Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jane Lynch says giving her "Glee" character a sister with Down syndrome helped her better understand Sue Sylvester

From the intro to a story in The Daily Telegraph in the UK, where "Glee" is returning to TV this month:

Jane Lynch (pictured) is a morning person. She’s been up for hours by the time she arrives at a clamorous little cafĂ© in the thick of Los Angeles, around the corner from her home. Six-feet tall, she walks up to the place with purpose, in her plum-coloured velour jogging bottoms, her shoulders back and chin up. At the table, she whips off her sunglasses and flashes a high-beam smile, offers a firm handshake, puts her BlackBerry within texting distance and summons a waiter.

It is a week before she returns to the set of Fox’s hit musical comedy drama Glee to reprise her role as the nasty cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester for the second season. Just behind Lynch’s penetrating blue eyes it seems a clock is ticking. Life is moving very fast for her these days.

In the span of a few months last year, the gay actress married her partner, psychologist Lara Embry, and made the chat show rounds explaining that the couple were raising Embry’s eight-year-old daughter. She earned two Emmy nominations, eventually winning the award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy and a Television Critics Association award. She was mobbed like a rock star during Glee’s live concerts around the United States last spring.

And at the August unveiling of Lynch’s her very own Madame Tussauds wax figure, Glee co-creator Ian Brennan declared her 'a woman of such national importance that everywhere she poops should be made into a national park’. Lynch, 50, takes it all like a pro. Albeit a pro who has been eagerly awaiting her turn in the spotlight for decades.

'I’ve been in the business a long time,’ she says, matter-of-factly. 'And I’ll be in it a long time after all the hoopla has died down. So there’s a certain equanimity about it.’ She adds: 'At the same time, I’m really enjoying it!’

No one could have predicted Glee’s arc from daring pilot to cultural phenomenon. But Lynch saw the potential in Sue Sylvester from the beginning. When she read in the script that Sue 'may or may not have posed for Penthouse’ and 'may or may not have taken horse oestrogen’, she was in.

Originally, her character was just a guest star, but Lynch is a gifted scene-stealer and it didn’t take long for Brennan and co-creator Ryan Murphy to recognise that she amped up everyone else’s game just by being on the set. Soon Brennan was giving Lynch the show’s most memorable lines and a back-story that grew more outrageous every episode.

One minute the cheerleading coach was the daughter of Nazi hunters and a veteran of the Falklands War, the next she was a wannabe Baywatch babe, devastated when producers told her 'they were going in a different direction’. Sue even warranted her own catchphrase, modified slightly every week and chronicled dutifully by fans online. 'You think this is hard?’ – went one variation on the Sue Sylvester-ism – 'I’m passing a gall stone right now. That is hard!’

'When you read the lines on the page, you think, “This is too crazy. We’ll never get away with it”,’ says Glee executive producer Dante De Loreto. 'And when she says it, the most insane thing suddenly seems believable.’

For Lynch, Sue Sylvester was a familiar character. She didn’t need to do a lot of deep thinking. At least, not at first. 'Right away I saw this arrogance, self-belief,’ she says. But as the show’s popularity grew and reporters asked complicated questions about her character, Lynch psychoanalysed Sylvester and came to some conclusions about the queen of the meanies, insights that will no doubt come in handy when Sylvester writes her autobiography, a book that will be published in the real world as well.

'I think she was tortured in high school,’ Lynch says. 'And she’s out to revenge that. Now they’ve given me the sister with Down’s syndrome and I’m like, “Perfect!” That totally fits into the fact that I was sticking up for my sister. I took care of her. I raised her. So I figured [Sue] went back to high school to get back at everybody.’

And that she does, kicking nurses down the stairs, terrorising her troupe of pony-tailed 'Cheerios’, blackmailing the principal with a YouTube video and taking every opportunity to dismantle the Glee club. And yet, it is very easy to root for this villain. Indeed, she saves the whole enterprise from drowning in adolescent angst and gives Glee its wonderfully tart aftertaste.

'There was no question,’ de Loreto says, 'she was who Ryan and Ian and myself wanted.’

Glee is Brennan’s ode to his own Midwestern high school choir and it chronicles the trials of a team of misfits in their quest for self-acceptance. Since its pilot aired in the US in May 2009, the show has become a sensation, embraced for its talented and nubile cast, its wit and its portrayal of adolescence as one fabulous Broadway show.