An Ivy Day Interview with Jane Lynch
Published: Saturday, May 19, 2012
Updated: Saturday, May 19, 2012 22:05
This afternoon, the Sophian was fortunate to be able to spend a few minutes in conversation with actress Jane Lynch, speaker for Smith’s 134th Commencement.
Sophian: You’ve often been described as a gay icon in the entertainment industry. What role does LGBT visibility play in your life and career?
Lynch: I think people foist that upon you. I’ve never set out to do it, I’ve just always wanted to be an actress, but I take very seriously that I’m a model of what it means to be a gay person, a gay person out in the world. I take very seriously that for some kids it’s good to see a gay person living an open life, a happy life, not sentenced to living a horrible existence the way some people tell them they will be should they follow their proclivities.
I know that I am a role model to some and I know I represent something. I’m mindful of it, but I don’t eat, drink, and sleep it. I live my life, and luckily I have nothing to be ashamed of.
Sophian: You’re also a very acclaimed comedic actress.
Sophian: How do you try and use comedy to comment on social issues?
Lynch: I don’t know that I do it purposely at all, everything is subconscious. What I find is that if you can’t laugh about something, it will consume you. There is a dark and a light [side] to everything, and there’s nothing I find funnier than shedding light on the dark.
I always say that my work became profound for me after I started therapy, because I was able to actually pull some of this stuff out of me that I was ashamed of, that was hiding in the deep recesses of my psyche that I was afraid to look at, and I went in there and shined the light and laughed my ass off.
I had a great therapist, who when I came in complaining about somebody passing me on the wrong side when I was riding my bike and I was angry at that, she said, “I want you to write a monologue in the voice of this character.” I wrote this character that ended up being called simply “The Angry Lady” and I started doing it in cabarets all over L.A. and sketch comedy, and it was really me exorcising a demon and putting a light on it.
I can never get mad like that ever again without going into “Angry Lady” voice and laughing. So that’s how comedy plays a role for me, and what I love about gay people is that we laugh at ourselves – I mean, you watch “Will & Grace,” and they laugh about their own little obsession with musical theatre, and the gay culture. We make fun of ourselves, I think we do it so we can beat others to the punch.
Sophian: How do you work to overcome challenges?
Lynch: I don’t work to overcome challenges, I think that’s the first thing I don’t do. I try as little as possible not to “work” on anything. I’m going to be talking about this tomorrow, to the graduating class of 2012 … I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is the big rule of improvisation and I’m not going to give away my whole speech, but it’s called “yes, and,” which means that anything in front of you, whatever situation you have – good, bad, ugly – something you want to engage in, or something you want to say no to, the first thing you do is embrace it, you don’t pretend it’s not there, and then you do something with it – “and,” that’s the “and” part of it.
I found a saying, as well as I can, live in the moment – not looking outside, [saying] ‘I wish I was over there, maybe the party is over there, why don’t those people want to hang out with me?’ If this isn’t fun to me, I’m going to do everything I can to make this awesome. And I learned that from being an actor who did a lot of unpaid gigs and who loves being on stage so much that I was just compelled to do things. I was in anything, any piece of shit. Whether I got paid for it, which I didn’t, or if I had to bring my own clothes. ... [That’s my philosophy,] make lemonade out of lemons.
Other things we learned from interviewing Jane Lynch:
On playing Dorothy in Julie & Julia:
As Jane Lynch told us, you don’t “choose” your roles as an actor, instead you get selected for them. She got the call to audition for the role of Julia Child’s sister because she is very tall, and was promised the opportunity to work with Meryl Streep and a trip to Paris. She did act with Meryl Streep, but she never got that trip to Paris, since Julie & Julia ended up filming Jane Lynch’s scenes in a Hoboken, New Jersey, train station, instead of a Paris train station as originally planned.
She likes us a lot…she married one of us! She believes her wife Lara Embry “came into her own” here, and she has also seen the sense of connection and community between Smithies. As Lynch tells it, whenever Embry runs into another Smith graduate, she lights up: “oh, you too?!” Jane Lynch also told us that receiving an honorary degree from Smith “means the world” to her.
On creating change in the world:
She advises graduates to start small, focusing on small, manageable goals and tasks instead of trying to accomplish something big all at once. The idea of writing a Commencement speech terrified her, until she reminded herself to start small, “you know this, you can do this.”
On her favorite roles:
Each role is her favorite while she is doing it. Lynch told us she is enjoying playing the villainous Coach Sue Sylvester on Glee, and the writers have given her a character a nuanced arc to act out. Normally, she just delivers a couple lines and is done with her part of the project.