His breakthrough role arrived on Fox’s “Glee” before winning an Emmy Award on FX’s “American Crime Story.”
This week, actor and singer Darren Criss performs live at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on The Ellipse outside the White House on Thursday night.
“This is my first year doing this particular event,” Criss told WTOP. “I’ve been lucky enough in my career to have done a number of things for the Bidens. That is a low-key humble brag. They haven’t decided to kick me off the invite list yet, but there’s still room! I could really biff it at the White House.”
He joins a star-studded lineup of Mickey Guyton, Dionne Warwick, Joe Walsh, Ledisi and St. Vincent.
“It’s a pretty cool list, man,” Criss said. “I just saw the list and I don’t know who printed the ad mat, but there’s no world in my mind where I would ever appropriately be anywhere higher or before the likes of St. Vincent, Renee Rapp. … When your name is with the likes of Joe Walsh, Dionne Warwick and many more, you can’t help but just have a huge wave of imposter syndrome.”
After that, “A Very Darren Crissmas” hits The Barns at Wolf Trap in Virginia on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re just going from town to town spreading holiday cheer, man,” Criss said. “A lot of people put out holiday albums … just playing the very well-known songs. … My main goal in life is not necessarily as a performer but more like a curator. … If I had it my way, my Christmas album would have been 100 songs that no one’s ever heard of, but because I’m not a fool, I toe the line between familiar stuff but I do it in an unfamiliar way.”
Born in San Francisco in 1987, Criss grew up in loving “Star Wars,” “Transformers” and The Beatles. He pursued the arts as a theater major at the University of Michigan, performing in “Pride & Prejudice” and “A Few Good Men” before founding StarKid Productions to produce his own shows. That included the Harry Potter production “A Very Potter Musical,” which actually landed songs on the Billboard charts.
After appearing on the ABC series “Eastwick,” Criss’ big break came on Fox’s “Glee” (2010-2015), playing transfer student Blaine Anderson, who eventually married Kurt Hummel. Criss started out singing Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and ended by writing the Emmy-nominated song “This Time” for the series finale.
“‘Glee’ was incredibly popular and progressive,” Criss said. “I lucked out and won the golden ticket because when I joined that show, it already had a significant degree of attention where one of the most popular characters was Kurt, somebody who was making waves … in the queer dialogue amongst popular culture, the conversation of gay teens and representation of queer people on mainstream, linear, network television.”
He reunited with Ryan Murphy to play the killer Andrew Cunanan in “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace” (2017), beating out Antonio Banderas, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeff Daniels, John Legend and Jesse Plemons to win the Emmy for Best Actor in a Limited Series.
“Actors wait a whole lifetime for parts like that,” Criss said. “This horrible thing happened because of a guy who happened to kind of look like me and be kind of my age and ethnicity. … Twenty years later, how do we make sure those tragedies don’t end up as these horrible things? To bring light to a darkness by illuminating the things around those tragedies, the other themes that led to how and why these things happened.”
On stage, his Broadway roles include replacing Daniel Radcliffe in “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” (2012), replacing Neil Patrick Harris in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2015) and joining Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne in the revival of David Mamet’s play “American Buffalo” (2022).
“I’ve really gotten to check a lot of boxes in what I believe to still be the earlier part of life and career, boxes that I really did always dream of and worked hard to get to,” Criss said. “Now onto Christmas baby!”
Listen to our full conversation on the podcast below: