On the Paramount lot, two toddler boys dressed as junior jocks (one sporting a very familiar Puck-style Mohawk) are chasing three tiny cheerleaders costumed in red Cheerios skirts around a soundstage. "They're the cutest little babies ever," sighs Amber Riley, admitting to a particular soft spot for the shy little girl playing a miniature Mercedes. "She looks like I did when I was her age — with two little Afro-puffs."
Check out all five Glee covers of TV Guide Magazine's Hot List issue
These wide-eyed tots, still too young to even dream about one day hitting it as big as their grown-up doppelgängers, have been corralled to shoot a fantasy sequence taking place in the mind of a feverish Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison), who is replaced in the November 16 episode by a peculiar substitute teacher played by none other than Oscar winner — and die-hard Glee fan — Gwyneth Paltrow. (Watch for her character, Holly Holiday, to get her hair colored with Sue while watching Hoarders; duet with Rachel; and croon Cee-Lo's "Forget You" with Artie, Mercedes and Santana.) "Gwyneth freakin' Paltrow," marvels a starstruck Lea Michele (Rachel). "Where do you go from there?"
How about Carol Burnett, who just hours earlier, according to Chris Colfer (Kurt), "snuck in to one of our tapings, full of love, to give us all hugs." (The comedy legend guests as Sue's nutjob mom on November 23).
And who's visiting her friends on this fall morning? Nina Dobrev, fresh from the Atlanta set of her CW series, The Vampire Diaries, is here to watch pals Colfer and Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina) take part in a big production number. "I love this show and secretly want to be on it," says Dobrev, who's hardly alone in her sentiments. On the air for just over a year, Glee is a phenomenon — totally hot and the cool club all of Hollywood wants to belong to.
For the past few hours, most of the cast have been holed up in the newly constructed William McKinley High School auditorium set (a 500-seat replica of a Long Beach school theater used last season) to shoot an exhausting frame-by-frame re-creation of Donald O'Connor's slapstick-filled "Make 'Em Laugh" number from the 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain.
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"There's a definite fire up our butts to make [the show] as good as, if not better than, last season," says Michele. "We're filming mini-movies each week."
And without the advantage of stunt doubles. A badly bruised and still sweating Morrison is applying ice to his wrapped hands. "Matt slipped and landed on his back," hurting his hands, reports Harry Shum Jr. (Mike), Morrison's dancing partner in the scene, who shows off a growing welt on his own forearm. Also down for the count is Dianna Agron (Quinn), who's out sick and absent from this number — as well as, regrettably, our Hot List cover shoot. "It's very, very hard," admits Mark Salling (Puck), battling the flu and completely drained from releasing his debut album on October 25. "It's like walking a tightrope." Adds Cory Monteith (Finn), "We've worked from 2pm until four, five, six in the morning. I'm drinking a lot of coffee."
But no one here is looking for sympathy. They all worked their tails off to get to this place and wouldn't trade their blessings for the world. "Every time we get a new script, it's like Christmas morning," says Kevin McHale (Artie).
Appropriately enough, they're about to start work on Glee's first ever Christmas episode,
airing December 7, the last show of the fall. The cast recorded the soundtrack weeks ago without knowing what exactly they were doing it for. "Everything goes so fast that there's no time to explain anything to us," says Riley, who sings "Angels We Have Heard on High." "We're recording Christmas songs, and then one day they mention there's going to be an album [available November 16]. We were like, 'Huh?'"
And the hard work has only just begun. Fox will air a special Super Bowl—night episode February 6. There'll likely be another tour after the success of last year's. Next season, Jane Lynch's Sue will write her memoirs, with an actual book coming to stores. And plenty more guest stars will pass through McKinley's halls.
In fact, Lynch hears Javier Bardem, should he get around to shooting his cameo, may be playing Sue's ex-lover. "And that's just preposterous," says Lynch. "Go ahead and make all our dreams come true, including some I didn't know I was allowed to have!"
For more from the cast of Glee, and to see the rest of TV Guide Magazine's 2010 Hot List, pick up this week's issue on newsstands Thursday, November 11!