A Conversation with Emmy-Winning "Glee" Star Jane Lynch

Special Features   A Conversation with Emmy-Winning "Glee" Star Jane Lynch
 
Playbill participates in a telephone press conference with Jane Lynch, the star whose "Glee" character you love to hate.

Jane Lynch
Jane Lynch Photo by Miranda Penn Turin/FOX

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It looks like Jane Lynch is going to take Sue Sylvester, the evil cheerleading coach whom she has already embodied in Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning fashion, to even greater heights in the upcoming spring season of the hit Fox series "Glee."

In a Feb. 3 telephone press conference with a host of writers, the veteran actress discussed the highs – and lows – to which Sue will rise and fall, both in the much-anticipated spring season premiere episode, "The Sue Sylvester Bowl Shuffle," which aired Feb. 6 following the Super Bowl, and in subsequent episodes of the series. Lynch also discusses working with guest stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Katie Couric and Carol Burnett, and whether Sue will get to sing on the series again. The actress even drops a few details about her upcoming memoir.

Lynch began her career in Chicago with Second City and also appeared Off-Broadway in Love, Loss and What I Wore. Her many film credits include "Julie and Julia," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "A Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show." Excerpts from the transcript of the press conference follow: Question: Curious to know, since you grew up watching "The Carol Burnett Show," in what ways have you seen how Sue in "Glee" [is] influencing young women today like [Burnett] influenced you?
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.

Question: The Super Bowl is such an iconic masculine thing and then "Glee" gets kind of thrown in there with its very gay-centric limits. What do you think of this world we live in when these two things can actually come together and work?
Lynch: Well that's funny, I never looked at it that way, but you're absolutely right. ... Football is very masculine and basically, to me, anyway, a metaphor for war. You've got your air game and your ground game. And then you've got these "light in your loafers" guys, and I'm talking about even the straight guys, singing and dancing. I think it's a terrific world we live in, and I love seeing these two things come together.

Question: I'm curious how your book came about. And maybe you could give us one juicy little tidbit from it that we didn't already hear about?
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.... 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.

Question: Congratulations on the Golden Globe. Does Sue Sylvester get to be meaner than usual on Super Bowl Sunday?
Lynch: She does. We're kind of doing an episode of "Glee" that is on steroids and writ large. Sue Sylvester is a little bored with her routine, even though she has kids riding around on BMX bikes and jumping through fire. And [with] this one routine with Katy Perry's "California Gurls," she wants to top herself, so she finds out there's a human cannon in town, she buys it and wants to shoot Britney out of it. … [The stunt isn't allowed.]… And she has a hissy fit. She has two hissy fits where she just rips two rooms apart. So it was definitely Sue Sylvester on the war path.

Question: 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?
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....

Question: I'm curious about the actual production of the Super Bowl episode. It seems like you guys may have started before the holidays ...Talk a little bit about how the production of this episode spilled over because the Super Bowl itself is so monumental.
Lynch Yes, and this is a big episode. It's kind of like the Madonna episode. It's like the episode we shot for four months, like it drags on that long. I think we started actually after the holidays, but we needed to pick up a couple of reaction shots, just really quick reaction shots during the Thriller song, and they were really quick and fast, and then everybody had to get back into everything. You know, the zombie makeup, etc. So it was a big deal for two shots.

Question: I did want to ask about doing these very special episodes versus the run-of-the-mill episodes. And I wonder, which kind of episode do you think "Glee" does best and your character is showcased best? Is it better when you have these highly anticipated Madonna/Super Bowl episodes, or do you prefer episodes where it's just the regular storyline playing out?
Lynch: I think what I love about this show, and maybe with the exception of a couple, every episode is kind of a big deal; they do something outrageous or a song or someone has an outrageous moment. I look forward to getting the script all the time and these shows, where we're doing Britney or Madonna or Super Bowl where it's special, they're very fun as well and there's always a lot of anticipation. I know they have a lot of production meetings for certain songs and certain episodes are heavier than others in terms of preproduction, but I like them all. I really don't feel like we have a run, maybe we've had two run-of-the-mill that were like, ah, but I can't even think of what they were. And you know what? I wouldn't tell you.

Question: Are there ever any extra stresses on you? Do you ever feel a little more anticipation coming up to a Super Bowl episode?
Lynch: No, not really. I was thrilled that I got to wreck a couple of offices in the Super Bowl, but if I'm singing and dancing, there's always a little bit of anticipation and anxiety.

Question: After the Super Bowl episode, there's the Valentine's Day episode.... Is there a love line for her in this episode? Also, who was your own first love?
Lynch: I am not in that next episode, so I will be finding no love. I'm on the bench, to use a football metaphor, for that next Valentine's episode. And … my first love, you mean in my head or actual? My first love in my head, believe it or not, was Ron Howard.

Question: Does he know about that?
Lynch: I don't know. He will soon. I'm writing a book.

Question: Thanks for talking to us today. Could you just talk about what else we'll see coming up for Sue and for "Glee" in the second half of the season?
Lynch: Let's see, we've done a couple more after the Super Bowl episode. Sue has a devastating summer, suffers a devastating loss … after the Super Bowl episode and she becomes very, very depressed and she becomes kind of dangerously depressed, where she's more violent than usual. They get her to join the glee club to lift her spirits, and they find that raising her voice in song kind of lifts her and she gets out of her depression. So I'm actually in the glee club for a while.

Question: Can you just talk from your perspective [about] 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...
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...

Question: I'm still trying to get my head around Sue Sylvester and Opie. That's hilarious. What would the love child of Sue Sylvester and Opie be like, I guess?
Lynch: Oh my God, schizophrenic.

Question: That's not really my question. What I wanted to ask, you talked about shooting Britney out of a cannon this episode and it just seems this season Sue could take over the school at any moment … Does it ever seem to you that it goes too far? Do you find that the show sometimes gets too farfetched?
Lynch: Every script I read I go, "You've got to be kidding." And that's why I'm glad I'm not writing the show. It always goes too far. It's always ridiculous. Some of the things that I do, look at how mean I get and how everybody lets me get away with it. It's all ridiculous and I love it, and I'm glad I'm not writing it. Because I would have made it more realistic, and I would have given her kind of altruistic motivations. It's a good thing I'm not writing television. Let's just put it that way.

Question: Do you have a Super Bowl pick?
Lynch: You know what, people have asked me that and I say Green Bay because I'm from the Midwest. But really, I don't care. I hope somebody wins and is happy about it. Question: "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?
Lynch: Oh, wasn't that sweet? I actually took that premise and wrote a little something just the other day. 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.

Question: I think you should tell that, probably, to Rachel.
Lynch: Yeah. Poor thing.

Question: I read something about your book, that you're actually going to delve into some of your troubled past with alcoholism and stuff. So I was wondering, how do you actually celebrate the Super Bowl and will you be going to the Super Bowl this year?
Lynch: I won't be going to the Super Bowl, I won't be drinking and I rarely watch it, but I'll watch it this year, just 'cause, and we're on after it.

Question: Are you going to go into those deep, dark parts in the book?
Lynch: You know, I don't really have deep, dark. It's really not deep dark. Either you read [the press release] differently or it was misleading. ... 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 [don't], 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.

Question: Obviously, Sue has a very evil and dastardly side, but she also has quite a soft side. What do you prefer playing?
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.

Question: It sounds like you're reflecting a lot because you're kind of going through your life and writing it down. Given what we've heard, have you learned anything about your life by looking back on it now?
Lynch: Yes, I did. In fact, that's kind of how I came up with the title. I went through my scrapbook, I went through photographs, and as I'm telling these stories, I'd just get that down with a tape recorder and kind of spoke all of this stuff. I started to see, first of all, it's a little more interesting than I thought it was and I also learned how I kind of made things much harder on myself than they needed to be.

Question: Do you have a favorite romantic movie?
Lynch: The one with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

Question: Besides your own character, who's your favorite character on the show and why?
Lynch: Good question. I'm loving Coach Beiste. I love how big her heart is and I love how selfless she is and heroic.

Question: What's your advice to actors?
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.

Question: I was wondering if you could share your favorite Sue one-liners. One of them or a couple of them.
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."

Question: Can you share what the Sue Sylvester shuffle is?
Lynch: I don't know. I'm certainly not dancing in it. It's nothing like the 1985 Bears, but it probably has to do with the routine that I'm choreographing that has Britney shot out of a human cannon.

Question: "Glee" has always had some stellar guest stars. I'm curious to know how is it working with these guest stars? I see Katie Couric coming up, correct?
Lynch: Yes, she was in the Super Bowl episode with us. It was great. Everybody that comes on set, they're here because they love music and they love the idea of kind of ushering these kids through some of the toughest years of their life, hormonally or emotionally, with the power of music. Gwyneth Paltrow is back. She's going to do a couple of episodes and she's working with us this week, and she's just the best. She's great. And she's here because she wants to dance and sing and put a good message out to the kids.

Question: 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?
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.

Question: Are you and the cast involved with the "Glee" project at all that's happening on Oxygen?
Lynch: Well, they bought the show. We syndicated to them. I'm not doing anything personally with them, no.

Question: Are you and [your wife] Laura sports fans? Do you watch any other sports besides football?
Lynch: She's an Auburn fan, so she'll watch those games. I don't. I'm not a fan....

Question: Do you have any viewership predictions for this Sunday?
Lynch: I have no idea. I don't even know how many people watch our show. People seem to like it.

Question: Sue is clearly so talented as a coach, she has multiple national titles, her kids clock these amazing numbers and it never quite seems to be enough for her. Why do you think she wouldn't go after a bigger playing field? Do you think it's just because she wants to remain the big fish in the small pond or will we get to see any one person or group besides Glee that could come in and steal her thunder?
Lynch: That could happen, but I think it is she wants to stay the big fish in a small pond. Remember the last episode of the first season, Olivia Newton-John and Josh Grobin are the celebrity judges with me and they say to me, "We're flying back to L.A. tonight first class. Where are you going?" And the thing is that Sue will never be flying first class and she will never go to L.A. I think she has grand ambitions, but I think she knows that she will never be anything bigger than a Lima, Ohio coach and a terror at this high school.

Question: You have a lot of fans around the world, internationally, and so forth. What would you like to say to everyone who is a fan and supporter of your work? And I was hoping that maybe you'll get on Twitter.
Lynch: Oh, I won't be getting on Twitter because I really don't understand it. I mean, I understand it, but it's too overwhelming. And what else do you want me to do, say something to fans? Keep watching "Glee."

Question: You have such great comedic timing. Is it natural for you or have you had to try to hone it?
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.

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