“As it always happens in the Chris Guest movies, we really don’t talk to each other before we get to set,” Jane Lynch says, explaining how she creates her menagerie of characters, specifically Gabby Monkhouse from Guest’s newest mockumentary, Mascots.
“A couple months before, I got a call from Chris, and he said, ‘You’re Gabby Monkhouse. You used to be Minnie the Moose, a mascot for a Triple-A baseball team, and you held the splits too long, and you had a terrible injury, and one leg is two-and-a-half inches longer than the other.’” Lynch says her next step is to wrap the psychology of real people around Guest’s character sketch, stealing bits and pieces of other lives like a forensics detective working up a profile on a suspect.
“I did this thing, and I don’t think it fully made it in, but I had Gabby always ask people what their name is. Everybody is flattered that someone wants to know what their name is, but she doesn’t really care at all. She just wants people to think she's down to earth.”
Lynch says that no matter how over-scheduled she might be, she will never turn down a Christopher Guest film. Not that long ago, she would say “yes” to everything, actually.
“I love everything, and the stuff that crosses my desk — well, I don't have a desk, but stuff that crosses my computer — I’d do anything,” she says. “I never said no, because I love to go to work, because for me it’s play. Even though I did some things that stunk up the joint, I don’t think I stunk! A bad project with bad writing rarely stopped me, and you’re offered a lot of stuff when you’re known to work for free.”
No matter how bad the writing, Lynch would look at the character and use what she calls her “creative entitlement” to enrich it. “To step forward and say this isn’t working for me, that was the kind of a power I had before I even became known. I always loved to be creative, even if I was a guest star for two lines, and people have very rarely said, ‘No.’”
But now she says she doesn’t have the “fire” to take on the stinkers or the stuff she’s not that passionate about. She’s the one saying “no” — just not to Guest.
In Mascots, Lynch reunites with Ed Begley Jr., whose guest spot on an episode of Party Down is one of the best of the entire series. (Lynch says Begley has the driest, most innocent delivery in Hollywood.) In that episode, Lynch’s hippie-dippy Hollywood burnout character Constance Carmell realizes — while getting stoned with Begley’s horny, aged doper character in the bathroom at a seniors singles mixer — that she’s old. And it seriously bums her out. Lynch might be the opposite on that front, because she says that it was only a few years ago that she finally found bliss, and she wasn’t even looking.
“I said, ‘Boy, am I relaxed! Boy, do I not care!’” Lynch explains. “I know it’d be better for a story if I woke up one day with a revelation, but it didn’t happen that way. Now my friend Jennifer will ask me, ‘Did that bother you?’ And I’ll say, ‘It just blew ... through the void ... of my being.’”
This not-revelation may or may not coincide with her time portraying tracksuit-clad Glee villain Sue Sylvester, with whom Lynch most identifies out of all her characters. She says that every day she went through the Paramount gates, her heart “fluttered.” It was the first time in a long career when the actress thought, “I’ll bet I can do this for the rest of my life.” (Just imagine a world where Jane Lynch stopped being Jane Lynch.)
“Sue Sylvester was very close to me. I have a compassion and empathy for the vulnerable,” she says. “Compassion is a strong word ... I have a fear for the vulnerable. Animals and children and older folks, people with disabilities, the kind of vulnerability they have feels really cruel, and Sue Sylvester operates from that. She was protecting her own open heart as well as her sister with Down syndrome. She melted for the vulnerable.”
Lynch also says “yes” to using her famous face to do anything that aids the vulnerable. God knows how many pets she’s helped find homes with her charities and celebrity appearances, and she's proud of her association with a show that furthered a cause clearly dear to her heart: LGBT visibility and rights.
Lynch remains inquisitive, still animated by the renegade spirit that launched her career doing Laurie Anderson–style performance art in the basements of German pubs and churches in Chicago. Now she’s touring with a Christmas cabaret for a new Swingin’ Little Christmas album and will still pop up on a web series or two, and again on Criminal Minds.
She doesn’t like it when people try to get too much of a peek behind the Hollywood curtain, demystifying the process. (“It’s called make believe for a reason, and people want to know how to make believe?”) And she’s not too big on online life, though she will go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole from time to time. (“You’ll be looking up an actor who died of meningitis, and then you click on meningitis, and then you click on bacteria, and then you click on venereal disease, and then you click on something that happened in medieval times, and then the Dark Ages. And you started with Mary Astor!”) But her one true love will always be “keeping the balloon in the air” with her talented castmates.
“It’s like being on the playground with these people who you would never let fall,” she says. “There’s a great equalizing energy that happens. You’re all in it together.”