Dramatic Facts About Lea Michele, The Ultimate Theater Kid

August 29, 2023 | J. Clarke

Dramatic Facts About Lea Michele, The Ultimate Theater Kid

Lea Michelle stood at the center of it all when the hit television show Glee lit up screens in 2009. She played the Broadway-obsessed, ridiculously type-A Rachel Berry, and rose to fame with the wildly popular show. 

In all honesty, her onscreen character wasn’t the most likable; and as it turns out, she didn’t turn out to be too likable in real life either. 

1. She Had Humble Beginnings (Sort Of)

Lea Michele’s life began in the Bronx, where she lived with her parents until moving to the suburbs of New Jersey at the age of four. Her mother worked as a nurse, and her father owned a business and worked in real estate. It looked nothing like Michele’s life of stardom now, which she might not even have if not for an unexpected trip.

Lea Michele in black topDFree, Shutterstock

2. Her Big Break Was Unexpected

Lea Michele's first big opportunity came as a total surprise. When her mother agreed to take her friend’s child to a Les Miserables audition, Michele tagged along. In a move that seemingly foreshadowed the tone of her career, she ended up walking away with the part the other girl auditioned for. But her childhood wasn't all smooth sailing. Lea Michele  and  Paul Franklin Dano in formal wearRon Bull, Getty Images

3. She Used A White Lie

At that very first audition, she used her middle name, “Michele," as her last name instead of her actual birth surname, “Sarfati”. She hated the way her last name drew attention and teasing. She decided to drop it, continuing with Michele for the rest of her career. She made a successful run in musical theater from that time on, but the pressure changed her forever. Actress Lea Michele in white top and necklaceWWD, Getty Images

4. She Became Obsessed With Perfection

The world of performance isn’t short on stories of the struggles of being a child performer, and sadly, Michele’s story is no different. She consistently dealt with the weight of performing perfectly night after night, and noted it caused her to be in a “semi-robotic state”. As she got older, the roles started to require even more, arguably too much. Lea Michele in pink dressFeatureflash Photo Agency, Shutterstock

5. She Bared It All

In 2006, Michele landed the lead role in the notably explicit Broadway show Spring Awakening. The very first act ended with an intimate scene between Michele and her co-star, requiring them both to partially undress onstage. Nineteen-year-old Michele did so unabashedly, but it's what she did behind the curtains that was truly really shocking. Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele and Stephen Spinella in front of New  Spring Awakening BillboardJemal Countess, Getty Images

6. She Let Him See Everything

Michele played her role alongside co-star Jonathan Groff as his lover. The two grew so close during the production that when Groff admitted he’d never seen a woman’s “lady parts,” so to speak, she openly volunteered her own. Her commitment to the needs of the stage seemed to do her well, but her personal life didn’t always match up.Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff at Fox's s_bukley, Shutterstock

7. She Got Her Heart Broken

Spring Awakening sparked a lasting friendship between Michele and Goff, but at the very same time, she struggled with a broken relationship. The show’s director noticed her blue mood, and recommended the movie Funny Girl to help her perk up. It did much more than that, however. In another unusually lucky occurrence, it kicked off her entire career.Barbra Streisand and Omar Sharif in Funny Girl looking at each otherColumbia Pictures, Funny Girl (1968)

8. She Had It Made For Her

Playing the lead in Funny Girl became an ultimate goal for Lea Michele. Inspired to the max, she overflowed with her passion for the film and her Broadway career at a dinner with a television producer. The rest is TV making history. The producer created the series Glee, in many ways inspired by Michele herself. Getting the gig proved to be the easiest part of it all. LEA MICHELE  in white top and earringsDFree, Shutterstock

9. She Made An Impression

Michele joined the Glee cast with over a decade of experience in musical theater. Although many other castmates had experience as well, it may have made her presence a bit intimidating. At least one castmate in particular felt that way, although perhaps he had only himself to blame for his expectations upon meeting her.

Lea Michele as Rachel Berry in black top singing on stage20th Century Fox Television, Glee (2009–2015)

10. He Stalked Her Socials

The production cast Cory Monteith as Lea Michele’s co-star and love interest, despite his total lack of experience with musical theater. When he found out he’d work with Michele, he admitted searching her up online. What he found made him feel like he didn’t quite measure up when he met her. Those feelings certainly changed quite quickly, though! 

Cory Monteith in glee wearing plaid shirt, singing20th Century Fox Television, Glee (2009–2015)

11. She Fell Hard And Fast

It made the perfect teen love story. Michele and Monteith played lovers on screen, and lived as real-life lovers offscreen. Except, there was a catch: Their entire relationship stayed under wraps. Monteith reportedly had no interest in letting the public in, and the two kept their romance on the low when it began. Perhaps it was for the best, considering their sad end.

Lea Michele as Rachel Berry in white at school20th Century Fox Television, Glee (2009–2015)

12. They Burned Out 

Michele and Monteith's love seemingly disappeared just as quickly as it blossomed, and the two ended things just a short while after it began. Their reasons remain a mystery, but Monteith’s insistence on keeping his personal life private possibly played a role. You can’t keep a good girl down, though. Michele didn’t stay out of the game for long.

Lea Michele as Rachel Berry at school sad  in black top20th Century Fox Television, Glee (2009–2015)

13. She Moved On Quickly

Although it was a secret at the time, Michele reportedly dated Monteith sometime in 2009. However, though their exact break up date isn’t public info, she very publicly began dating Theo Stockman in 2010, about a year later (or less!). Stockman worked as a Broadway star as well, likely making him a good fit. Unfortunately for Stockman, old habits die hard. Theo Stockman in purple jacket and glassesDFree, Shutterstock

14. The Spark Didn’t Go Away

Allegedly, Michelle continued a bit of a “flirtationship” with Monteith despite her relationship with Stockman. How could she not, considering the love story they played out onscreen? According to Michele, her boyfriend understood her work as an actor, but he likely didn’t feel too great about what happened next.Lea Michele & Cory Monteith  in casual wearFeatureflash Photo Agency, Shutterstock

15. She Got Her Man Back

Michele broke up with Stockman in 2011, and got back together with Monteith shortly thereafter. Clearly the two shared a deep bond, considering their “make up to break up”. Still, Monteith resisted sharing their love with the world for fear of judgment in the event of a break up. He couldn’t keep his secrets forever, though.Lea Michele & Cory Monteith in formal wearFeatureflash Photo Agency, Shutterstock

16. He Finally Gave In

In 2012, Monteith finally shared their relationship with the world on an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Michele felt overjoyed by this, even calling his admission to doing so “one of my favorite memories”. With their love now out in the open, Michele decided to take a huge step forward in their courtship.lea michele at the ellen degeneres show in red jacket speaking about  Cory MonteithA Very Good Production, The Ellen DeGeneres Show (2003–2023)

17. He Joined The Family

Meeting the family plays a huge role in a romantic relationship, showing just how serious a couple actually is. Michele probably had this in mind when she invited Monteith on her family vacation to Hawaii in January 2013, effectively welcoming him into her fold. Things didn’t all go quite as expected, however, as Michele discovered her boyfriend’s idea of fun.CORY MONTEITH in suitDFree, Shutterstock

18. He Liked It Wild

During this trip, Monteith insisted on taking his girlfriend along for all his thrill-seeking activities. Michele claimed to have "the best time ever" on these adventures. But while their love looked picture perfect from the outside, an insidious habit threatened to topple their fairy tale.Cory Monteith, Lea Mkichele arrives at the Kathy Hutchins, Shutterstock

19. Her Boyfriend Was Addicted

Behind the scenes of his rise to stardom on Glee, Monteith struggled with substance use and addiction. He’d dealt with these issues since his tough adolescence. Michele maintained that, in spite of this, the two shared a beautiful relationship. It couldn’t all have been perfect, however, considering the way things came to a head in the most dramatic way. Corey Monteith and Lea Michelle perform  in orange t-shirts and jeans with live bandRandy Miramontez, Shutterstock

20. They Tried To Help Him

In March 2013, multiple members of the Glee cast, most likely including Michele, confronted Monteith on his addiction problem. He responded receptively, and publicly admitted himself to rehab. When he returned to set, all things seemed back to normal, and allegedly he even appeared happier than ever. It proved too good to be true.

Lea Michele as Rachel Berry singing on stage in white top together with another actress20th Century Fox Television, Glee (2009–2015)

21. She Lost Him 

Hotel workers found Monteith’s unmoving body in a Vancouver hotel room just months after leaving rehab, his life ended by an overdose. This emotionally shattered Michele, who refrained from making a statement for a notable time after his passing. She struggled through the Glee episode memorializing him, and ultimately made a memorial all her own.Lea Michele as Rachel Berry in white top crying and singing20th Century Fox Television, Glee (2009–2015)

22. She Made Sure He Wasn’t Forgotten

Now a certifiable success as an actress and singer, Michele wrote a song about her love for Monteith—“If You Say So”. She further remembers him by giving to his favorite charity. From this perspective, Michele simply seems like a good person who experienced a great loss. But much more happened behind the scenes of Glee than anyone realized.Lea Michele as Rachel Berry singing on stage20th Century Fox Television, Glee (2009–2015)

23. She Made A Statement

In 2020, amidst social media’s overwhelmingly negative response to another death at the hands of US police, Michele posted on Instagram in support of George Floyd. Many other celebrities shared their support, and she possibly expected hers to just be another helpful voice. She couldn’t have been more wrong. Lea Michele  in white top in front of blue backgroundKathy Hutchins, Shutterstock

24. She Got Called Out

A past Glee co-star, Samantha Ware, responded to her post incredulously. Ware, a Black woman, found Michele’s support hard to believe, considering the way Michele treated her on the set of Glee. She claimed Michele made her life on set “a living hell,” making prejudicially motivated insults and microaggressions against her regularly. This was only the tip of the iceberg.Samantha Ware in glee performing on stage in blue top20th Century Fox Television, Glee (2009–2015)

25. She Was A Terrible Cast Member

Once Ware’s comments hit social media, other accusations flooded in, each seemingly worse than the other. Many past co-workers insisted that race often motivated Michele’s mistreatment of others, which became believable among some claims that she called Black dancers “roaches”. She wasn’t much of a treat to people who looked like her either.Lea Michele as Rachel Berry singing at stage wearing earring20th Century Fox Television, Glee (2009–2015)

26. She Had A Bad Attitude

On Glee, Heather Morris played Brittany, one of the more popular girls at the high school. Once Michele’s behavior started becoming public, Morris added, "...was she unpleasant to work with? Very much so; for Lea to treat others with the disrespect that she did for as long as she did, I believe she should be called out".

Another cast member had even stronger feelings about her ugly attitude.Lea Michele as Rachel Berry in red dress singing on stage with light on top of her looking20th Century Fox Television, Glee (2009–2015)

27. She Couldn’t Stand Her

Naya Rivera nabbed the role of Glee’s real onscreen mean girl, Santana Lopez. But while there’s no news of her behaving badly on set, her father claimed Rivera and Michele “hated each other". We can only imagine how horrendous spending time on set with Michele was. But those with shorter stints on the show didn’t escape her wrath.NAYA RIVERA arrives to the DFree, Shutterstock

28. She Picked On The “Little People”

Michele even managed to turn off an actor who only appeared in one episode—Dabier Snell. Reportedly, when Snell tried to join the main cast for lunch, Michele declared that he shouldn’t be allowed to sit with them because he didn’t belong to the actual cast. It just doesn’t get more entitled “mean girl” than that. Or does it?Lea Michele in white topKeith McDuffee , CC BY 2.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

29. Everything Came Out

The experiences of the aggrieved Glee cast and crew continued to roll in, with other cast members like Amber Riley agreeing that Michele behaved very much like a prima donna at work. At this point, it probably won’t shock you that the issue escalated further. After all, Glee wasn’t Michele’s first or last big job.Photo of former Glee actress and singer Amber Riley in green dressChris Allan, Shutterstock

30. She Made it a Habit

As social media continued to tear Lea Michele apart, actors who worked with her on projects after Glee agreed that they disliked working with her. Abigail Breslin, an actress who worked with her on Scream Queens, liked a tweet that insisted that something “felt off” about Michele. People from her life before Glee agreed too.Abigail Breslin on the roof of the Empire State Building in white jacketGlynnis Jones, Shutterstock

31. She’d Always Been Nasty

Michele built up a reputation for being a pain to work with. One cast member that worked with her on Spring Awakening, before Glee even existed, had to repost his input after noticing someone deleted it. He literally called her treatment of understudies a “nightmare”. All the negative words likely affected Michele’s self image, but things got worse when it hit her pockets.America Ferrera and The Cast of Spring AwakeningBruce Glikas, Getty Images

32. She Lost Money

Many celebrities actually make a good portion of their money from endorsing brands. Michele was no different. Unfortunately for her, the controversy over her behavior over time caused one major brand deal with Hello Fresh to drop her. Talk about a pay cut! And that didn’t turn out to be the only company that wanted to keep their distance.

Lea Michele in black topDFree, Shutterstock

33. She Got Canceled 

Lea Michele had ended her work with the online wedding company, Zola, months before she made her infamous George Floyd Tweets. Still, the company made a point of condemning the kind of discriminatory behavior cast members accused Michele of after her post went viral. After the flurry of distasteful commentary, the time for her response finally came. Lea Michele in floral patterned dress and earringsKathy Hutchins, Shutterstock

34. She Apologized (Kind Of)

Michele ultimately took to social media to publicly apologize for her behavior. She tried to explain her original post’s intention, and concluded with an apology for her “behavior” and “any pain” she caused. What she did not do, however, was admit to saying or doing any of the things her co-stars said she did. Smooth, and in line with her next move. Lea Michele arrives at the Fox TCA Party in blue dressKathy Hutchins, Shutterstock

35. She Laid Low

Michele’s next notable post on social media celebrated the birth of her first baby, Evan. Way to shift attention, I’d say. Did a social media fallout really hold the power to change what appears to be years of Michele’s questionable onset behavior? I’d think not. But one friend’s encounter before the whole fallout makes the impossible seem possible. Lea Michele in yellow jackets_bukley, Shutterstock

36. She Had To Grow Up

After a fairly short relationship, Michele married Zandy Reich in 2019. Jonathan Groff, who maintained a close friendship with her since their Broadway days, noted she behaved differently at this event. According to him, Ryan Murphy even remarked that, for the first time in forever, “the main topic of the conversation wasn’t about her". 

It’s definitely a step in the right direction, one she’d need to handle her next public scandal. Lea Michele and Zandy Reich in casual wearTibrina Hobson, Getty Images

37. Someone Else Got Her Dream Role

Funny Girl began a much awaited return to Broadway in April 2022. Yes, that Funny Girl—the same musical Michele totally obsessed over landing the lead in both on Glee and in real life. However, the production cast another performer, Beanie Feldstein, in the lead Michele always wanted. Things didn’t stay that way for long, though.

Beanie Feldstein in red dress and earringsDFree, Shutterstock

38. Things Got Messy

Shortly after her debut, Feldsein took to social media to announce she’d be leaving the cast of the show in September. She came back with another update not to long after—she planned to leave even sooner, in July. How did Michele play into the mess? Casting announced Michele as Feldstein’s replacement the very next day. If it sounds fishy, that’s because it is.Lea Michele at Comic Con speakingGage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

39. She Waited In The Wings

Production insists they transitioned smoothly on all ends, but the details leave lots of room to wonder. Reportedly, critics didn’t love Feldstein in the lead and tickets sales didn’t impress. Moreover, they received no recognition at the Tony Awards, after which Michele signed on to take over the lead in September. That isn’t the only suspicious part. Beanie Feldstein in black dress and jewelsDFree, Shutterstock

40. She Might Have Had Inside Information

David Kalodner, a top theater agent, represents both Michele and Feldstein. This may mean that Kalodner had a lot more information at his disposal than he shared with Feldstein. Even worse, Feldstein allegedly found out Michele would take her part from the news, rather than directly from production. 

Either way, Michele remained ready to steal the spotlight. Literally.Lea Michele performs onstage in Funny GirlKevin Mazur, Getty Images

41. They Didn’t Forget

Michele posted her gratitude and excitement about landing her dream part on social media, to the praise and likes of fans who stuck by her. Not everyone felt good about it, though. Her old co-star Samantha Ware responded to the announcement with disdain, noting the way Michele’s past behavior didn’t affect her ability to land the huge role. She wasn’t the only one.Samantha Marie Ware in black top and earringsJaguar PS, Shutterstock

42. Her Cast Didn’t Support Her

Michele hit the stage as the Funny Girl lead in September 2022. Notably, however, most of her Glee castmates don’t seem to care to see her onstage. Reportedly, Groff is the only one who made a point of seeing her performance. Most of the cast didn’t comment, but one past Glee cast member made his feelings known.Broadway musical Funny GirlRockinWorks Creative, Shutterstock

43. She Triggered Them

Chris Colfer played one of Lea Michele’s character’s closest friends on Glee. In real life, though, Colfer allegedly prefers to keep her at a distance. During an interview in October 2022, Colfer shared he didn’t at all plan to see Michele on Broadway. He said, “I could be triggered at home". Enough said. 

How does Michele feel about it all? Perhaps she doesn’t feel anything. Chris Colfer in black shirtFeatureflash Photo Agency, Shutterstock

44. She Censors The Haters

Lea Michele didn’t let the negativity scare her off of sharing her life on social media. She continues to post, but with a caveat, limiting what can appear in her comments. She could be protecting herself from the drama, or from the reality of her behavior. Your guess is as good as mine, at this point. All things considered, maybe the allegations changed her somehow.Lea Michele arriving at the GLEE Premiere in multi colored dresscarrie-nelson, Shutterstock

45. She Can’t Win The Highest Award

Because of the timing and the whole shift of leads, Michele’s work in this run of Funny Girl is ineligible for the highest award a Broadway star can win, the coveted Tony. While it’s an honor just about all Broadway performers aspire to, Michele reports she isn’t concerned with the award, and feels satisfied playing her dream role. It proved not to be all a dream, though. Lea Michele attends The 76th Annual Tony Awards in red and white floral dressDimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images

46. She Wasn’t Quite Ready

Michele likely felt that she prepared for this lead role all her life. However, the performance requires training in tap dancing, something she unfortunately didn’t have. In interviews on her preparation, she admitted she had to use an extremely novice instructional tap video to start rehearsals. The perfectionist in her hated it.Lea Michele in black top and necklaceMike Ownby, Flickr

47. She Shed Some Tears

She found the new dance format so challenging, that she reconsidered the whole role. She said she even cried after the first rehearsal, and doubted her capabilities to do the role justice. She persevered, though. Critics raved about her performance, and ticket prices soared with her as lead. However, her ugly past didn’t just disappear.Lea Michele  on stage in red dressBruce Glikas, Getty Images

48. Conspiracy Follows Her

The jury is out on whether or not the rumors that continue to surround Michele have anything to do with how she behaves on set. After all, just about all celebrities deal with a certain amount of bad press. But one rumor about Michele stands out because, honestly, it’s just weird. Many people on social media continue to run with the theory that Michele is totally illiterate"Glee" star Lea Michele at the American Idol Final 13 Party at Area Nightclub, West Hollywood in light yellow top laughingFeatureflash Photo Agency, Shutterstock

49. The “Evidence” Exists

The theory claims that Michele started working at too young an age to actually learn to read and write properly. In the land of social media, where all juicy conspiracies grow, people speculate that the crew fed her lines on Glee, and that her social media is taken care of by her manager. How does the perfectionist star respond?

Lea Michele at the Glee academy screening in white topJoe Seer, Shutterstock

50. She Doesn’t

Not at all. Michele has yet to directly respond to these conspiracies. According to her, she seems to think a direct response would only annoy people further and turn more people against her. In any event, none of the controversy surrounding Michele’s behavior got in the way of her reportedly stellar run in Funny Girl. So maybe she knows what she’s doing.

Lea Michele wearing earrings at an eventKathy Hutchins, Shutterstock

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