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Naya Rivera Took a Basic ‘Glee’ Character and Made Her Unforgettable (Column)

Naya Rivera was a fearsome screen presence who made meals out of whatever crumbs she got. While she began her TV career sparkling with winsome charm as a child actor on sitcoms like “Family Matters…

7/14/2020 2:52:00 AM

Naya Rivera was a fearsome screen presence who made meals out of whatever crumbs she got. As Santana Lopez on Glee , Rivera took a flat character and made her vital by the sheer force of her inarguable charisma

Naya Rivera was a fearsome screen presence who made meals out of whatever crumbs she got. While she began her TV career sparkling with winsome charm as a child actor on sitcoms like “Family Matters…

was a fearsome screen presence who made meals out of whatever crumbs she got. While she began her TV career sparkling with winsome charm as a child actor on sitcoms like “Family Matters” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” it was on “” that she got to prove the full breadth of what she could do. In Santana Lopez, Rivera took a flat character and made her vital by the sheer force of her inarguable charisma.

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The role that made Rivera famous — and is now her most memorable, period, after her tragicdeath at just 33 years old— shouldn’t have been half as magnetic as it immediately became with her in it. When first introduced, Santana Lopez was just a bitchy cheerleader — the smirky, sexed-up Latina counterpart for Quinn (Dianna Agron), the show’s blonde heroine teetering atop the pyramid with a delicate smile. To balance out and humanize Quinn, Santana had to be leaner, meaner, and sometimes downright cruel. Rivera accomplished that, fueling Santana with deft comic timing and a palpable fury that pulsed through her every withering insult. Once it became clear that Rivera could take a sharp line and stab someone between the ribs with it before they even noticed, Santana got to deliver some of the show’s most devastating burns and raze the ground where her clueless peers once stood. (For a good time, please

click throughto see her eviscerate Chris Colfer’s Kurt, a once revolutionary character who became, as Santana puts it like the Cheshire Cat swallowing a fish whole before spitting out the bones, “intolerable.”) Soon enough, Rivera’s Santana evolved into one of the show’s best and most realized characters. She joined the Glee Club as a joke, only to reveal herself as a jazzy alto with far more of a range than anyone expected. She realized the strength of her feelings for her best friend Brittany (Heather Morris) and came out of the closet, becoming one of TV’s first — and certainly most visible — Latina lesbians. She blazed through heartbreak and tragedy with a reluctant vulnerability and set jaw that threatened to slice her opponents in half. She did all that, because Rivera burned through her scenes with a ferocity that made Santana undeniable. 

There’s a reason, for instance, why Rivera was the one to do a repeat performance of “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” the showstopping “Funny Girl” number that Lea Michele’s Rachel crushed in the first season to huge acclaim. Deep into the show’s chaotic fifth season, Santana auditions to be Rachel’s understudy by mirroring her initial performance, slamming the back door of the auditorium open and belting the song while strutting down the aisle. Doing that, when Michele’s Rachel had so thoroughly staked out the song as her territory already, was a bold and even reckless move. But unlike Rachel, Santana isn’t using the song to ask for approval. She demands and assumes her audience’s loyalty, because she knows she deserves it. Rachel, indignant, pouts throughout the number — but it’s clear from Santana’s first note that she’s nailing it, because Rivera so thoroughly nails it.

And despite “Glee”’s best efforts to make just about everyone else’s love lives compelling, it was Santana’s romance with Brittany that ended up stealing the show. From a storytelling perspective, their relationship was genuinely groundbreaking in 2009. (Two high school girls in open, unabashed, committed love! We truly loved to see it.) And from a performance perspective, Rivera in particular sold it from the start — even though, as with many “Glee” stories, the pairing was a throwaway joke first. And yet the relationship became such a vital organ of the show that it made for some of the most dramatic, memorable moments. 

One of the best comes in the third season, when someone outs Santana against her will and she ends up working through her boiling grief onstage duringa mashup performanceof Adele’s “Rumor Has It” and “Someone Like You.” Blinking back furious tears, she dutifully does her cutesy choreography until it’s time for her to come in with her solo. When she does, she practically howls her line: “Don’t forget me, I

beg.” On that count, neither she nor Rivera had much reason to worry: In that moment, and for so many thereafter, forgetting her was impossible. Read more: Variety »

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This is one of my favorite Santana moment from Glee 🎶❤️🎶 She was my favorite performer on the show. So Heartbreaking 💔 RIPNayaRivera 🙏🏼 NayaRivera RufusDeWayne Even in her childhood shows,Naya had remarkable comic timing and on Glee she turned a rather stereotypical character and made Santana beloved even in the bitchiness.

She literally is the one member I remember from the cast besides Matthew Morrison. She really stood out among a cast of talented young people. NayaRivera was the only reason I watched Glee. She had so much charisma & talent. She brought a much needed gravitas, strength & yes pathos to a role which simply might not have been that memorable without her in it

Beautiful column! Ppl never get their flowers when they can still smell them. Plz with y’all bullshit y’all bigged up Kurt and Blaine while Naya got crumbs. Fuck you. Santana & Brittany wasn't suppose to be taken seriously but Naya Rivera fought for it. By doing so, Closeted teenagers around the world was given hope. NayaRivera RIPNaya Glee

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 ❤️yr eneth ddysglair annwyl❤️ (never so pure a sight) Poor woman ❤️ CC nessiejudge so sad

Heather Morris Asked to Join the Search for Naya Rivera'I understand your team is doing EVERYTHING in their power, but we are feeling helpless, powerless, and want to help in any way.' ❤️ 😟😟😟

Heather Morris Asks to Join Police Search for ‘Glee’ Costar Naya Rivera' Glee ' alum Heather Morris said she wants to help police search for Naya Rivera, who went missing while boating with her son on a lake in California — details Grab some scuba gear and get to work... is she a good diver? if not maybe cook a meal for those who can. I truly hope searchers are using sonar equipment to recover Naya Rivera.

The Search For Missing Naya Rivera Is Now A Recovery MissionThe search for former Glee star and mom Naya Rivera has changed from a search-and-rescue mission to recovery, officials say.

Tahj Mowry Pens Emotional Tribute to Naya Rivera: 'I Have Never Stopped Loving You'Taking to his Instagram account, the 'Smart Guy' actor posted an emotional tribute to the ' Glee ' star, revealing the two used to date. TooFab TooFab And 😏 TooFab 🤦🏾‍♂️

Heather Morris Asks Police If She Can Join Search Efforts for Naya RiveraHeather reached out via Twitter asking if she could come out today and 'conduct an on foot search and rescue mission' with friends. TooFab Just let her fucking help TooFab “Her on screen bff” TooFab Good to know

Tahj Mowry Says He's 'Never Stopped Loving' Naya Rivera in Moving Instagram TributeTahj Mowry revealed that he's 'never stopped loving' his first love, Naya Rivera, in a touching Instagram tribute post.