By Tim Parks
While it may seem that actress Jane Lynch is most widely recognized for her role in the film Best in Show, in which she portrayed a lesbian dog handler named Christy Cummings, she has actually worn many hats in the entertainment field. Lynch cut her professional teeth by performing in a theater setting, touring with The Second City comedy troupe, and even portrayed America’s favorite mother, Carol Brady, in the stage play “The Real Live Brady Bunch.” She also penned and starred in the award winning play, “Oh Sister, My Sister!”
And her list of television credits is so long, it could fill an entire page all by itself, with turns on “Boston Legal,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Friends” and voice work on “Family Guy,” to literally name but a few. Then there is her wide expanse of film work to examine, with roles ranging from former porn star turned folk singer Laurie Bohner in Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind to playing Will Ferrell’s mom in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Lynch explained to me that choosing one medium over the other would be a difficult one, as she is a firm subscriber of variety being the spice of life.
“I like them all for different reasons.” She said. “I like that there’s a lot of variety to what I do; I’m doing a “Two and a Half Men” right now, and I just did a single camera television pilot yesterday and I did a cartoon this morning. So I like wearing a lot of different hats, so I don’t think I prefer one over the other.”
With her roles in director/writer/actor Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and most recently as entertainment reporter Cindy Martin in For Your Consideration, Lynch has discovered improvisational paradise.
“Doing the Christopher Guest movies was the first time that I ever did this form of improvisation.” Lynch explained. “I’m not really good at improvisation games, you know that throw out the first line of dialogue, that’s not necessarily what I am good at. But, I did seem to be able to do this situational improv, where you just let it breathe and you just discover and explore, and it is very liberating. I don’t want to say that I don’t want to work any other way, because that’s not true, I love the scripted stuff, too. There’s something really special about looking into the eyes of your fellow actor and making it up as you go along.”
And, this knack for improvising even spilled over into her television work on one of the funniest shows of last year, Lovespring International, which The Lifetime Network has sadly opted not to renew ( though there is hope it could be resurrected on another network). The difficulty of not bursting into gales of laughter during takes on Lovespring, boiled down to this for Lynch.
“For the most part you don’t want to screw up the take, and you don’t want to screw up your fellow actors work, so you do your darndest not to crack up.” She said.
When pegged to select a singular character that stands out as a favorite for her, among the many she has played, Lynch immediately picked one without hesitation.
“I love every character I’ve gotten to play; but, A Mighty Wind playing Laurie Bohner was extremely liberating.” She recanted. “I think it was the first time I played a character who was completely comfortable in her body and completely comfortable and actually in love with her own sexuality. She had very little psychological baggage, just really open and honest, a bit of a narcissist; but that was really liberating. She’s very much in love with her ample female body, which was fun for me to do, because it’s not something before that I actually celebrated as much as I learned to do it in that movie.”
Lynch, who stands 6 feet tall for the record, has found inhabiting other bodies – i.e. the characters she brings to life, to be a rewarding, if not insightful glance into her own psyche, as was illustrated with her role in Best In Show.
“I always thought of that character, Christy Cummings, as someone who was saying, ‘Look at me! Look at me! See how special I am? I count! I count!’ That’s kind of me, especially when I was younger.”
One of Lynch’s most popular television stints was on Showtime’s “The L Word,” and she was quick to praise the show’s all encompassing qualities.
“One of the great things about “The L Word” is that it’s not only lesbians and horny guys watching it.” She quipped. “I think the fact that “The L Word” appeals to so many different people, and we are so interested in these women; and they are women first, who happen to be lesbians.
“They (audiences) get to see that the characters have the same life issues, the same relationship issues; and I think it’s been very freeing for kind of this box that homosexuals are put in, and it’s kind of blown that open and people see how lesbians operate just like straight people. I think “The L Word” has really taken the perception of gay people in entertainment to a whole new level.”
And, speaking of “The L Word,” Lynch will be joining two of its stars, Leisha Hailey and Kate Moennig as a judge at The Be Scene special event, which is being likened to “American Idol” being combined with “The L Word” and has fans of that Sapphic Showtime hit show re-enacting scenes in a competition format. This will be taking place during this year’s Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend on Saturday, March 31st at 7pm at the Doral Ballroom.
Lynch had this to say about her “acting out” experience.
“I’ve had the same experience as probably a straight actor, really. I’ve been very lucky in that the fact that I’m gay hasn’t preceded my name, people don’t say the gay actor Jane Lynch, as far as I know. And if they do, it’s behind my back.” She said with a laugh and continued. “I have Ellen and all of those people to thank for that who recently came before me, who kind of took one for the team. And now I get to do all kinds of roles, I haven’t been pigeonholed or anything.”
In fact, Lynch seems to be embodying the polar opposite of that fear of being typecast in gay or lesbian only roles that seems to keep a lot of her acting contemporaries trapped in the closet. She did offer up these words of wisdom to those who have not yet made that leap.
“I think the most important thing for actors who are gay is to remember, you’re an actor first and you’re an artist first. And, that’s kind of how I always saw it, and I didn’t really, big time anyway, fear being pigeonholed or never working again. Like T.R. Knight (of “Grey’s Anatomy”) said, ‘I hope that my sexuality isn’t the most interesting thing about me.’”
This interview was first published in March 2007.