Before Glee, Jane Lynch was one of a handful of ‘go-to’ actors you would cast when you wanted to have someone knock a scene out of the park or go toe-to-toe with the lead actor in a film. And when she did spar with the lead, she usually came out the victor.
With Glee, she finally got the recognition she’s deserved. Her Sue Sylvester is both horrid and sympathetic and Lynch says she like’s both aspects of her character. “I like the variety,” she said.
I talked to Jane in a recent conference call where she talked about her favorite Sue one-liners, what Glee has done for her career and what advice she would give to her 17 year-old self.
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download from iTunes
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8/7c
Can you just talk from your perspective what Glee has done for your career and what this has been like for you? As someone we’ve seen in so many things over the years, to have this role at this time?
Jane Lynch: Well, I found out like in the middle of the first season that we have employment for three seasons, so that has never happened to me before, so that is different and that is wonderful to know that I will be employed, barring a big catastrophe, for the foreseeable future. And I haven’t had that in my life and it’s a huge psychological relief.
Then I’ll probably go back to job hunting, like I always do.
The past two years have been a huge two years for you and for Sue Sylvester. Are you finding that now when you go to work you get the scripts and you just expect the antics or is there anything about her character and what she gets up to that still takes you by surprise?
Jane Lynch: Well, of course the addition of my sister, having a sister with Down’s Syndrome took me completely by surprise. Carol Burnett coming on as my Nazi hunter mother took me by surprise and I was also very surprised when I said my mother was a famous Nazi hunter that that was true. It turns out that there’s so many things that I’ve said that I’m like, yeah, sure, I smoked out Noriega with Special Forces. And I’m sure we’ll do an episode where maybe an old war buddy of mine comes back and indeed that was true, too.
What’s your advice to actors?
Jane Lynch: Good question. It’s so deep, man, and then when it comes down to it, just keep doing it. Do it, do it, do it, do it. Do it for free, do it for money, do it when no one shows up, do it when everybody shows up. Just keep doing it.
You have such great comedic timing. Is it natural for you or have you had to try to hone it?
Jane Lynch: I think it’s natural, but I have honed it. I play around with it all the time, but I think it is something that does come naturally.
Since you grew up watching the Carol Burnett Show, in what ways have you seen how Sue in Glee are influencing young women today like she influenced you?
Jane Lynch: Oh, well that’s an interesting question. I hope that girls see what’s possible for them. That they don’t have to play a stereotype, and what is Sue is not a stereotype. But basically, maybe we all are. I guess we all start that way and we hope to humanize them. But, I also see that you don’t have to be anything anybody tells you that you have to be. You can find these really crazy characters out there and that there’s more possible for you than maybe you’re led to believe.
What is your favorite evil scheme that Sue has ever pulled?
Jane Lynch: Let’s see, oh, I think when she forced Schuster to get the monkey …and she turned a sneezing …right into his face. Oh no, she didn’t do that. She did that to Figgins to get him sick. I didn’t have anything to do with getting, but getting Figgins sick so I could become the principal.
Glee is all about being in high school and a bunch of teenagers who are really insecure and still finding out who they are and what they want to be. So my question for you is, what’s the best piece of advice that you could offer your 17-year-old self?
Jane Lynch: I would tell myself, if I could go back to myself, to not suffer. To don’t sweat it. Don’t try to control things and just let your life happen. Show up, do your best everywhere you go, but there’s no reason to beat up on yourself. That’s what I would say.
Obviously Sue has a very evil and dastardly side, but she also has quite a soft side. What do you prefer playing?
Jane Lynch: I love when I get an equal dose. I like to get the variety. I like the two, for Sue Sylvester to be firing on all cylinders. I don’t like to stick to one thing for too long and the writers make sure of that, which is great.
Could you share your favorite Sue one-liners?
Jane Lynch: I love the monologue where I talk about the 1968 convention where Mayor Dailey punched his own wife in the face. That was fun. I like the one where I say, “Loving musical theater doesn’t make you gay, it just makes you awful.”
Sometimes it seems like Sue really is trying to destroy the Glee Club, where other times it seems like she’s more trying to improve it through tough love. Are these two natures of Sue going to come to a head at some point or is there a way you would like to push the character to choose one or the other?
Jane Lynch: No, I don’t know if that will ever happen. The thing I keep coming back to Sue that motivates all these different ways she goes after them is that she just wants an enemy. She’s looking for the next fight. And sometimes it’s that fight to get these people to stand up for themselves instead of being so weak and wussy. And other times it’s, yes, to destroy them because they threaten her spotlight in the Cheerios that she works so hard to make a world-class cheerleading squad and she doesn’t want anything in their light. But I think she’s always looking for a formidable enemy.
I think she also has a fondness for Will and for who he is and how he’s genuinely just a good person. In moments she hates him for it and other moments she has great admiration for him.
How do you achieve that mean character from an acting standpoint without taking away from the authenticity and, knowing that there’s multi-dimensions to her, how do you make sure that it still comes across as authentic and real when you do go on those mean rants?
Jane Lynch: Well, I can tie them all together. She’s a human being. She has all different colors to her. But as long as I keep it rooted in some truth, anything really can work. I have to keep it as truthful as possible at any given moment, whether I’m ranting or I’m helping somebody out.
Regarding your book, how did that come about? Could you give us one juicy little tidbit that we didn’t already hear about from it?
Jane Lynch: Well basically, how it came together is I’ve been giving speeches at gay banquets – and not even just gay – but people wanting to know more about it. I started writing things down and I was telling a friend about it, she’s a writer, and she said, “There’s a book in there.” So I kind of sat down and looked at it, and I thought, you know what, there is a book in there.
I think a little tidbit I can give you is I grew up basically with everything handed to me. Not my career. I worked for that, but I had a really good family, I was brought up with a lot of love, but still I chose time after time after time to suffer over so much. And that mental component of suffering is the thing I think, if I can look back on my life, is a choice. And to this day I still would choose maybe the angst over something when I really don’t have to. And how to kind of …your life slow. I know it sounds new-agy and granoli, but it’s truly what I’ve come up with that you really need to trust that you’re on your own path and as long as you stay true to it and you show up; showing up is 90% of it. So basically that’s kind of what I’m saying.
Are you going to go into any deep, dark parts in the book?
Jane Lynch: Deep dark, you know, I don’t really have deep, dark. It’s really not deep dark. Either you read it differently or it was misleading. Basically what I’m going to do is, of course I have my own deep, dark, but I guess the message coming out of it is that it’s all a choice on whether you suffer through your life or if you, because the same things are going to happen to you for the most part. You’re going, but do you have to have that mental component of suffering, and that’s kind of the point of the whole thing. I mean, I definitely was depressed and I thought everything was dark and hopeless, but that was a point of view that I didn’t have to have.