Glee‘s Naya Rivera is all over the map.
The actress, busy prepping her upcoming solo album, will be traveling back and forth between Lima, Ohio, and the University of Louisville when season four of the Fox musical returns as the cheerleader extraordinaire juggles colleges and missing friends, family and her girlfriend, Brittany (Heather Morris). In addition, the singer-actress is juggling Glee with work on her upcoming solo album.
"At the start of the season, they’re definitely still together — she’s at the high school dealing with all the new people and Santana is at Louisville dealing with her new schedule there," Rivera tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It’s a completely new thing for her and she’s really focusing on cheerleading and trying not to think about the fact that she does miss everyone."
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Brittany, who’s back to repeat her senior year after the lovable dim-bulb failed to graduate with a whopping 0.0 GPA, will also have a new rival on the Cheerios to contend with in Kitty (played by Becca Tobin), who’s described as being "pretty ruthless" and who’s out to bump her from her gig as head cheerleader.
Rivera’s lonely former Cheerio will, however, make time to make the trip back to McKinley to visit her girlfriend, as their long-distance relationship remains a priority for Santana. "It’s definitely a struggle, as is any long distance relationship and they will be dealing with that new challenge," Rivera says. "I know she misses her and she definitely makes time to visit Brittany. I do hope that they’re in it for the long-run, but as with any long-distance relationship, it has its challenges — especially when you’re still in high school."
Meanwhile, Santana will adjust to her new collegiate surroundings in Louisville, where Rivera jokes that the top cheerleading university may not prove to be enough to keep the talented and ambitious girl with dreams of stardom interested.
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"The biggest question that we’ve been asking the whole season is if Louisville is big enough for Santana," she says with a laugh. "Probably not!"
With Kurt (Chris Colfer) headed to join BFF Rachel (Lea Michele) in the Big Apple, Rivera says it’s "definitely a possibility" that Santana could be the latest New Directions graduate to head East.
"Anything’s really possible this season," she says. "Anyone can be doing anything, that’s the beauty of it. If that were to happen, I’d be ecstatic; it’d present so many new challenges and opportunities for Santana and watching her in that environment would be really, really funny."
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As for showrunner Ryan Murphy’s pledge that Brittany and Santana will have an episode in which they have an "equal amount" of PDA as Rachel and the elusive Finn (Cory Monteith), Rivera says she and Morris make those decisions as they see fit.
"A lot of times Heather and I will be in a scene and we have free reign to kiss each other if we see fit but a lot of the times — especially since they are still in high school and my character was still dealing with this secret [her sexuality] that just got ou, we would tread lightly on when we would have PDA moments," she says. "A lot of times as actors it just doesn’t fit; you don’t just want to make out to make out."
Between Glee duties, Rivera remains hard at work in the studio for both the Fox musical and working on her upcoming solo album for Columbia Records. "We’re still recording and getting everything together. It seems like we’re inching closer to actually putting something out very soon," she says, noting "My Heart" will not be the first single released from the untitled effort.
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Asked if she’d like to follow in Glee co-star Matthew Morrison‘s footsteps and have her original music featured on the Fox series, Rivera says she’d like to keep those two worlds separate.
"I know that Ryan is amazing and would definitely be responsive to me asking for something like that but I don’t really think that’s the route I want to go," she says. "I want to keep it separate; it feels like a separate project to me: a separate person and identity, and I want to keep it away from Glee — but you never know. If they go on tour or something then I can hop on and sing my own song. There’s definitely always going to be opportunities to be in there, but as far as singing it on the show, I don’t think that is going to happen."
What would you like to see for Santana and Brittany? Hit the comments with your thoughts. Glee‘s fourth season returns at 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, on Fox.
Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit