Jane Lynch is one of the finest character actors working today, and she has proven how deftly she can play brash, no-nonsense, in-your-face roles in everything from Christopher Guest’s ensemble films to the musical comedy series Glee. After her work in movies like Best in Show, Role Models and Talladega Nights, it’s hard to remember that she was once relegated to small (but juicy) parts like a secondary doctor in The Fugitive alongside Harrison Ford.
But now that she’s a star of both the big and small screen, she’s also stretching her legs in new directions. While she’s no stranger to voiceover work, her role as Sergeant Calhoun from the game Hero’s Duty inside Wreck-It Ralph catapults her into a starring role in a Disney animated film. While many people dream about voicing a classic Disney character, Lynch herself said “To be in a Disney movie is a dream I didn’t even have on my bucket list.”
Read on for our full interview with Lynch, in which she talks about her work on the film, what her dream project is, and what it’s like being a doctor for real -- well, sort of.
Movies.com: How did you get involved with Wreck-It Ralph, and did the Disney name help at all?
Jane Lynch: Oh, yes. The Disney name kind of sealed the deal. I was invited to go to San Francisco to do a reading of the script. Jack McBrayer was on the plane, and Sarah Silverman. It was like a big field trip. We all got on a Southwest flight and went to San Francisco, and we read it up at the Pixar campus.
Oh, and well, you know, John Lasseter was another big name that aided my decision, absolutely. Then, about six months later we started recording and saw early renderings. Basically, I was recording alone, and then I ended up after a couple of years into it having Jack [McBrayer] come into the booth with me. And then John [C. Reilly] came in, and we did stuff together, and that was a lot of fun.
In fact, one of my recording sessions was as recently as a month ago. So, we’ve had our toes in there for awhile. But what’s funny is that to be in a Disney movie is a dream I didn’t have on my bucket list. So, that’s how outlandish it was.
Movies.com: You’ve worked in a lot of improv situations. Was this pretty much what was on the page, or did you guys have a little room?
Lynch: For us it was pretty much what was on the page, for myself and Jack. And we did improvise and have some fun when we worked together, and they used a lot of it. I know that John and Sarah… I mean, to me it sounds like they improvised everything. It sounds so much like them. Their chemistry is so great, and I think mine with Jack is quite good too.
We’ve known each other a long time, and that helps. Jack and John and myself were in Talladega Nights. And I’ve known Sarah for a couple of years, so we all kind of know each other, which is fun.
Movies.com: Your character in this is pretty tough as nails, and we're not sure how familiar you are with video game characters. Did you have to work on it a while with director Rich Moore, or was it something that came kind of naturally?
Lynch: No, it kind of came kind of naturally, but they worked on her look a lot. You know, it evolved from being not so sexy into uber-sexy.
Movies.com: She is very tough and sexy.
Lynch: Yeah, she is!
Movies.com: So, you’ve been working in both film and TV for awhile, but a lot of people kind of caught up with you with Best in Show. Since then you’ve had a seemingly meteoric career. Was that your experience as well, or was it like, "Well, I’ve been doing this for awhile, but now people are paying attention?"
Lynch: Well, yeah, I chugged along. I’ve been chugging along, and I still feel like I am chugging along. But Best in Show definitely put me up on a different set of tracks, to keep the train metaphor going, and that was definitely a door opening and a shift in people knowing me and getting higher-profile jobs and getting a job because of just being me. As opposed to, ‘"Oh, I can fit myself into that."
Movies.com: And then with Glee it was another tier. How important has Glee been to you as an actor and for your career path?
Lynch: Well, it’s been the tastiest role I’ve ever played, and I have terrific writers who just keep giving me great things to do. It’s a huge hit. It’s a show that resonates with a lot of people, especially kids, so I am honored to be a part of that.
You know, I think once you are in a show like this then the sky is the limit in terms of your career. I hope that I will continue to work forever at this level and maybe even greater. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. I will continue working, and I’ll do a production of Gypsy in Palmdale if I have to.
Movies.com: Well, it might not come to that any time soon. With Glee and Ryan Murphy, there has been a whole generation of actors influencing young people who have traditionally been very closed off about their sexuality, yet you have been very open about it for years, and you are very involved in the gay and lesbian communities as well. Is that just important to you as a person, or has it been important or influential in your career as well?
Lynch: You know, I don’t know how it has affected my career - has or hasn’t affected. I think it has been kind of neutral. I’m a character actor and it is much easier to be out and play character roles. But, if someone didn’t hire me because of my orientation, it’s been behind my back, and I don’t know and I don’t want to know.
But I do feel, not so much an obligation because that feels like a responsibility and heavy, but there are a lot of kids out there that suffer because they think they have this "gay curse." That’s how I thought when I was a kid. I saw it as almost like a diagnosis of a disease. And I think it’s important. I wish I had somebody who was out saying, "You know, it’s a great life."
Look, I got married, had a kid. I go to fancy events. People like me. I’m woven into the fabric of my society. I have friends who are gay. I have friends who aren’t gay. And I’ve found my place in the world, and it’s not all over because you’re gay.
Movies.com: You’ve said that your memoir Happy Accidents, which came out last year, was inspired by you wishing you could give your younger self some advice. And then recently you spoke at a commencement at Smith College where you are actually giving advice to a lot of young people. What was that experience like, and did you use a lot of the same advice that you had in your book?
Lynch: I kind of narrowed it down to the one principle of improvisation, which is, "Yes, and..." One of the things I say in my book is, "Your life really will take care of you if you have faith in it. I know we go through horrible situations sometimes where it sounds like your life is not taking care of you. But if you hang in there and you do what is right in front of you to the best of your ability, really all will be well. It always will be."
And I basically said that to them. You know, it might not go exactly as you want. You may be invited to be at this party, and you really want to be at that party over there, well… go to the party that you are invited to and do your best there. Be your best person and things really do start rolling under your feet.
Movies.com: You earned an honorary doctorate there, does that mean we have to start calling you Dr. Lynch now?
Lynch: Yes. Yes it does.
Movies.com: You are one of the busiest actors we know. How do you manage your personal life and your work life?
Lynch: It's not a heavy workload. It’s really not. I actually wish I worked a little more right now. I have a week yawning before me. You know, I love to work. I love to get up in the morning and go someplace and come home exhausted.
I’m at a place right now where for the last three years I’ve kind of rested on my laurels with Glee, and I’m not in it as much for the first couple of episodes this season, and so I've had some time off, and I’ve been writing, which has kind of been like pulling teeth. But now I'm really into it. It’s a lot of fun.
I'm enjoying what I'm doing, and I'm having meetings with friends I haven’t seen in a long time, and we’re hooking back up to put on shows and create pilots together. The stuff that always kind of turns me on, and I kind of have that drive back that I sort of lost for about three years because I was like, "Yeah I'm on Glee, I'm having fun."
Movies.com: You’ve published a book and written and starred in your own play. Besides your film and television work is there anything else you want to do creatively? Or is what you’re writing now exactly that?
Lynch: I would love to produce a show. I don’t have to be in it. In fact, the one I am working on does not have a part for me, and I'm telling a man’s story. I should probably only be telling a woman’s story, but I would like to produce, and I would like to write, and I would like to steer the ship of a show and bring people onboard that kind of share the vision. I think that would be fun to be my next frontier.
Wreck-It Ralph is in theaters everywhere this weekend.