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.
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'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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