She’s savoring every bite and every minute. For most of her two decades in Hollywood, the 51-year-old actress has been an itinerant player, appearing in some 60 movies, 70 TV shows and doing countless voice-overs. “I’m not one to turn down work,” she says. Channel-surf on any random night, and you’ll likely find her in reruns of shows ranging from Married with Children to Two and a Half Men, Boston Legal to The L Word. She has so many credits, in fact, that it’s surprising the popular trivia game isn’t called Six Degrees of Jane Lynch. (If you’re playing along at home, she and Kevin Bacon have one degree of separation: They’ve both co-starred with Meryl Streep.)
But with Glee, Lynch finally has an acting home where she can leave her favorite pillow and blow-dryer in her trailer for more than just a one-episode stand. “It’s pretty amazing,” she says. “We knew we were going to do a third season of Glee a year ago. I never in my life knew what I was going to do for the next week. It’s really a day-at-a-time career. A year ago, I knew that, barring catastrophe or me screwing it up, I would have work for the foreseeable future. That feels great.”
It seems she has followed the advice that Vicki Lawrence of The Carol Burnett Show gave a 14-year-old Janie Lynch when the actress responded to the teen’s fan letter with a personal note: “Janie, keep working hard, learning & be determined & positive!” Determination was never a problem, nor was hard work. But being positive — well, that was the hard part.
As she recounts in her memoir, Happy Accidents, Lynch was born with not only an innate desire to act but also with an “extra helping of angst” to go with it. She was a chronic worrier who always felt out of place: in her hometown of Dolton, Ill., a middle-class suburb south of Chicago; in her loving and laid-back family of five; but especially in her body. She was 12 when she heard the word gay for the first time. She knew instinctively that it applied to her — and that she couldn’t tell her family.
She landed her first acting role as a freshman at Thornridge High School, but she quit the school play out of fear. She took her first drink that same year (and wouldn’t stop for good until 17 years later, when it had evolved from casual drinking into a serious drinking problem). One of the few places the anxious teenager could forget her troubles was, ironically, the high school choir room.
Yes, it’s true: Jane Lynch was a Gleek. Just like at Glee’s McKinley High, the Thornridge choir brought together kids from varied backgrounds and whose shared passion for singing was greater than their differences. Glee’s breakout hit, “Don’t Stop Believin’, ” was not in the Thornridge choir’s repertoire; the song wouldn’t grace the Billboard chart for another six years or so. Instead, the annual Christmas concert was the high note of the year.
“ ‘Oh Come, All Ye Faithful’ was the entrance song,” Lynch recalls. “All the choir [members] in their robes would come up the aisles of the auditorium. The chorale members [select juniors and seniors] came in last. For the line ‘Sing, choirs of angels,’ the chorale was on the risers onstage. All stops dead.” Lynch pauses, her eyes getting misty with the memory. “It’s a cappella. When they started singing, it was like God in heaven. It was so beautiful and triumphant. I lived to be in that moment.”