Naya Rivera’s new role takes her back to a performing arts high school, only this time, she’s not the one dancing. After spending six seasons as Glee’s Santana Lopez, the actress is switching gears and tackling the role of a high school administrator on Step Up: High Water, available Wednesday, Jan. 31, on YouTube Red.
Rivera plays Colette Jones, a teacher who runs the school while its founder, Ne-Yo’s character, Sage Odom, is out of town “being a superstar.” A former singer and dancer whose career ended because of a knee injury, Jones has stepped off the dance floor. “She sort of puts all of her passion into this school and these kids and helping them reach their dreams and make it,” Rivera told InStyle during a visit to our offices Wednesday.
“It was fun because I’ve never played true to my age before. It was really refreshing to do that. It felt good,” she added. “I get to explore different storylines and themes with playing someone who’s older.”
She hasn’t stepped too far out of the Glee world, though. She was offered the part by executive producer Adam Shankman, who previously directed episodes of the hit musical show. “It actually came about in a funny way because Adam Shankman just, like, texted me one day. It was summer and I remember I was going to hot yoga and I checked my phone and he’s like, ‘Do you have a summer job?’ And I’m like, ‘No, do you have one for me? I can walk dogs. I’m good with children. I occasionally sing, dance, and act,’” she joked. “And he’s like, ‘Yeah, hold on.’ And the next thing I know I’m in Atlanta, like, the next week.”
Some of the show’s crew also crossed over to the new Step Up series, making the vibe on set feel familiar for the star. But Step Up: High Water borrows even more from its grittier film predecessor, starring Channing and Jenna Dewan Tatum, than it does from the upbeat TV series Glee.
“I think that the storylines in our show are a little more edgy,” Rivera told us, comparing the new show to the original film Step Up. “It’s very real and it’s very raw and gritty. But the dancing you can expect to be the same and amazing.”
VIDEO: Inside the Home of Glee's Naya Rivera
The Tatums, who star in the original Step Up, have now stepped behind the scenes as executive producers, but their presence is still felt. “I know that Jenna was very instrumental in getting Ne-Yo on the show,” Rivera said. [Jenna and Ne-Yo work together on NBC’s World of Dance.]
Aside from Rivera and Ne-Yo, the cast consists of many young, rising stars in the dance world, who play students trying to make it big. “These people in this cast are so talented, it’s mind-blowing,” she said.
As for her Glee castmates, Rivera said, “We always keep in touch. We always do. I will say that. We’re like a big family.” (Glee's recent headlines have taken on a somber tone, as one day before our interview, Rivera’s former co-star and ex-boyfriend Mark Salling was found dead in an apparent suicide.)
The actress is mom to 2-year-old son Josey, who is starting to understand his mom’s day job. “I tried to have him watch Glee a while ago, and he wasn’t into TV or movies yet. But now he’s really into DVDs and certain movies. So he was in the closet the other day picking out a DVD with me, and there’s a Glee DVD and he’s like, ‘Hey, momma on the cover.’ And I was like, ‘It is!’” Rivera said.
Watch the first season of Step Up: High Water, available now on YouTube Red, free for the first four episodes.