Jane Lynch talks cabaret, Christopher Guest movies, being Hollywood's busiest woman and more
Jane Lynch is calling from the road between meetings, en route to grab a midday coffee. This is no surprise, really, because when else would Lynch have time to call?
In the past week-plus, Lynch has hosted the People’s Choice Awards, unveiled the season premiere of her NBC game show Hollywood Game Night and debuted of her new CBS sitcom Angel From Hell — all of this as she prepares for a run of live concert dates, including one Saturday at Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre (click here for details).
“By the time I get to Clearwater — and we’re also doing Key Largo — I settle down,” she said. “I actually don’t have a job for the foreseeable future. I will just be touring with the show, and it’s just some random dates. I’m actually less busy than I was last year at this time.”
Hard to imagine. But then again, Lynch is one of the most in-demand comic actors working today. Credit her Emmy-winning performance as curmudgeonly coach Sue Sylvester on Glee, as well as scene-stealing turns in Best In Show, A Mighty Wind and The 40 Year-Old Virgin.
Her live concerts, however, showcase a different side of Lynch. Sure, her wit and comic chops are on display — she’ll banter onstage with good friend and tourmate Kate Flannery, a.k.a. Meredith from The Office — but this is more of a cabaret, showcasing nearly a century’s worth of American jazz and pop.
“It goes all over the place, from ’80s pop songs to a 1920s ragtime tune,” Lynch said. “We’ve got it all covered.”
Full disclosure: I wasn’t expecting to talk to Lynch before her Clearwater show. She’s been so busy that our chances of connecting for an advance phone interview looked slim at best. So when she buzzed my cell the other day with no warning, I had zero questions at the ready.
The silver lining: Now, for the rest of my life, I can say I got to improvise with Jane Lynch.
I’m amazed that you made time for this interview, because you’re legally the busiest person in Hollywood, right? Or is that still Ryan Seacrest?
Yeah, yeah. I’m very busy right now. But in a very good way. I’m very happy.
How do you deal with not being busy?
Well, by not having a job where I have to be somewhere five days a week. The month of November, I was doing my cabaret show; Mascots, the Christopher Guest movie; Angel From Hell; and Hollywood Game Night. So I worked every single day, including Saturdays and Sundays, in November. That was busy. (laughs)
Do people know what to expect from your cabaret show at this point? Or do they come in expecting to hear songs from Glee?
As far as I know, they come in just open. It’s a plethora of music. The best way to describe it is that it’s me; Kate Flannery, who was Meredith the drunk in The Office, who is a good friend of mine; and my friend Tim Davis; having a gas with a five-piece band who are just masters. There’s a lot of funny between the songs, but I always say there’s no discernible theme. It really is just music we like.
Tim was the vocal director on Glee for all six years, and he vocally arranged every song on Glee. He’s turned into a big music director. He just did the People’s Choice Awards as well. He’s my guy, and he sings on stage with me. I’m a really lucky girl.
It’s an eclectic setlist, one that you would see and think, “Wow, this person really has a great appreciation for the American songbook.” Is that where your musical tastes lie?
Absolutely. I like music of all forms. Like my friend John Michael Higgins, who’s a fellow actor and music lover, says: I like music if it’s good. I love pop songs. I love musical theater. I do a song from the 1930s that we do in a really tight three-part harmony. I have a “Songs That Made Us Cry When We Were Kids” medley, and we sing them. So people can have the experience of bursting into tears like we did.
Is there a lot of audience back-and-forth?
Not really. Certainly, they’re involved; they’re 50 percent of the experience. But it’s not like people are yelling stuff out. It’s a very civilized, fun, tap-your-toe, clap-your-hands type of thing.
Is there much improv between you and Kate or any of the band members?
We’re definitely scripted within an inch of our lives, but then we throw it away. Kate and I have always worked that way: We script it, and then we throw it away.
Do you write music at all?
Am I wrong in thinking you improv'ed the Spanish love song from The 40 Year-Old Virgin?
I did. Well, sort of. I came up with it on the way to the shoot that day. I did that myself.
You mentioned Mascots. How is that coming along?
It’s done. We did it mostly through the month of November, and mostly on weekends. It’s now in Chris’s capable editing hands, and I heard it’s coming out sometime in 2016. It’ll be on Netflix.
Do you come into each Christopher Guest project as your own self? Or do you have an idea in mind of something different you want to bring the second you step onto his sets?
He tells us about a month ahead of time the name of our character, and who we are, and who we’re having our relationships with, and then we get it from there. He’s not one for chats, so he just sends us the blueprint, and we show up and we do it.
How do you know when you’ve got a golden take?
You don’t. You just show up. The thing is — for me, anyway, and I know that a lot of people that work with him say this — since it’s improvised, you really have to create the character fully, because you can’t improvise form a half-baked character. You have to really come prepared in terms of who your character is, what she wears, what she things about everything. So then you’re free enough to improvise. He certainly helps. He sends a wardrobe person who says, what do you want to wear? He sends a set person who says, what do you want your house to look like? He certainly serves us in it, but it’s all up to us.
Something I’ve always been curious about: Was there any fun to be had on The Fugitive set?
That was 1992. I can’t remember. (laughs) I was only a guest actor on that. I only had a couple of takes. Harrison Ford can be kind of a cranky guy, but he was very nice to me, and he took me into his trailer, because he didn’t like the way our scene was scripted. I was 32 years old at the time, and he grabbed me, and it was raining out, and he put me under his umbrella, and he said “Come on, we’re gonna fix this.” And we went into his trailer and we fixed it.
Are you looking ahead at bigger projects, or ways to develop your musical career beyond these concerts?
You know, I never look ahead. I very much stay in the moment. But I will say that we’re going to do a big tour in June of this show, and then we’re going to film it. The very last performance will be filmed for PBS, and then that’s it; we’ll retire the show, and I’ll see what happens afterward.
-- Jay Cridlin