An Interview with Stephen Kramer Glickman
By Andrew Benoit
On Nov. 8, Stephen Kramer Glickman gave the University of Puget Sound a night of comedy and music with his show “An Evening with Stephen Kramer Glickman”. The performance was a huge hit on campus and the Chapel was packed with students. Glickman is best known for his role as Gustavo Rocque on “Big Time Rush” and as Shrek in “Shrek the Musical” in Broadway workshops. The Trail sat down with Glickman the following day to ask him about Big Time Rush, Star Wars, Shrek and a certain dog-related movie he took part in years ago. This interview has been edited for readability and length.
Q: I read that you spent time with Wu-Tang Clan in preparation for your Big Time Rush role. What was that like?
A:The Rza owned the unit above me in my condo complex. I didn’t know that he did. And so, I was living in my apartment and there was a lot of noise coming from upstairs. And so, I went upstairs to knock on the door to be like, “Hey, turn that music down.” The door opened and it was the Rza. And he was like: “Can I help you?” And I was like, “We’re Good! It’s an honor, sir!” Then they invited me and I ended up hanging with them and making some music with them too, which was really, really cool. We did a cover of a song together and it was awesome.
Q: How did you get started as an actor and stand-up?
A: Acting I’ve been doing since I was a little kid. I started acting from third grade, like as a kid doing musical theater. I didn’t start working professionally until I was probably about 25 or 26. So it took about four or five years out of college to actually start finding my footing. In the early days you’re just trying to figure out how to make this thing work. Los Angeles is a tricky city to navigate. In the early days, I was doing extra work on Deadwood which was crazy. We would do a graveyard on the show. We would shoot from like six o’clock at night to like eight o’clock in the morning. It was horrible. You do that and then you learn about what it’s like to be on a set and the level of professionalism that you have to come up with to be able to work. I’ve been doing stand-up for about 20 years. You can just keep trying things.
Q: So, you almost got a role in a Star Wars movie? What happened?
A: Phil Lord and Chris Miller were doing the Han Solo movie and asked if I would be interested in coming out to do something in it. I was so excited and wanted to do it. But before it could even get past a conversation, they had already been let go from doing the Solo movie. Some other directors took over and that was the end of that. I have a lot of friends now who are on the Mandalorian. My friend plays C-3PO on the show, he plays a lot of other robots on the show. He’s kind of gone to bat for me a few times over there and a couple of other friends have gone to bat for me trying to help me get into Star Wars.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with Shrek the Musical?
A: I got cast to play Shrek in Shrek the Musical on Broadway. It was Broadway readings and workshops, working on and creating the show. So, I worked on it with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Sam Mendes and Jason Moore, who was our director. Sutton Foster was my Fiona. It was crazy. I worked on it for about two years. It was an extremely intense experience. I auditioned for it at an open call. I sat in a room with like 100 fat guys with beards all trying to audition for this role. I sang “What I Say” by Ray Charles for my audition, and was then called back to then come back and to learn the Shrek voice. I went and bought the DVD and I ended up watching Shrek five times that night from start to finish, and I learned the voice overnight. Then I went back the next day. I ended up doing 32 callbacks over three months to get the role. And then they moved me to New York City and I lived on 58th Avenue overlooking the park. It was the most intense experience in the world. Literally, the most intense life change I’ve ever experienced was that move. I was living in a crappy apartment in Encino with two guys and we all hated living there. Then suddenly I was living in this beautiful place with my own doorman. I had a driver and the window washer was washing my windows every day. It was a very big life change. And I worked really hard but no matter how hard I worked, Sutton Foster works harder, because she was not only doing the 8 am to 6 pm rehearsals of Shrek the Musical, she was also performing at night, doing Young Frankenstein on Broadway.
Q: Tell me about Love on a Leash?
A: Oh dear God. Sir. That is a hell of a follow-up. If there was a way that anytime someone mentioned the title to me, I could pull the lever and be ejected through the roof. To be in that movie I was paid one bag of Wontons and two cantaloupes. It was a non-union job. It was before Shrek. I was just working at the Comedy Store trying to act and trying to find things to do. And a comedian named Ari Shaffir came to me – that son of a bitch – and he said, “Oh hey, there’s a movie you’re looking for a voiceover actor for it. Would you be interested in doing it? It pays nothing.” I said, “Whatever. Sure.” So this very small woman named Fen Tian came into the office with the tape recorder. She gave me some lines. I tried to say the lines. She then got very upset with me. The lines were written in Chinese and then translated through something like Google Translate to English, so the English translation was not very clear. It sounded like you’re speaking broken English, which is fine. But I did not want to speak in broken English. You know, so I said, I’ll read it the way that a person would read this if they spoke English as their first language. And she yelled at me and told me no, you must read it the way that I wrote it. So I had to say lines like “you talk to me water pond?” They don’t make any sense whatsoever. And I said those lines the way she wants. And then she cut them into a film. This is a film in which a woman finds a homeless golden retriever on the street. She kisses the dog on the mouth, and then the dog transforms into a man, and then she has sex with the man. And then in the morning, he is transformed back into a dog. And when there’s a dog, I’m the voice of the dog. All for a bag of WonTons and two cantaloupes. That movie is trash. It’s as bad as The Room. They tried to get the finishing funds for the movie from a church in China. The church had funded the movie in the first place because she told the church that it was about Jesus helping a woman find love through the magic of Christ. That is what she said to a priest who gave her like $50,000 to make the movie. So then she came to the US and made this movie, a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible movie. Badly shot, badly acted. Horrible. Once she went back to the priest and asked for the finishing funds, he watched the movie. He was like “What is this? Are you crazy?” And he told her absolutely not. Then the movie didn’t have money to finish and it got thrown into a pile of crappy movies at some company. And then Fen Tian was walking across the street and was hit by a bus and killed. She is dead. And then that box of crappy movies ended up getting bought by some distributor who then got bought by another distributor who then got bought by Amazon. And then they put that movie on Amazon Prime. It became a viral hit. And now it’s on Tubi. And then once it was out it literally just kept rising up the ranks. And just to add to the madness of this, ralphthemoviemaker, a YouTuber, made a video where he told everybody to go to IMDb and give it a good rating. So now it has eight out of 10 on IMDb. It has a higher rating than Gone With the Wind. No one knew that I was the dog and I liked it like that. ‘Till the middle of the pandemic and I got bored. And I was watching people talk about it on Twitter. I told everybody! So that was crazy.
Q: Most people on campus know you from your role on Big Time Rush. Do you ever feel defined or limited by the popularity of the role?
A: No, no, no. I think having something to be a piece of your history is a blessing and a nice thing. I’ve never had a point where I was like, “Oh, this is the worst. I’m famous for something.” It also happened to me when I was 29 years old. I turned 30 during the first season. I mean, that’s the age where if you’re not proud of the work that you’re doing at 30, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing with your life. I’m very proud that I’ve been a part of so many people’s childhoods. I know a lot of people say, “Oh, it’s a curse, doing children’s television because you don’t work afterward.” That does happen to some people, but I got super lucky. I love keeping the Gustavo love alive in the world. Big Time Rush means a lot to me. And it means a lot to a lot of people. It helps people decide that they want to get into music, and it’s helped people follow their dreams. When you have a dream, whatever it is, having someone else that believes in your dream is incredibly effective. But having someone who believes in your dream and helps push you towards it is like the hand of God. I mean I got to play a character on the show who not only encouraged people’s dreams but helps them to achieve them. And I think that’s the reason why the character is so beloved. And the show is so beloved because people that grew up watching it look for those people. They look for someone who not only will encourage them but also help them to their goals as well. And I’m really lucky to have a bunch of people in my life over the years that have been my Gustavo, that have kind of helped lift me up and move me to the next place. So, I think, I think the character on the show is just a positive thing.
Q: Anything you’d like to say to the students of the University of Puget Sound?
A: Study hard and get out there into the world and don’t take any shit from anyone. Just keep making everything that you want to make and be your best selves out in the world.