The actor, who stars in the upcoming series Hollywood on Netflix, knows that for much of his career, he has been seen as “conventionally Caucasian"

By Jason Sheeler
April 29, 2020 01:57 PM
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Just a few days after speaking to PEOPLE exclusively, Darren Crissfather died.

The Glee alum, 33, announced the death in an Instagram post on Monday, writing in a statement, “Bill Criss has left the building. After many years of coping with a rare heart condition — which, true to his form, very few would have even been aware of — he finally checked out peacefully yesterday morning, surrounded by his loved ones.” Of his father, he wrote: “I’ve spent most of my life trying to be like him, wanting to see and do all the incredible things he did — and I’m so grateful he was around to see me actually pull a few off.”

Criss grew up in San Francisco. His father worked in finance and his mom, Cerina, was a stay-at-home mother.

“Growing up there,” Criss, 33, told PEOPLE last week, “in such a metropolitan place, it was quite charmed.”

  • For more from Darren Criss, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Darren Criss with his parents and brother
Alex Berliner/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Before his father’s passing, Criss spoke about his 10-year anniversary working in Hollywood — he joined the cast of Glee in 2010 — and the recent one-year anniversary of his marriage to his wife Mia, a television producer he began dating shortly after he arrived in Los Angeles.

Rodin Eckenroth/Getty

But, more than anything else, Criss wanted to talk about his understanding of what his heritage means to him. Criss plays a director in Netflix’s Hollywood, which reimagines the golden era of movie making as a far more accepting place for Asian, African American, and gay actors.

“Everybody relates to adversity. Everybody wants to root for the underdog.” This, he says, is why he loves his job. “Performance at its core, is to have the audience see itself in a different way. Hopefully, for the better. That is sometimes lost in the category of ‘entertainment.’ ”

Darren Criss in Netflix’s Hollywood
Neflix

Hollywood takes place in the 1940s but the subject matter is very present-day for Criss. One of his first lines on the show is so simple. He says, “I’m half-Filipino.” It’s true of Criss’ character and of Criss. He knows that for much of his career, he has been seen as “conventionally Caucasian.”

“I’ve been half-Filipino my whole life.” His mother was born in Cebu City in the Philippines. “But no one ever asked about it. It’s tough, this idea of ‘white passing.’ It’s not even a term I heard of until the past two years. When people have a say in who you are — people you don’t even know — it makes you rethink what your balance is. Something you’ve had down your whole life.”

Darren Criss with his parents and brother
Darren Criss/ Instagram

“It’s a tricky cocktail in America,” Criss says. “Anyone who is biracial can attest to this: No matter how much or how little they look like their respective mix, it’s a constant work in progress.”

“I’ve always been proud of my heritage, of being Filipino. Just because people don’t see it, doesn’t make it any less real to me.” But now, everyone knows.

Criss says it’s as if he “came out” as half-Filipino, when he thanked his mother from the stage at the Golden Globes. And because of that moment he says, “I’m closer to my identity than I ever was before.”