Whether you know her as outrageous cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester from Glee, as delusional actress doing time as a cater-waiter Constance Carmell from the cult hit Party Down, or her many other memorable film and TV roles, you’re well aware that Jane Lynch is seriously funny. But what you probably don’t know, as her candid, comedic and ultimately uplifting new memoir Happy Accidents reveals, is that Lynch is one heckuva dragon slayer, too. Having finally overcome her struggles with her sexuality, alcoholism and anxiety, Lynch has finally found the happiness that has so long eluded her.
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We caught up with the actress during a family vacation in Vermont. She spoke about defeating some of those pesky demons, the power of Glee and offered some sound advice for her character, Sue Sylvester.
Did you ever think that you would be so happy?
No, not at all. I also had this idea that I had to look a certain way [and I didn’t]. But what I have today is so far and beyond what I imagined for myself. I set the bar so low. I just wanted to be in plays and make enough money to do that. I didn’t want to tempt the fates and ask for too much. I ended up, a little late in life, with pretty much everything I wanted, and it’s kind of nice.
What was the toughest part about writing this book?
Umm…bleeding from my ears. No, the toughest thing about writing the book wasn’t remembering stories—those came pretty quickly. It was the overwhelming amount of information that kept coming into my mind. Luckily, I have a wonderful wife who knows how to organize information. So, I just did stream of consciousness, and she actually shaped it for me.
What would happen if Jane Lynch met Sue Sylvester?
I’d urge Sue Sylvester to get into some hard, intensive therapy and deal with all the betrayal and stuff that makes her such a bully. Because, obviously, deep down inside she’s very tender, and she’s been protecting her sister all her life from the cruelties of the world. I just think she needs to get hold of that and get hold of her heart.
And there are times when [the Glee writers] write Sue Sylvester so from her heart, and I just love when they do. She’s such a warrior. But I would love for her to get some intensive therapy. There are more dimensions to her, and I think the writers are going to explore more of that. Being out to destroy the Glee Club gets boring after about a season-and-a-half. My character is running for Congress this time around, so that’s going to give me plenty of opportunities to explore different sides of Sue.
What impact do you think Sue Sylvester has had on audiences?
One of the things that pleases me so much is when people come up to me and giggle and say, “You are so mean.” And I think what’s good about that is we get to look at someone so extreme as Sue Sylvester, who is so mean spirited and really wants to crush the dreams of the innocent, and we can laugh at that part of ourselves that is so vicious. As opposed to, you know, keeping it in the shadows where leaks out in horrible ways. I think you pull all of that stuff out of the shadows, and that’s what Sue Sylvester does for a lot of people. It’s kind of cathartic for them.
Have you had the opportunity to talk with people who might have gone through some of the same things you have?
Yes, especially with kids because Glee is such a big hit with kids. You can see it when they come up to you. They have that fire in their eyes. They say, “How do I do it? How do I get to be Lea Michelle? How do I get to be an actor?” It’s hard to give them a sound byte, except to say, “Take it easy.” Just be happy. Say yes to everything—except pornography—and enjoy yourself. Know that where you are right now is where you’re supposed to be because it’s where you are.
I wish I knew that, and someone could have told me that [when I was younger], but it probably wouldn’t have registered. Sometimes, however, seeing other people’s experiences and the insights they have inspires you to do things differently in your own life.
So, do you think that you could have saved yourself some anguish growing up?
I don’t know. That’s hard to say. That brings up questions like karma. But I know that I learned the lessons I learned because I did suffer so hard and I got to a point where I just had to surrender. Not everybody had to surrender. But I obviously had to. Now when I read books about people who have had trying experiences, like Theodore Roosevelt who overcame asthma and other things like that, it really inspires me because of my own stuff. So, I think that books and reading stories about people overcoming their own adversities can really help.
You’ve realized so many of your dreams, what do you still hope to attain?
Well, even years before I met Laura and got married, I just stopped desiring so hard. I stopped needing things to fulfill me. I came to a place where I was very content with where I am. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I am successful, and I have enough money to live and I have love in my life.
But I can tell you that if Glee went away, I would be doing theater in Palmdale, [Calif.]. I wouldn’t stop, and I would find a way to live my life doing what I want to do even if I didn’t have the success. I have so much more equanimity right now than I used to. I don’t fight so much against what happens to me. I let things come and go, and kind of sit back and watch it as it goes by.
Believe me, I still get triggered, but I have some tools now.