“Glee” actress Lea Michele was always a mean girl, according to her former co-star Samantha Ware.
“I knew from Day One when I attempted to introduce myself. There was nothing gradual about it,” Ware tells Variety in an interview released Thursday. “As soon as she decided that she didn’t like me, it was very evident.”
Michele, 33, has been rocked by allegations of on-set abuse after Ware confronted her co-star on Twitter about her past behavior on June 1. Ware blasted Michele, saying she made Ware’s first television job “A LIVING HELL” and chastising her for “OTHER TRAUMATIC MICROAGRESSIONS THAT MADE ME QUESTION A CAREER IN HOLLYWOOD.”
Now Ware, 28, is speaking up to try to address a Hollywood hierarchy that she says favors people of color less than their white counterparts.
“You can put color in the room, but if you don’t let them talk or speak or share their side, we’re not getting anywhere,” she tells Variety. “There are such imbalances of power and structures that have been fully embedded for years that just need to crumble at this point. Everyone needs to feel heard and be validated.”
Ware, who played Jane Hayward on the Ryan Murphy series, noticed the tension right away from Michele when Ware joined the seemingly cursed show in 2015.
“It was after I did my first performance, that’s when it started — the silent treatment, the stare-downs, the looks, the comments under her breath, the weird passive-aggressiveness. It all built up,” she says, adding that Michele’s behavior didn’t seem to phase anyone else.
“Lea’s actions were nothing new, so I guess since it was such a common thing, my case didn’t seem like that big of a deal,” says Ware, who hasn’t spoken with Michele for two years. “I remember the first day I actually spoke up, and unfortunately no one did anything. They just shrugged it off, like ‘That’s her.’ No one was stopping these things, which is an issue because the environment was helping perpetuate this abuse.”
Ware tells Variety that Michele even threatened her job in front of cast and crew one time when she was “goofing around” off-camera while Michele was filming a scene, which she says Michele saw as “disrespectful to her.” When the scene finished, Ware recalls Michele making a “come here gesture, like how a mother does to their child,” adding that Michele said, “You need to come here right now.” But Ware refused.
“I said ‘no,’ and that’s when she decided to threaten my job, and said she would call Ryan Murphy in to come and fire me.” That apparently didn’t happen, but it left Ware shook.
“It’s scary. For the full week, I was thinking I’m probably going to get an email and I might not be able to do the last three episodes, or I might not be able to sing another song,” she says. Ware adds that when she tried to talk to Michele, she was shut down.
“When I tried to speak up for myself, she told me to shut my mouth. She said I don’t deserve to have that job,” Ware says. “She talked about how she has reign. And here’s the thing: I completely understood that, and I was ready to be like, ‘This is your show. I’m not here to be disrespectful.’ But at that point, we were already past the respect and she was just abusing her power.”
Ware also says she wasn’t alone in being afraid to stand up to Michele.
“Everyone minded their business or said, ‘I’m sorry, I wish I had the power to stop this, but this is just the way it is, and this is just how it’s been’ — which means I wasn’t the first person to have been in that situation,” Ware says.
It’s that power struggle that has haunted Ware since leaving the show and apparently led to her first firing back at Michele when she tweeted last month about George Floyd — who died in the custody of Minneapolis police — using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
“When you tweet, ‘Black lives matter,’ that would mean you have an understanding of what that hashtag means, but it’s clear that it doesn’t,” Ware explains. “Does Lea even know what a microaggression is? I don’t know. All that her apology did was affirm that she hasn’t learned anything. Am I calling Lea a racist? No. Does Lea have racist tendencies? I think Lea suffers from a symptom of living in this world in an industry that is tailored to white people.”
Michele, who subsequently lost a partnership deal with Hello Fresh, apologized to Ware June 3.
“When I tweeted the other day, it was meant to be a show of support for our friends and neighbors and communities of color during this really difficult time, but the responses I received to what I posted have made me also focus specifically on how my own behavior towards fellow cast members was perceived by them,” Michele said. The apology, however, seemed to leave Ware fuming, as she mocked Michele’s use of the word “perceived.”
Ware wasn’t the only actor who has scolded Michele’s alleged misbehavior. Heather Morris, who played Brittany Pierce, said her co-star was “unpleasant” to work with. However, Amber Riley, who portrayed Mercedes, said she didn’t “give a s - - t” about the backstage drama in a since-deleted Twitter video. Former “Glee” producer Marti Noxon, meanwhile, fanned the flames by pointing out that some of the male actors on the show were bullies too. “People in the industry know who I’m talking about,” she said on Twitter. “Why aren’t we calling them out?”
For her part, Michele reportedly has vowed to learn from her alleged “mean girl” antics, with one friend saying she’s had a “wake-up call.”
As for Ware, she tells Variety that it’s time for the entertainment industry to step up and be more inclusive.
“I would love to be someone behind the table and at the table making room for others at the table,” Ware says. “Even my skin and my presence is an act of liberation and defiance and joy, so for me to be in a room that I was never intended to be in is enough. I believe I do good work, and I believe that I try to give as much love and respect to the people around me.”