Up Close with the Award-Winning Darren Criss, Heartthrob Headliner of DAP Health’s The Chase
As seen in The Standard
Darren Criss — the 36-year-old “Glee” alum who won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for playing gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan in Ryan Murphy’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” — may be making his professional desert debut when he headlines the 2023 The Chase for DAP Health, but he’s no stranger to the Coachella Valley. Since he reports he has a “significant amount of family in Palm Desert,” he’s somewhat of a regular. “I’ve got all my favorite spots, let’s put it that way,” he says. He even made it to fellow performer Harry Styles’ last North American “Love On Tour” stop (and impromptu birthday bash) on February 1 at the new Acrisure Arena.
We chatted with Criss over Zoom while he was in Los Angeles to talk about what we can expect at his show, his love of all things show biz, and his ties to queer audiences.
Tell me a bit about the show you’ll be presenting at The Chase.
When I have the opportunity to play events like this, which are very fun — I know The Chase is very big and I’m very thrilled to be there — I’m the court jester. I’m just making sure I’m servicing people having a good time. So, I tend to stray away from deep cuts [in favor of] any smattering of things that people would be familiar with from Broadway or the stuff I did on “Glee” or just covers in general that are fun to play and that kind of seem appropriate for the vibe. I’m notorious about not coming up with a set list until a few days before. I’ll have a band [that night], so I have to be a little more fastidious with the organizing of that. The nice thing about being a musician is you’re your own accompanist. If this was just me, I wouldn’t have an answer for you. Maybe about an hour before I went on stage — ’cause I would go to the party, kind of get a vibe from people, have a couple drinks — I’d go, “OK, I think I get the playlist,” and then I’d just do it… I’d just show up and try to make people happy. You can quote me on that.
Acting, singing, or songwriting and producing — what would you say is your favorite?
That’s a great question, because usually the question is, “Which one do you consider yourself?” And my answer is, they’re all the same because they’re all connected. They’re all storytelling. It’s just different tailoring. Different dress codes. But it’s the same party, the same venue…. You know, I’ve been very lucky, where I’ve gotten to do everything. I will say the most fulfilling would probably have to be songwriting…. Songwriting and producing probably consume most of my soul.
Talking acting, is it film, TV, or theatre?
Nice work if you can get it. Listen, I’m a mercenary. I’ll be very happy to have the opportunity to work in any of those fields if they invite me to the party. Lucky me. And I’m always grateful and cherish every opportunity that comes my way. Obviously, I come from the theatre, so it kind of has my heart and soul because there is an immediacy to it. So, yeah, that might be the leading player on the field.
Between “Glee,” Ryan Murphy, and Broadway, you clearly have a lot of queer fans. Thoughts?
I think the simple answer is I’ve always felt so privileged to be included at what I deem to be the cool kids’ table. And that’s not me trying to be charming or sucking up to a certain demographic. I’ve spent a lifetime chasing my heroes, wanting to have the people I think are cool think I’m cool. And I’ve worked very hard for that. I’ve educated myself. I’ve tried to cultivate my life so that people I respect might go, “Hey, this kid ain’t so bad.” And a huge [number], if not the majority, of those people come from the queer community. I feel very privileged to have anybody’s attention, much less that of a community of people I think are rad. I’m just so pleased to have a seat at the table, and I hope my conversation is interesting enough to hold their attention and to be worthy of their time.
As you know, The Chase is DAP Health’s largest annual benefit, and the organization began in 1984 as Desert AIDS Project. How have HIV and AIDS touched your life personally?
I was born in the eighties, raised in the nineties, in San Francisco. I’m from a very, very queer city during a very troubled time that didn’t see everybody survive. People’s uncles were dying. I was a little boy. You’d notice, and you’d go, “Wait, what’s going on?” But it’s something that didn’t really hit me until much later in life. When you’re old enough to understand and realize, “Holy shit, that was a pretty insane time.” I’m very lucky because I’m of a generation that got to benefit from the slow de-stigmatization and more healthy conversations around HIV and AIDS. The men and women in my circle who are living with it, when we talk about the sort of dark days of AIDS in the United States, they and I are just supremely aware of the people upon whose shoulders we get to live our day-to-day life. I consider myself very, very lucky.
Well said. Shifting gears to a lighter subject, The Chase can be quite the fashionista extravaganza. So here’s the most important question: Have you picked out your outfit?
Oh, girl. Um, no. [Laughs] And I’m not proud about it. I gotta get on it. Thanks for reminding me. I gotta get a set list together and an outfit. It’s literally the two things that are required of me, and I don’t have either one right now.
Amanda Demme: Blue NY Bomber Jacket
Lindsey Byrnes: Red back drop photos