Lea Michele reflects on 'Glee' toxic workplace scandal: 'My life got turned upside down'

Lea Michele looks back at Glee scandal after multiple co-stars called her out for bad behavior.
Lea Michele looks back at Glee scandal after multiple co-stars called her out for bad behavior. (Photo: Reuters)

Lea Michele is very aware of the bad reputation she earned while working on Glee years ago. Now, at age 36, she said she's hoping to change that as the leader of the wildly successful Broadway play Funny Girl.

"I think these past two years have been so important for everybody to just sit back and reflect. I did a lot of personal reach-outs. But the most important thing was for everybody to just take a step back," Michele told Interview. "More than anything, I'm so grateful to have this opportunity to apply the things that I’ve learned over the past ten-plus years in a positive way."

Michele's alleged behavior made headlines in 2020 when she was accused by Glee actress Samantha Ware of creating a toxic work environment. The majority of Michele's famous co-stars backed Ware. All of a sudden, it seemed as if everyone had a negative Lea Michele story.

"What I told myself stepping into Funny Girl was, 'If I can't take my role as a leader offstage as important as my role as a leader onstage, then I shouldn't do this show.' Because that was always a struggle for me. So to have this opportunity now at 36 years old as a wife and a mother — to step into this job that comes with so much pressure and a huge amount of responsibility — was a very, very big achievement for me," the actress added.

Michele took over the role of Fanny Brice from Beanie Feldstein. After the casting shakeup was announced, the Broadway star's reputation was back in the news.

"At the end of the day, what matters the most is how you make people feel. And you have to put aside your feelings. The conversations that I've had behind the scenes with some people were incredibly healing and very eye-opening for me," Michele explained. "I've been doing this for a really long time and I'm not going to ever blame anything on the things that I've been through in my life. But you also can't ignore those experiences or deny them. They are a part of the patchwork of my life. When I got the call that I was going to play Fanny Brice, I said, 'OK, this could be really big for my career, but it's also helpful to have this opportunity to introduce people to who I am now.'"

Michele said she's "figuring out how to be a good leader" — and mom, daughter, friend, wife.

"I'm getting so much gratification out of my relationships right now because I think everything's falling so nicely into place and I'm so happy to be back home in New York. I was away from my family in L.A. for 13 years and that was really hard. During 2020, my life got turned upside down in so many ways and I didn't know where it was going to take me. We moved back home to be closer to family, and I'm so grateful to be doing what I love so much and raising our son here," she declared.

"And for me, having my husband and my son — I never had that to come home to. I think about what the Glee days were like, just working so hard and having such pressure on my shoulders to keep that show afloat, and navigating through that whole experience at such a young age while also dealing with a really intense life trauma that happened at the same time," Michele, who starred on Glee from 2009 to 2015, shared. Elsewhere in the interview, she noted she suffers "from a lot of anxiety and again, I never want to use what I’m going through as an excuse for anything, but it is part of my journey."

As for Funny Girl, a role that's earning her critical acclaim, Michele calls it "such a different experience."

"I'm finding so much joy in the connections I’m having with the people around me," she said. "That's what's giving me energy."