In the ten years since she moved to L.A., out actress Jane Lynch has acted in more films and TV shows than many actresses do in their entire career, playing a variety of roles that include a memorable turn as Jennifer Coolidge's lesbian lover in Best in Show, and a lesbian lawyer on the next season of The L Word.
In an interview with AfterEllen.com, Lynch talks about her career, why she thinks comedy is more challenging than drama, the changes she sees in roles for women, and why there aren't more lesbian movies.
AfterEllen.com: How did you get started with acting?
JL: I always wanted to be an actress. I majored in acting in college, and then went to graduate school and did a professional training program at Cornell with only six other people in my class. So I got on stage a lot. I was just thrown into parts I would never have played otherwise; I was stretched to within an inch of my life and it really revealed that I had more talent than I thought I did. It was like boot camp: whatever you have rises to the surface. I played ingénues, I played old lades; I learned how to fence, to dance, to sing.
I was in Chicago for awhile after graduate school. I did The Real Live Brady Bunch, where we did the actual episodes of The Brady Bunch on stage. It was terrible — terrible good. It turned into this big cult phenomenon, and we went to New York for eight months, and then L.A. for seven months, and then I went back to Chicago to do more theater. That’s where I did The Fugitive, and that’s what kind of made me think “maybe I can do this full-time” so I went out to Los Angeles. Fortunately my agent in Chicago had an office in L.A., so I had a leg up on a lot of people in Hollywood when I moved there.
AE: Your Mighty Wind co-star John Michael Higgins said you're a great singer…
JL: (Laughing) Did he? Singing isn’t how I express myself artistically, but I can do it when called up. I just got back from this Olivia cruise, and there was this musician there named Julie Wolff who’s just amazing, and she played the piano at this piano bar. She called me up and I sang about six or seven tunes, it was great!
AE: Were you on the cruise shooting your scenes in The L Word?
JL: No, there was a film festival on board, and I was in one of the short films, so they invited me to be on the panel, which was really generous of them. It was a great time.
AE: Tell me a little about your role on The L Word…
JL: I’m playing a civil rights lawyer who takes on the really hard cases that don’t have precedents, but that I think I can win. I’m representing Tina, who is trying to get some money from Bette after the demise of their relationship, since they were kind of in a common-law marriage.
AE: How did you get involved with The L Word?
JL: I went to a POWER UP panel on The L Word with Ilene Chaiken on it — I had just watched the first six episodes of the series and loved it. I thought it was such good writing, and it reminded me of my life. I’m a big coffee drinker with my friends—both straight and gay friends — and the conversations the [L Word] characters had, I thought “these are my people!”
So I went up to Ilene after the panel and she said “Would you do our show?” and I said “Oh my God, in a New York minute!” I actually attended the panel with the intention of asking her, but she asked me first, which was very nice. So my manager sent her some stuff, and about six months later she came up with a storyline for me, and I filmed three episodes. It was great.
AE: What do you want to do ultimately?
JL: I want to direct. I’m going to direct a short that I’m currently in the process of getting funding for, it's by my friend Patricia Cotter and called Please the Queen. I just finished an independent film called Surviving Eden, and another one called The Californians, which both will be out soon, hopefully. They’re really wacky, goofy films and I’d love to keep doing those. I also recently did Sleepover, which was a big studio picture, and I loved doing that, too. Plus they pay you a lot more, so it’s nice to get one of those every once in awhile.
AE: What don’t you like?
JL: I’m very picky, very critical. I have done projects in the past that I didn’t think were very good, because I was just happy to work — my agent used to say I’d work for a steak and $1.50–but I’m not really doing that anymore. My friend is in this play, and she’s really good in it–I was relieved she was good, so I didn’t have to lie to her — but it’s really directed badly, and you wonder “why do you even bother doing it?”
AE: And you just don’t want to bother with that anymore?
JL: Right. Theater-wise I won’t, anymore. If I’m going to hang my hat on something, I want it to be good. But I don’t mind guest-starring on a show that I don’t think is very good, because it’s fun to get paid, and I love being part of a group.