Jane Lynch. Even if you don’t recognise the name, you’ll sure know the face. Since her breakthrough turn as uber-butch lesbian dog trainer Christy Cummings in Christopher Guest’s 2000 masterpiece Best In Show, the 49-year-old actress — herself openly gay — has made memorable appearances in TV shows from Friends to The L Word, and starred in movies including Meryl Streep’s recent hit Julie & Julia.
But it’s Lynch’s new role that has everyone talking. In Ten’s hugely-hyped American teen comedy Glee, the comedian again tackles her aggressive side to deliver a delicious performance as dementedly evil high school cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester.
Sitting down with Lynch during the Glee cast’s recent whistle-stop Melbourne visit, it was a pleasant surprise to find that unlike the brash characters she’s known for, the actress is soft-spoken and humble about her success.
Those behind the show used a canny strategy to build the buzz, screening the pilot episode, both here and in the US, several months before the official season launch. In the industry, it’s known as a ‘slow build’.
“I’ve felt the hype building — the show’s taken off virally on the web and the songs have been big on iTunes,” Lynch told Sydney Star Observer.
“I think it all has to do with the music — it’s a great equaliser. High school’s about hierarchies, and all the groups are so separate. Music, and the Glee Club, gets people together for one common goal — to sing a kick-ass song.”
But High School Musical this is not. The songs featured on the show include hits by Kanye West, Salt N Pepa and Amy Winehouse. And whenever teen characters’ group singalongs and puppy love storylines threaten to get too schmaltzy, Lynch’s character is on hand to restore the balance.
“I think our writers, Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuck, created Sue out of their own inner mean girl. I mean, some of the things I say are just awful,” chuckled Lynch.
As her profile has grown over the past few years, Lynch has become one of Hollywood’s most recognisable gay actresses. But there was never a shock-confession ‘I’m gay’ moment from her.
“I was open from day one, and to be honest I’m not that big of a star for people to care,” she said.
“Ellen, Melissa and kd all paved the way for people like me to be able to say ‘I’m gay’, and nobody skips a beat — nobody cares.”
Was there a point earlier in her career where she had to decide whether to live openly or keep quiet?
“I’m sure there was but I don’t remember it. When I was younger I used to lie in bed at night and think, ‘If I got famous, how would I handle [my sexuality]?’ But I really didn’t do anything, I just was always who I was. I don’t lead with my orientation, but I’m not ashamed of it either. If I’ve ever lost work because of it, it’s been behind my back, and I doubt that I have.”
It does seem unlikely — as a gay actress whose breakthrough role was playing gay, she certainly hasn’t been typecast, as anyone who saw her scene-stealing performance as Steve Carrell’s man-eating boss in The 40-Year-Old Virgin will know.
She’s now playing one of the straight characters on what her co-star Matthew Morrison has only half-jokingly described as “the gayest show on TV”. We at SSO have had a sneak peek at the first four episodes, and if you thought the pilot was camp, wait until episode four. Without giving too much away, it involves gorgeously effete gay boy Kurt, the entire high school football team, and liberal use of Beyonce’s Single Ladies dance.
“The fact that it is so gay is a great thing — that we’re able to bring that to a wide audience, So many people are loving the show and loving the music, and they’re not all gay 30-year-olds, you know?”
info: Glee, Ch 10, 7.30pm Thursdays.

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