Imagine you’re alone with the one and only Naya Rivera in a high-rise hotel room in the middle of downtown San Francisco. She’s in a breathtakingly gorgeous, revealing gown sitting across from you smiling and laughing. And, yes, she’s just as gorgeous and friendly in person as you’d imagine. While it may be nearly impossible to not let your mind wander into fantasyland in her presence, truth be told, her manager and publicist are also in the room and one of the reasons she is so jubilant is she has just been told that she’s a frontrunner in the AfterEllen.com Hot 100 list for this year.
Regardless of any romantic fantasy, there’s no mistaking that Rivera has had one hell of a year and it’s also not a chore to believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg for her. As the role of Santana Lopez grew from a small role in the Glee pilot two years ago to a front-and-center storyline this season featuring her coming out and her unrequited love for her BFF, Brittany (played by Heather Morris), Rivera has handled the role so realistically and convincingly that she was asked to host this past weekend’s GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco. Just before starting her hosting duties, she sat down — yes, in her hotel room — to talk exclusively with AfterEllen.com.
AfterEllen.com: You’re hosting the GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco! What was your initial reaction when you were asked and the importance of it?
Naya Rivera: Naturally, I was just flabbergasted! To be asked to host anything – and I have never hosted anything ever – I feel honored and I feel that this is an event that is so important to so many people and it raises awareness and money for such a great cause. I just feel really blessed and it’s all happened so quickly. I mean, I just came out five episodes ago! But I thank the fans and I appreciate them so much because they’ve latched on and got me to where I am right now and I would not be here in beautiful San Francisco hosting the GLAAD Awards without them!
AE: I went back and watched the pilot of Glee recently and the fact that you’re now such a major player on the show…there’s no way you saw any of this coming, right?
NR: Never! If you would’ve asked me, I would never say ‘Yeah, I’m going to be a teenage lesbian icon!” [laughs] No! That’s amazing and it’s just been beyond anything I could have dreamt of or imagined for myself. I never thought about this.
AE: I’m guessing you’re hearing a lot from young girls who can relate to what Santana is going through.
NR: Tons of girls. I get very heartfelt tweets and fan letters everyday that just touch my soul and touch my heart. They say “Thank you so much. Because Santana was so brave, I came out to my friends or my parents.” And I get crazy things like “I thought about killing myself” because I guess it’s unorthodox. It’s harder for girls because no one really takes them seriously. If they see two girls making out they say “that’s hot” but, no, for teenage girls in high school this is a serious thing.
AE: When the story first started with Santana and Brittany and there was brief mention of the two of them together, were there big discussions about the direction of all this? Whether they’d be bi or gay or what?
NR: No, actually we didn’t. In the beginning it was a fun thing and we all thought it was cute and funny; a little blurb here, a little blurb there and we never thought it would go any further. It was truly because of the fans that Brad [Falchuk, Executive Producer] and Ryan [Murphy, Executive Producer] started taking it seriously. They came to me one day and said “How would you feel about exploring this storyline?” I thought “Yes!” It’s great on every level and it’s just amazing.
*Warning: Some Glee spoilers on the following page*