Harry Shum Jr. has appeared in just about every quintessential dance flick, including You Got Served, Step Up 2: The Streets and Stomp the Yard, but the 30-year-old actor, dancer, and choreographer is best known for his role as the former football player Mike Chang on Fox’s hit musical comedy, Glee. We caught up with Shum, who was one of our Fall 2012 Primetime Heartbreakers (yes, that’s a thing) to talk about his longest relationship, toughest breakup, and just dancing it off
What is Mike’s goal this season?
Growth. Mike went to Joffrey Ballet School, but he’s not a ballet dancer, so that’s going to be interesting. I hope the writers play into that because Mike always manages to adapt. He couldn’t sing before he joined glee club but found a way to learn how. It’s going to be an entirely different ballpark outside of that high school, too. Not going to six periods, choir or glee club is going to be a new experience for all the characters.
Mike and Tina Cohen-Chang [played by Jenna Noelle Ushkowitz] had one of the longest relationships on the show. What has been your longest relationship?
Probably five years—and it’s still going. What’s great about Mike and Tina’s storyline is that the show itself has so much drama, so it’s nice for viewers to see a functional couple that have issues but are able to clear them up. It’s a life lesson. Some people like the relationship drama, but there are also some people who beg for stability in relationships. I think it’s good for America and the world to see that a healthy relationship is possible.
How do you make your relationship last?
Keeping your opinion is good, but playing devil’s advocate makes you think about what the other person is feeling and why. I think it’s all about balance and keeping everything 50/50. There’s nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree, too—it’s healthy. A little drama can be fun. Sometimes when you’re arguing, you get an adrenaline rush, which can be a turn-on.
Have you ever broken a heart?
I think I’ve gotten my heart broken more than broken any hearts. But maybe I haven’t realized that I’ve broken a heart…
Do you remember a significant breakup?
I do. I remember liking this one girl so much and we dated for a month and a half. All of a sudden one day she was like, “This doesn’t feel right,” and I’m like, “What the hell doesn’t feel right?” I thought it was the best thing ever—it was all I ever wanted. I remember that feeling was just—this is going to sound so cliché—but it just felt like I got stabbed in the throat. It was a terrible feeling and I don’t wish that upon anyone.
So sad! How did you get over it?
Friends and time.
And heavy drinking.
[Laughs] Yes, drugs and heavy drinking. But no, all you can really do is just let time past.
But you’re Harry Shum, Jr. Didn’t you just dance it off?
[Laughs] Sure, I just danced it off. I just looked into the mirror and said, “I’m going to dance!”
You speak three languages (Chinese, Spanish, English), you dance and you’re on a hit show. What can’t you do?
There’s a lot I don’t know how to do! I’m learning to play guitar. I bought this game called Rocksmith, which teaches you how to play the electric guitar by playing songs and games. It’s so much fun. I’m pretty bad at it though, so if you hear me playing in the other room it sounds awful. I’m giving myself a month to learn how to play an actual song.
Do you cook?
I do. I’m actually pretty decent at cooking, but I’m not an expert. I get starstruck when I see celebrity chefs. I remember being on tour with [fellow Glee cast member] Darren Criss and we were eating at the London hotel when Gordon Ramsay comes up to us and was like, “Hey, my kids and I love your show. Thanks for coming to the restaurant.” We were just dead silent—we were speechless! Now I understand why people get excited when they meet someone they look up to. I just love that whole field.
What’s your signature dish?
I make a mean miso-glazed salmon. It’s by Gordon Ramsay, actually. He pan-fries both sides of the salmon to cook it perfectly. I add a side of garlic sautéed spinach and chicken flavored rice. It looks elaborate, but it’s actually very simple. I like simple dishes because I love making stuff quickly. I think it’s the same thing with dance; I like simple dances over complicated ones.
What’s your favorite love song?
I think Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard soundtrack is the greatest love song of all time. I remember after Whitney passed away, dudes would talk about that film. For some reason, guys really love it. It’s a chick flick but I think it’s the fact that Kevin Costner is such a badass in it and is like, “I’m going to protect this girl because I love her, but I can’t show my feelings.” It was relatable in the sense that it had the whole action feel but also a good love story.
That’s a good one. What’s your idea of the perfect day?
My perfect day would honestly be to go on land, water, snow and mountain—do everything nature-related.
So, a triathlon.
[Laughs] Yes, a triathlon! But a casual one that won’t leave me dead tired in the end. I love the outdoors—that’s why I love California, because you can go to the ocean and surf, then go on a boat and go parasailing, then drive a couple of hours and go snowboarding, then drive a couple more hours and go to the desert and hike a mountain. I’d bring my dog with me, too.
What’s your dog’s name?
His name is Charlie. Lea Michele found him on the Glee set when we were in Long Beach; he just came up to the set all dirty and with no collar. He had a cast on because there was a nail in his paw. I walked onto the set the next day asking whose dog it was and nobody claimed him, so I took him. He’s such a good dog. I carry him like a baby. He’s my dudebro.
Photography by Nicolas Moore