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‘Glee’ Star Chris Colfer Talks Exhilarating Blackmail, High School Sarcasm and ‘Struck By Lightning’

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Struck By Lightning is a huge deal for Glee star Chris Colfer – at only 22, he not only stars in the film, but also wrote the screenplay and executive produced. He has also adapted his screenplay for the film into the YA novel Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal, marking his second published novel after The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell.

Directed by Brian Dannelly (Saved!), Struck by Lightning tells the story of high school overachiever Carson Phillips (Colfer) who dreams of leaving behind his small town, getting into Northwestern, and becoming a wildly successful journalist. However, these dreams come to an abrupt end when he is struck by lightning and dies. The film unfolds via Carson’s posthumous narration, as he recounts his struggles with his emotionally-challenged alcoholic mother (Allison Janney), his seldom-seen father (Dermot Mulroney) and his father’s pregnant fiancée (Christina Hendricks), but mainly how he and his best friend Malerie (Rebel Wilson) blackmail their fellow students into writing for their literary magazine.

Colfer was kind enough to talk about his inspirations when writing the screenplay, the exciting festival experience, and other projects that are on his very creative horizon.

A lot of the film seems to be autobiographical – except for the “getting struck by lightning” part. Can you explain what inspired that plot point in your screenplay?

Sure! I remember being in high school, and I was also the President of the Writer’s Club in high school. And I remember feeling so incredibly unappreciated and overachieving – in my own right, maybe not a right that was valued by the school or the students in school. I just remember feeling so disheartened and remember thinking, “Wow, if I got struck my lightning right now, they would pretty much find my body.” Because my parents were out of town, it was a Friday night, and everyone was at the football game. And I thought it would be suitable to write a movie about a kid who was killed and then have in his sarcastic narration about his life in a series of flashbacks.

This film features a great high school societal microcosm like The Breakfast Club, for instance. Were there any high school movies you had in mind when writing the film?

I really kind of wanted it to have the humor of Mean Girls but still have the reality of The Breakfast Club, you know? I wanted it to be one of those movies that hopefully any kid, student, or adult could watch and relate to.

How would you describe the collaborative process with Brian Dannelly?

Yeah, he was great! It was so strange, because Brian and I were always so in sync on everything that we had the same input. I watch things, and I can’t remember what we talked about and what was just 100% him and his vision alone because we were so, so connected. I’m kind of shocked that we were able to find a director that I felt so eye-to-eye with, because this was such a passion project for me. There were days when I wouldn’t have to film, and I’d be like, “I’m not going to come in until I’m needed!” because I had nothing but absolute trust in him.

I know Brian directed Saved! which is a really great stylistic fit with this film…

Oh, I loved Saved! It’s one of my favorite, favorite movies. And I thought it had the exact same sarcastic, witty tone that I wanted this movie to have. And I was like, “He’d be interested? Let’s get him!”

So did you have input on picking the director?

Yeah! Brian was the first director we met with, and he said, “You know, I really like this and I really want to do this because I was this kid.” And when he said that, I was sold. This is our guy! I don’t want to meet with anyone else, this is it.

You adapted the film’s screenplay into the YA novel “Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal.” What were the challenges of translating your text into book form?

It was really difficult because the screenplay of the film acted as the skeleton, and the novel had so much more development that it needed. It needed as much backstory and in-between scenes and situations as possible. So it was kind of like taking my script and stretching it out as much as I could.

The film got great a reception at the Tribeca Film Festival this past Spring – and even received a standing ovation. What was the overall festival experience like?

Oh, it was amazing! I think it was one of the unexpected highlights of my young life because I really was not expecting it to get that good of a response. I’ve always been intimidated by New York and heard that New York audiences would never stand for a movie that they just saw. Even though they knew I was in the room, I never thought they would stand for it. So that was incredible. It was such a magic night. And the afterparty afterwards with the cast and crew was just spectacular.

And Emma Watson publicly supported the film that night, right?

Oh yeah, she’s great! She’s an amazing dancer.

Your character in the film, Carson, and your Glee character, Kurt, are both outcasts who stand up for their respective beliefs, but who are intrinsically different. How would you describe their differences?

They are both vert different people. Kurt always takes the high road – always kind of internalizes and takes the high road. Doesn’t matter what the situation is, he tries to do better than the people around him. While Carson never does that, he always tries to get even with the people that are around him and he doesn’t let people victimize him, he doesn’t let people bully him. I’m glad you brought that up, because a lot of people think I wrote this movie just to do something besides Kurt and I’m like, “Uh… if that was the case, I would not be playing another high school outcast!”

Exactly! In the film, while Carson isn’t exactly popular, he is almost feared by his peers – he suffers no fools.

Yeah, he’s a bit of a jerk! It was fun to play a character who you’re not supposed to like, but you really kind of do. Even though he’s an asshole, you really kind of root for him.

Are they any other screenplays in the works for you? 

Oh, many, many. I have another one that we’ll hopefully be shooting in the summer, I have an adaption in the works… If people want to watch movies that I’ve written, I’ll always have a new one.

Struck By Lightning opens in select cities on January 11th and is currently available on VOD. Please visit the film’s website for details.

A fan of Pee-Wee Herman since birth, Caitlin Hughes was always consumed by watching movies and TV, preferring the comforting glow of the movie theater screen or the TV to, let's say, the harsh glare the sun. She graduated Tisch with an MA in Cinema Studies, and since went on to do various stuff in film, ranging from non-profit to PR to film programming. When not watching movies or TV, she enjoys perfecting the art of karaoke, dining out, being a so-so yogi, and trolling around Park Slope. For further musings, follow @C_B_Hughes

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