You recently posed for Maxim. Did you have any hesitations about doing such a sexy shoot?
I literally dove in headfirst. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so when the opportunity came, I was like, “Yes, I will absolutely put down this potato chip bag and get ready.”
So are you as sexually confident as Santana?
That might be another quality that we share! [Laughs] I am pretty confident in that aspect.
Earlier this season Santana said, “Sex is not dating,” to which Brittany replied, “If it were, Santana and I would be dating.” You told Maxim that you asked your director, Brad Falchuk, “Are we doing this because she doesn't know what sex means, or did we in fact hook up?” Brad apparently answered, “Oh, no, you hooked up!” What was going through your mind?
Well, my initial reaction was that it was hysterical. I was laughing because I thought it was just another stupid thing that Brittany says. It’s kind of like a joke that the writers play, but the fans actually really love it. I think it’s awesome.
Santana and Brittany have been doing a lot of pinky-holding in recent episodes. Are the writers still joking around, or is this Brittana flirtation actually going somewhere?
We definitely always hint at it, but I don’t know what will happen with that. Maybe they’ll fall in love. I do think they’re soul mates. Brittany just gets Santana, even though a lot of people don’t like her. The guys are crappy, so maybe Santana should just be with Brittany.
Could Santana be bisexual?
There’s always a chance on this show. Everything’s always twisting and turning, and you never know what the writers and Ryan Murphy are going to do next.
Santana once told Finn, “You buy us dinner, and we make out in front of you. It’s, like, the best deal ever.” Now a lot of people are hoping for Brittana make-out session.
I know. That would be nuts, but I don’t know if we can do that because it’s such a family show. If it does happen, I’m up for it. I’m really up for anything, so maybe I’ll make their dreams come true.
You and Heather Morris, who plays Brittany, are close in real life. When did you two become BFFs?
We were friends from the beginning. I remember not knowing who the third cheerleader was going to be and not knowing if she was going to be cool, but we hung out the first day I met her. We live close to each other, so now we hang out all the time. It’s nice that I’ve found a friend out of work. The chemistry that we have on-screen has stemmed from our real-life friendship. Half the stuff we do is us just joking around or ad libs like the pinky thing. Brad told us to do the pinky thing one time, but now we try to fit it in other scenes. That kind of stuff really makes our scenes better.
You guys should take a cue from Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie and Becky Newton and start your own Web series and cabaret act.
I know, right? I smell a spin-off!
Let’s talk about the “Like a Virgin” number in the Madonna episode.
When I read it in the script, I was like, No way, I’m the one who gets to take Finn’s virginity? Awesome! How did they pick me for this? That was basically the first time I’d ever gotten a step-out solo part on any of the songs, so I was stoked for people to hear me sing. When we shot the scene, Ryan’s direction was that he wanted me to be a lioness prowler, but he also wanted me to be like a drag queen with my hair, so that’s what all the hair-whipping was about. That was my drag.
It’s always good to see you without your Cheerios uniform and tight ponytail.
Yeah, I felt really free. Another reason I was whipping my hair so much was because I never get to.
And that Cory Monteith, who plays Finn, is a hot piece.
I know. I’ve been getting Twitter messages, like, “You’re so lucky you humped Cory Monteith.” I can’t complain.
After she took Finn’s virginity, Santana said, “I’ve noticed that it takes about 20 or so times before the feeling of accomplishment really kicks in.” Is she really that big of a slut, or is she all talk?
I think she really is a slut. She’s just that girl in high school. But the good thing about that scene was that Ryan had us not play up the comedy aspect, so we played it kind of sad. There was a little moment you got to see that maybe she does regret being a teenage harlot.
Your solo sounded great. I know you’ve appeared on a number of sitcoms like The Royal Family, Family Matters, and The Bernie Mac Show, but what’s your musical background?
I’ve pretty much just been singing my whole life. I’d do little talent shows as a kid, and my mom would shuttle me back and forth between vocal rehearsals and training three times a week. I took voice lessons for five years, and I was in and out of the studio doing demo work — stuff like that. I’ve always wanted to put out an album because I also love writing. I don’t know what it would be like, but that’s definitely something I want to accomplish.
Heather told me that she creates backstory for her character and even keeps a Brittany journal. Do you do anything like that?
I do it in my head as I go along, so when something happens, I’ll be like, "Why did I do that?" The other day we were shooting one of the last scenes of the season, and they told us to really reflect on this year for our characters. I kind of boiled it down, like, Well, basically all I did all year was get mad at girls for hooking up with Puck, and then I took Finn’s virginity.
Was “Like a Virgin” your most memorable moment on set this season?
I didn’t think anything could top that, but then we did our Lady Gaga episode, and I got to do some cool stuff in that. That totally topped it for me. It was a nice way to end the season. I will only tell you that I have a big hat.
What’s your dream song to perform next season?
I’d love to sing something by Amy Winehouse — something where I could be a little melodramatic.
There’s talk of a Britney Spears episode next season, so feel free to call dibs on a Britney jam.
I hadn’t heard that, but that sounds amazing. I’d love to do “Slave 4 U.” The funny thing is that I always do a Britney Spears singing impression, so hopefully I’ll get to do it on the show if that rumor comes true.
You recently performed with the Glee cast at the White House and on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Where do you go from there?
I know. How crazy is that? We always joke around, like, “Yeah, guys, next week we’re performing on the moon, then we’re going to meet the pope, and Jesus is coming to set on Wednesday.”
Though you’re both currently considered recurring as opposed to regular cast members, I was surprised to see you and Heather sitting in the audience instead of onstage with Oprah and the regulars. Is it frustrating to sometimes have to take a backseat to the main cast?
There’s a time for everyone, and everyone has their time. The show’s set up so that it’s not going to leave anyone behind. Everyone’s going to get a turn to have an episode, a song, and a solo. As you can see, I’ve already gotten more stuff, and I do feel like I’m an asset to the show. They do a really good job of making us happy.
Though no official announcement has come from the Glee camp, it’s being reported by various sources that you and Heather will be promoted to regular status next season.
Yeah, I think that will be happening for me, so that will be very cool.
You recently tweeted, “My goal in life is to be a hybrid of Ryan Murphy and Oprah.” How’s that working out for you?
I’m working on building my empire and giving back. [Laughs] I obviously have to dress better to be like Ryan Murphy. He always looks so sharp because his fashion sense is nuts. When I first met him, I was looking at the ground because I was so intimidated, but he’s the coolest person. He’s also confident. He knows what he wants, he gets it done, but he can joke around and have fun in the process. He really is like family.
At the recent GLAAD Media Awards, when Glee won a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Comedy Series, Ryan Murphy commended Chris Colfer for coming out at such a young age. Were you supportive of Chris’s decision?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I remember when all of that was happening, and he was nervous, as anyone would be, just because he’s so young. Other kids his age maybe deal with those issues at school and with their family, but not with the entire world, so that was tough for him. My advice to him was that it’s always better to be honest about yourself, because keeping up a lie is lot more work than saying, “Here I am, take it or leave it.”
Are you looking forward to the Glee concert tour?
Yeah, I’m really excited. I’ve seen the set list, the songs are great, and I know the fans are going to love it. The adrenaline rush we get when we’re up there and people are screaming is so fun.
OK, so what’s the real deal with you and costar Mark Salling?
There’s no deal. We’re just friends. We’re very close because we work together 16, 18 hours every day, and I think he’s cool, but we’re like best friends.
Gossip sites are saying you’re dating a costar when you’re not? That’s so Jennifer Aniston.
I know, right? Mark’s linked with someone new every week in the press, so you can’t always believe what you read.
His calling you “beautiful” in his “Chillin’ on Glee” YouTube video certainly didn’t help the situation.
Well, he can think I’m beautiful. We’re just friends and he thinks I’m pretty!
Advocate.com, May 2010.