Jane Lynch has elevated the calm, withering quip to high art. Whether plying her craft in Christopher Guest mockumentaries like Best in Show or A Mighty Wind, or feature films like Talladega Nights and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, she’s become one of the most iconic comic actresses working today.
She’s also been one of the most visible gay celebrities, especially since her Emmy winning role on the hit series Glee, where she plays homophobic right wing high school coach Sue Sylvester. In September, her memoir Happy Accidents moved her influence to the written page.
Lynch, in town this week at a benefit for the Black Tie Dinner, she sat down to discuss Sue, her comic sensibility and her approach to activism.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Dallas Voice: You hosted the Emmys two months ago and you were a nominee. How did you juggle those competing pressures? Jane Lynch: I really didn’t have time to think about how I was a nominee. I was focused on the moment and I was very aware that I was only the third woman [after Angela Lansbury and Ellen DeGeneres] to host the Emmys solo, and only the second lesbian.
You’re in town promoting your new book Happy Accidents. Do you feel it’s too early to write an autobiography? Well, it’s a memoir, not an autobiography where you write about a whole life — I’m certainly not there. A memoir is instead a book about yourself built around a theme. I kept saying to my wife, I could write 15 different books. But this is the one about suffering over my suffering.
Did you write it yourself or have help? My wife and I wrote it together — she’s definitely the co-author. [I didn’t want to use a ghost writer because] it had to sound like me. I’m not like Susan Lucci — I have a voice people know.
How did you end up working with Dallas’ Black Tie folks? I was in Dallas before speaking at an HRC event, and I’ll tell you: You guys are organized, enthusiastic and rich. I have been getting people from here emailing me about coming back [ever since].
You very casually refer to your wife in conversation, which I think can really change the dialogue among people oppsed to same-sex marriage. We’re very aware of that. We aren’t activists in the [overt] political way, but we let the fact we’re living our life be the example. In red carpet, people ask me about my wife now. They don’t play games referring to wife as “life partner” or “girlfriend.”
Your big break was in the Christopher Guest film Best in Show. Did working with Guest give you your comic sensibility or did having that sensibility get you the job? Hmmm, I’m not sure. Chris Guest says he can tell within five minutes of meeting an actor [at an audition] whether they can do his stuff, and stuff like that has been cracking me up my entire life, the whole “less is more” style of comedy.
Sue Sylvester is your breakout role. How do you approach her? She seems very unlike you. It’s all about understanding her psychology. She lives to shock. But Sue’s a warrior. It’s why she wears that track suit: It’s her uniform. She has a lieutenant in Becky; the Cheerios are her soldiers. I think of Patton when I do her. In the Madonna episode, we took a speech right out of Patton. Everything is a fight with her and she’ll create one out of whole cloth if she needs to.
I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography, and it occurs to me: He was Sue Sylvester. He lies to himself with all those false deadlines and unreasonable expectations. Everything was a fight. If he didn’t get what he wanted, he cried. Sue would never cry, but she’s suffering in her own way. Every so often she does something tender.
I think my biggest disappointment in Mr. Shuster is he keeps taking it easy on Sue and she turns on him. Yes, for some reason, people keep forgiving her. That’s gotta end some time.
Do know what’s up for her this season? Everything’s very late this season. Every once in a while, [creator] Ryan [Murphy] will pop in every so often and say “We’re writing some very baroque monologues for you.” We’ll see.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.