Jane Lynch has been honing her acting skills for more than two decades. She’s made a guest apperance on almost every TV show you can think of and is a regular among director Christopher Guest’s cast of hilarious characters (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration). In the past two years, she’s taken home an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a People’s Choice Award for her role as the tracksuit-wearing villain, Sue Sylvester, in Glee. Now at age 51, she’s added writer to her resume. Lynch’s memoir, Happy Accidents (Voice), is an intensely personal look at her rocky road to fame and happiness—overcoming battles with anxiety and alcoholism, embracing her sexuality, and finding a path to self-acceptance along the way. As you might expect, she’s done it all with a good dose of humor.
Were you nervous hosting this year’s Emmy Awards show in September?
Oh my god, yes. I was probably more afraid in anticipation than I was on the actual day. Some of the writing was still being done during the show. But once I made it through the opening scene without doing a face-plant, I was able to go on for the rest of the night and feel great.
What do you do to get over stage fright?
It’s really just a mind game. You tell yourself that you’re awesome.
What’s the best thing about playing the evil
Sue Sylvester in Glee?
Working with Matt Morrison—I just love him. Also, getting to say some of those run-on sentences, even though they’re very hard to learn. It’s a joy to say such horrible things once I nail the lines.
In interviews, you’ve said that Sue Sylvester is somewhat like the old Jane Lynch. Explain.
For a good part of my life, I felt the need to project my inner shame onto the world by shaming others. I was projecting all over people. I’m still not completely cured of that. Right before the Emmys, I had a Sue Sylvester moment. I’m basically a pretty nice person, and I come from my heart a lot of the time. But there’s just a little bit of that mean in me that never goes away.
What were you like in high school?
I stayed under the radar of shame and humiliation. I didn’t make too big a deal of myself, and I hung out with a big group of girls. We had cheerleaders and smart girls. And then there were the girls who liked to party. That was my subset.
Did you know you wanted to be in show business when you were young?
Every day after school, if you wanted to stick around, you’d go to choir. That was my favorite part of the day. Singing has always been my thing. It’s always been my family’s thing, but I’m the only one who took it seriously and rode it for all it’s worth.
You were a huge hit in Christopher Guest’s Best in Show. Which dog should have won the contest?
Winky the Norwich Terrier deserved to win. She was a very modest dog. Rhapsody in White—Sherri Ann’s standard poodle that I handled—needed to be vanquished.
Are you a dog lover in real life?
I have a dog, Olivia. She’s almost 12. Then there’s my baby Georgie (she lives with my ex now), who went a little crazy once and tried to kill Olivia. What can I say? She’s a wheaten terrier, and she was overbred.
What was it like to work with Meryl Streep
in Julie & Julia?
Lovely. She is everything that people write about her. It was a great lesson for me. It was wonderful to lock eyes with her, and for those brief moments, I could pretend that I was on the level of Meryl Streep.
Are there any actors or actresses that make
you weak in the knees?
I will always find Jon Hamm attractive. Does that make me a horrible lesbian actor?
You are such a versatile comic actress. Are there any other roles you’d like to try in the future?
It’s funny. I turned 50, and all of my ambitions dried up. I’m very happy where I am.
What made you want to write such a personal book at this point in your career?
I don’t know that I did want to write a memoir, but suddenly I found myself in it, just like everything else in my life. I had written a bunch of speeches for the Human Rights Campaign that were very personal. At the same time, my friend introduced me to a literary agent who pitched my work to a publisher. Before I knew it, I had a deal with Hyperion and four months to write a book.
Carol Burnett wrote the foreword for Happy Accidents. Is she one of your idols?
I just adore Carol Burnett. She has such an amazing comic sensibility, and she’s so good at playing a lot of different characters. But she’s also the most gracious person. She made it so that she wasn’t the only star in The Carol Burnett Show. She wanted everyone to shine. You remember all the actors from the show—Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, Tim Conway—as much as you remember her. I think that’s the only way to go.
In the book, you talk about the experience of coming out to your parents.
I was 32. My therapist suggested writing a letter to them. She told me that it was a good way to express all the feelings I’d been having and that I wouldn’t have to send it. I read the letter to her, and she basically handed me an envelope and a stamp.
You had a few Bay Area book readings for Happy Accidents in September, and now you’re back this month for a City Arts & Lectures talk. What do you love most about San Francisco?
It’s the most beautiful city, and the salted caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery is like no other.
Jane Lynch talks about Happy Accidents in a City Arts & Lectures conversation on Nov. 20. Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave. (at McAllister), 415-392-4400, cityarts.net