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Jane Lynch is perhaps best known for her role as the abrasive Sue Sylvester on Fox’s “Glee,” but she has one ironclad rule when it comes to her projects these days: they can’t be Sue clones.
This story first appeared in the May 18, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“It’s incumbent upon me to reach a little to the left or the right to make something a little bit different in each role,” said the 51-year-old actress, whose other recent roles include Mother Superior in “The Three Stooges” and the voice of Sergeant Calhoun in the upcoming animated film “Wreck-It Ralph.” “We have many things inside of us — murderers and Gandhi, we have it all inside of us,” she said during a recent interview with WWD. “I have to find a different part of myself every time I do a different role, so I’m not derivative or repetitive. I try to do something with their inner lives to distinguish them, not only for myself but for the audience. I don’t want them to say, ‘Oh, there’s Jane, she’s going to do her thing again.’”
Lynch will play a psychologist in the upcoming “A.C.O.D.” — an acronym for adult children of divorce, which also stars Adam Scott and Amy Poehler and is tentatively set for a late 2012 release. The inspiration for her characterization of that role is right in her household: wife Lara Embry, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology.
Lynch is quite down to earth about her acting career. “I was 49 when ‘Glee’ succeeded — I had my ‘who I am in the world’ down, so it didn’t rock my world to the point I didn’t know who I was anymore,” she said. “When you’re younger and a little less formed, that can happen. For me, it’s been nothing but a blessing. A lot of fun, and I love to work. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t work enough.”
To that end, Lynch is taking on another new role: as mistress of ceremonies at Monday night’s Fragrance Foundation Awards at Lincoln Center in New York City. She’s not new to running the show — she served in the same role for the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards last September — but Lynch is happy that the FiFi’s will be lower pressure, even if they share last year’s technical difficulties. “I’ll make sure I’ll have notes on note cards and not on a teleprompter,” she cracked. “And I’ll bring a flashlight in case the lights go out. We’ll make it fun. What I like most of all is being off the cuff and making sure everyone has a good time. That’s what I hope to do for this show.”
Lynch was recruited for the FiFi gig last fall through a friend of a friend while promoting her memoir, “Happy Accidents,” which was released in hardcover last September and is out in paperback this month. But unlike many celebrity FiFi attendees, Lynch isn’t looking to do her own fragrance. “I probably wouldn’t do anything like that, but I love that [category],” she said. “I’m the first one who will pick up a scent and say, ‘Oh, this is Beyoncé. This is what Beyoncé smells like?’ I love how very serious [celebrities] are about how they chose the particular fragrances. My olfactories are very sensitive, and I’m not a big fan of perfume, but I am a big fan of scent. If someone has a delicious smell about them, I always remember it. My dad wore Brut when I was growing up, and anytime I smell Brut I think, ‘My dad.’ The nose gives you really strong memories and strong impressions, and emotions that come with it.”
That said, rotators would best steer clear of Lynch if she appears on the beauty floor. “It’s probably because I’m thin-skinned and blonde, but if I put on a perfume and it’s wrong, I have to take a shower,” said Lynch, who spritzes Jo Malone’s Orange Blossom scent when she’s in the mood for fragrance. “Some people stand in Macy’s and want to spray you — I’m like, ‘Don’t do it, because if it’s not good I’m going to have to go home and take a shower.’ It just envelops me.”
Lynch also noted that sense of smell played a large part in honing her craft. “When I was in acting school, we’d use all sorts of things to bring out memories to prepare for a scene,” said Lynch, who has a bachelor’s degree in theater from Illinois State University and a master of fine arts from Cornell University. “I remember them saying that smell was the strongest at inspiring memories and emotions.”
After finishing graduate school, Lynch worked briefly in public relations in New York City before spending 15 years in Chicago, acting in the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre Co. and Second City groups, and playing supporting roles in films such as 1988’s “Vice Versa” and 1993’s “The Fugitive” before landing her breakout role on “Glee” in 2009.
Lynch’s stage career resulted in a love of musical theater, making “Glee” a natural progression. But even she didn’t anticipate the show’s runaway success. “I know how devoted an audience can be to musical theater,” she said. “I knew if we got on the air, we would probably have a very rabid following, but I didn’t know it would reach these heights. But we’ve got these kids who vibrate out of their bodies when they see someone from the cast on the street. It really means a lot to them, and that’s really powerful for kids. From what I understand, ‘Glee’ has also created a renaissance in the arts in schools, and more kids are auditioning for plays than ever before. That’s a really great and positive thing in schools.”
And Lynch relishes every moment of inhabiting Sue Sylvester’s abrasive personality, confessing that she finds Sue’s “in the head, out the mouth” persona a lot of fun. Lynch observed, “Whatever she thinks, she says. Also, they’ve given her such dimension. I don’t think you could laugh at her and find her so absurd if she didn’t have a heart somewhere. She’s protecting something very tender in her heart, and every once in awhile you see that. In fact, it’s almost incumbent on the writers to let me express that part, because, if not, I think I’m just this mean, bitchy girl that no one likes, and that’s good for about one episode. I always start from the position of ‘What do I feel for this person, what’s tender about this person, even though they act like a real ball-buster?’ What’s inside of them that are they afraid of? And that usually makes for some really funny stuff.”