As you know, Jane Lynch had 90 minutes in which to talk about herself, her work, and her gayness at Outfest on Saturday. Sometimes we hate living in LA, but sometimes, like Saturday, we really do love it. There’s no clean way to recap this, so we’ll highlight the high points under generic issue titles. If you hate reading, or just hate reading our stuff (that’s ok!), then skip down to the bottom, where someone so nicely has uploaded a few videos of the event.
Family life. Her father was a mid-level banker; her mom was a homemaker. Her family was “not very funny”; she was the class clown.
When she grows up, she wants to be … Dolton, Illinois was not a place for “grand dreams,” but, inspired by Ron Howard (she had a total crush on him in Happy Days), she went for acting anyway. Her parents – her mother, in particular – were not terribly excited about her grand dream; her mother, in fact, actively discouraged her because she, like all parents, just wanted her kids to have realistic dreams and attainable goals. Peter DeBruge (the Variety editor who moderated the discussion) and Jane then paralleled the process of embracing one’s creative parts to the process of coming out, which we think is totally true: first you admit it in yourself (which is hard), then you tell everyone else all about this new thing you just discovered. At least, this is how people came out before Facebook and Twitter.
Grown up and playing in plays. Even though she always was the class clown, her earliest work was not in comedy – it was on stage, doing serious, very serious, renditions of the classics. She applied for various theater troupes across the country, eventually landing at Second City (one of only two women to be picked). This “diverted” her from her Shakespearan path, which was just as well, as she and her company were having, shall we say, creative differences. The Second City gig actually paid her enough to allow her to quit her day job (receptionist at a very kind realty company) (if only we all were so lucky), and she got to tour the country as Bonnie Hunt’s understudy. Second City is famed for its style of improvisional comedy, yet she was still “uncomfortable” with improv. She did, however, come to really love sketch comedy.
Real Live Brady Bunch. She didn’t find her footing in improv until she played Carol Brady in the Real Live Brady Bunch, a production of Annoyance Theater (also a product of Chicago). We posted a clip of the play with Jane in a few segments here. Basically, the troupe took Brady Bunch episodes and recreated them, verbatim, thanks to the painstaking efforts of director Jill Soloway, who transcribed each episode with little more than the episode on VHS and the pause button. The group re-acted the entire episode on stage, with the appropriate level of snark and suggestive, incestuous glances between the siblings. The re-creation was so real, in fact, that they received a cease and desist letter from Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of the show.
Ironically, Jane later auditioned for, and did not get, a part in the subsequent Brady Bunch movie. She auditioned for some bit role (“Mother at airport,” she said); the audition director didn’t think she knew “what they were going for.” Oh, but you see…
The ‘90s. The early 1990s saw Jane settling in LA and guesting on pretty much every television show on air at the time. After she was cast in The Fugitive as a scientist who essentially breaks the case (you are welcome, Harrison Ford), she decided she could plausibly pursue acting full-time.
“I got this butch-dyke role” as Christy Cummings, handler of standard poodle Rhapsody in White in Best in Show.
She recalls doing all sorts of commercials and voiceover work during the time (indeed). She then spent most of the decade guest’ing on various sitcoms and television shows (i.e., Empty Nest, The X-Files), until she finally caught a break. “I got this butch-dyke role” as Christy Cummings, handler of standard poodle Rhapsody in White and eventual partner of Jennifer Coolidge (owner of Rhapsody in White). It was mere circumstance – in a story reminiscent of how Bill Wilkerson discovered Lana Turner at Schwab’s, Jane was eating lunch at Newsroom Cafe in LA when Christopher Guest wandered in. He remembered her from their prior project (he directed her in a Frosted Flakes commercial), said he had an idea, and asked her to come by his office later that day. She did, and the rest is dog show history. Peter Debruge pointed out how ironic it was that her biggest role to that date was a gay one. She agreed, saying, “I don’t think [Guest] even knew I was a lez.” An extra tidbit: Guest originally cast Catherine O’Hara as Christy Cummings, but really wanted her to work with Eugene Levy instead. Casting Jane was the answer to his problem. To many of our problems, really.
Speaking of Christopher Guest, Jane explained that she preps more for his movies than any other film. He essentially gives his cast a a paragraph or two worth of backstory; it is up to them to fill in the blanks, round out the edges, and supply the dialogue and witty banter. Thus, you “must be solid in your character” because a Christopher Guest ensemble actor has absolutely no idea what sorts of things the other actors will throw at them on any give day. So, she talks in the mirror (in character) and role plays interviews (in character) to practice playing herself playing someone else.
Taking male roles. Jane’s history of taking roles originally envisioned for men goes back to a high school production where she played a king. Since then, she has played other roles that were written for men (her role in 40 Year Old Virgin, for example, was written with a male in mind). How does she do it? “Let’s call it was it is,” she said: an “authoritative, butchy-dykey” aura that allows her to get away with it. Yes. Damn right.
“Let’s call it was it is,” she said: an “authoritative, butchy-dykey” aura
Red wine, success! Given her resume, then, she’s not quite the overnight sensation that is true for Glee generally. Jane is just turning 50 this week; after decades of working and working, success finally found her. Why and how? “Simply, “[w]hat I do caught up with my age.” After saying yes to almost every project that came her way, she finally is in a position where she can say no. She also is in a position where projects go to her instead of the other way around. Sue Sylvester, for example, was written with her in mind. She no longer has to try to figure out whether she can make her talents fit a particular role; she now has the luxury to determine whether a role suits her. This is sort of like going to a job interview where you are interviewing your potential employer to see if they fit your talents and needs, and not the other way around. Having experienced this so far only once in our lives, we can say this: it is sweet when it happens.
All that said, Jane is cognizant that the success of Glee will not last forever. And that’s ok. She intends to do what she always has done: work. And work. And work. She works a lot.
“I will say I was awesome.”
– Jane, on her Vogue video
“A big lez.” On whether she struggled with coming out as an actress in Hollywood, Jane said, essentially, not really. “Character actors are allowed to be gay,” she said. In her 30s, she would have a few restless nights wondering how she would come out, and/or how she would hide it. She eventually decided that hiding would be the worst way to go: by 40, she was pretty gay and “there wasn’t any turning back!” Plus, there totally were “stories to be told” if she did deny that her gayness every happened.
To that end, though, she “feels a little bit of a responsibility [not in a bad way] to do things like [the panel] and Outfest” to support GLBT/queer work. In terms of being a flaming dyke, she’s cautious of the message she sends – she doesn’t want to make a politicized statement by doing something so overt as to make a political statement. Before you start hating, hear her/us out. She explained that “not making a political statement makes it a political statement.” Instead, she goes for the more subtle route: make the statement loudly when reporters ask her about the issue directly – because they always do – instead of trying to toot the horn at all times. This, we think, is better than manufacturing the rainbow when it isn’t even raining. There is a time to march, and there is a time to not march, because it’s lunchtime and we just want to eat our lunch, thanks.
Jane would host SNL! The discussion closed out with a question and answer period. People asked good questions, we thought, including us! We’re one of the people who asked a question! Gosh, we were so nervous. Because some (many) of you have emailed us about this, we asked Jane whether she would host SNL if asked. Her answer: “Yes. I would be terrified – but yes.” Go FB fans, go!
Jane Lynch, on hosting SNL: “I would be terrified – but yes.”
- Carol Burnett called her after the Emmy nominations were announced to congratulate her.
- She loves working with actors, and would “love” to direct (lest we forget, she did write and direct Oh Sister, My Sister)
- She was cast in Julie & Julia probably because she was the tallest actress director Nora Ephron knew.
- She totally fantasized about Olivia Newton-John (“ONJ”; the fantasy was “romantic” in nature)
- Favorite track suit: purple with gold stripes
- She would love to work with Jennifer Saunders. Hey, since everyone and their mother are getting guest roles in Glee next season, how’s about getting Jennifer Saunders in on the deal?
The final question of the day came from a well-intentioned audience member who wanted to know: 1) why Ryan Murphy portrayed transpeople so poorly in his previous serious, Nip/Tuck; 2) whether Ryan Murphy planned to have transpeople in Glee; and 3) if so, whether he planned to portray them as poorly as he did in Nip/Tuck (see question number 1). We suspect that this was more of a statement-turned-question for the sake of getting a message across, because as much as we appreciate the sentiment behind the question, it was just directed at the wrong person. Best ask Mr. Murphy himself. Asking the wrong person the right question is just as bad as asking the right person the wrong question.
Oh, a thrilling afternoon for us, to be sure. For those who want to recreate the experience, a few minutes from the discussion are below:Tags: Outfest