“Bree is going shake things up – she is going to bring a little bit of drama to this season,” singer/actress Erinn Westbrook said of her new role on the Fox network hit “Glee.”
Westbrook is from one of the nicest families in St. Louis, but she wowed viewers as the new main mean girl last week when “Glee” returned to television.
“This is the fifth season and there have been other mean girls – and there have been comparisons to previous characters,” Westbrook said. “I want them to see me bringing a certain type of spiciness to the cast and to see the energy – that is very unique to me, Erinn – that I bring.”
Bree is the head “Cheerio,” the cheerleading squad that creates catty chaos among the show’s characters.
She uses the form she perfected as varsity cheer captain for John Burroughs School, and a blend of all of her favorite teeny bopper film and television antagonists.
“Glee” was a breakout hit for Fox when it debuted in 2009, and a cult-like following instantly ensued.
The “Gleeks” tune in by the millions to see the antics at William McKinley High School, and the hybrid musical comedy and drama show has made household names out of alums like Leah Michele and Amber Riley. Westbrook is in prime position to follow in their footsteps.
“I would say that it’s overwhelming in the best kind of way,” Westbrook said. “There are a lot of eyes on you. The show’s fan base has a lot of expectations. For the most part, they have been supportive and excited about Bree, so that has made the transition easier.”
Westbrook caught the acting bug early. As a small child she would drape herself in feather boas and sequins, pretending to be her favorite characters in books, plays and movies.
“The first real experience came for me at 12 when I was at Chesterfield Day School and I was Annie in the sixth grade musical,” Westbrook said. “I had tried out for it and really wanted it. And there were a few people who were like, ‘You can’t be Annie because you would look funny in the wig.’ There weren’t that many African Americans in the school.”
But she tried out and got the part.
“Being on that stage performing (singing, dancing and acting), I just knew that I wanted to do all of those things for as long as I could,” she said. “From that moment, it became a serious passion for me and I knew I was going to pursue it with everything I had.”
And while she’s been consistently working as an actress and model, she still found the time to earn a BA in English and drama from Harvard University and advanced certification in Spanish.
“For me, it’s important to show people that you can also still go to school and follow your dreams after,” she said.
She credits her success – in academics and acting – to her parents, Kelvin Westbrook and Valerie Bell.
“I’ve had wonderful examples in my parents who have encouraged me to accomplish things,” she said.
The role of a lifetime
She was in church when she got the call for “Glee.”
“I knew that I was going to be getting the news, and I just wanted to be okay with whatever I was told,” Westbrook said. “I really just prayed on it. In those types of situations, you have to just let go and see what happens.”
Her call time was the very next morning. She has been at it ever since.
“I’m enjoying being on set, and I really enjoy the character that I’m playing,” Westbrook said. “I was a huge fan of the show prior to joining the cast. I dreamt that something like this would be part of my narrative – I hoped and I prayed that this would happen – but to be honest I never expected anything this big. It’s a tough business.”
She would love to eventually have a healthy rotation of movies, music and Broadway on her regular agenda – in addition to working on the production side.
“But right now I’m just taking it all in and enjoying the moment, Westbrook said. “I’m taking it day by day and seeing how life unfolds.”
And the “St. Louis girl true and through who loves toasted ravioli and Ted Drewes” assures us that there will never be a dull moment with Bree.
“She is a feisty one, and you don’t know what sort of antics she’ll be up to,” Westbrook said. “But I can promise you she won’t disappoint in terms of entertainment.”
The fifth season of Glee starring St. Louis own Erinn Westbrook will continue tonight (Thurs. at 8 p.m. CST) on the Fox Network. Check local listings for channel.