How Jane Lynch Strikes the Perfect Level of Mean on Weakest Link

Listen to this episode

S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: The improvisation for the Christopher Guest movies is really a liberating one, because he shoots it shoots and shoots and shoots, so you don’t have to worry about, you know, nailing a joke or making it interesting or making it funny because that’s his job. We stay as organic as we can in the given circumstances of the scene, and usually something funny will come out of that.

Advertisement

S3: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host, Ramona Lum, and I’m your other host, June Thomas.

S4: June, we just heard the voice of Jane Lynch and a very recognizable voice that is Jane is your guest this week. And she really doesn’t need much of an introduction, but I’m going to try anyway. Jane Lynch has been a recurring performer on sitcoms like Two and a Half Men on dramas like Criminal Minds. She’s been in major screen comedies like The 40 year old Virgin as well as the beloved and documentaries of Christopher Guest like Best in Show and a Mighty Wind. Lynch, of course, was one of the stars of a program that I know you’re very fond of Glee, but now she’s taken on a whole other kind of role.

Advertisement

S1: Yes, for the last few years, she’s been strutting her stuff as a TV game show host. Since 2013, she’s been on Hollywood Game Night, which is sort of like a TV version of when you, Isaac, Cameron and I get together in one of our mansions to play silly games only in her case with Bila celebs instead of a listers like us. And since September of this year, she’s hosted Weakest Link, which is a revival of the British game show that first came to these shores in 2001 with Anne Robinson at the helm. Robinson, of course, was a sadistic Sue Sylvester even before Sue Sylvester existed. Trevor, you are the weakest link by.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Joan, do you think I’m being hopelessly American if I say that I think Britons have a particular fondness for the quiz show?

S1: No, I absolutely agree with you. Brits adore a quiz show and the TV companies provide a lot for them to choose from. When I go home to England, I spend hours watching quiz and game shows on television. And, you know, I like a bit of trivia as much as the next woman, but I think I mostly watch them because of the insane commitment of many of their hosts. Like, for example, there’s this show called Tipping Point. It’s on every single day. And it’s a gimmick because I’ll quiz shows need a gimmick is that when contestants get a question right, they get an entry in what’s basically this like giant coin, push shove halfpenny type arcade game, which is where they can make their big money. And so the host, this kind of bland white guy called Ben Shepard, he treats the random falling of these like thin metal discs as if it were chess or some kind of test of skill on the part of the contestants who typically do not have any contact whatsoever with these disks. And then as they’re falling down, he narrates it like, you know, I don’t know what like it’s something super serious.

Advertisement

S5: So ricochet, you got it down there. There’s a few now and five Joce left with.

S2: And it’s so complex and it’s so fantastic, it’s just amazing.

S4: Camp is really the word, but that’s really the mode of the game show. And I have to say that I love game shows and I wish we had more in this culture. You know, they remind me of my youth honestly. They feel very innocent and charming. And as a kid, I just I loved Super Password, which used to come on in the afternoons. And even though my family was not a TV watching family, we would watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy occasionally after my parents had finished watching the evening news like that really tells you exactly how old I am.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Tells me everything I need to know. I really believe that quiz shows were at least partly responsible for my entry into the middle classes. My family watched a lot of television when I was a kid, including like what was some really challenging. And they’re both still on quiz shows called University Challenge a Mastermind. And my parents left school and they were like 14, 15. There were no college graduates in the place where I grew up, except for the doctor who was this very gruff Irishman. But like there were these smart people on television who made the learning and knowledge seem impressive and exciting. And I suspect that I would have figured out a way to be bookish and different anyway.

Advertisement

S4: But I owe part of my lavish lifestyle in the intelligentsia to quiz shows in the little snippet, sneak preview that we heard just before we hear Jane Lynch talking about her work for Christopher Guest. So I assume that you cover more than just her new gig. You’re also talking about the roles for which she’s really beloved.

S1: Absolutely. We talked about Weakest Link, but we also talked about her work with Christopher Guest on Glee on the marvelous Mrs. Meixell, her work as a voice actor in animated movies and even in one of your favorite films, Remon, Julie and Julia.

S4: Oh, I can’t wait to hear her get to that. But before we do, I want to mention that Slate plus members are going to hear a little something extra from your conversation. Stay tuned to hear Jane Lynch talk about the particular joy of playing dumb. And there’s more to listeners if you aren’t yet a member of Slate. Plus, what are you waiting for? You can get two weeks free right now at Slate dotcom slash working. Plus, now, let’s hear you in the conversation with Jane Lynch.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Jane Lynch, if you were limited to a one word answer, just one word, one word, what would you say to someone who asks you what you do for a living? I would say I’m an actor. All right, good. OK, five time Emmy winner as an actor. I’m glad to hear that. No. Was that a hard answer to figure? Because you do so many things.

S2: That’s, of course, why I’m asking this question. No, I guess in terms of identification, I’ve been calling myself an actor for a long time, you know, probably even before I really was one.

S1: We are going to be talking today about your work as a quiz show host. OK, when you do host a quiz show, whether it’s weakest link or a Hollywood game night, are you acting then? Are you playing a character who’s who appears as Jane Lynch on the Kairouan or are you being yourself?

Advertisement

S2: Yeah, of course, emphasizing certain parts of my personality and different ones in Hollywood game night than the one some of the different ones. Then for the weakest link and the weakest link, I am playing basically like the captain of the ship so that the contestants don’t have to worry about anything except, you know, going to the deep recesses of their brains and pulling out the answer lickety split because the clock is ticking. I see it as you know, I’m there for the audience, of course, at home. And I want to make it entertaining and understandable for them and be the voice of reason. And, of course, you know, we throw in a little bit of the Sue Sylvester there. I make fun of people when they answer stupid things. And even if they don’t answer stupidly, I will make fun of them. But for the most part, I know when to interject myself, when to interject my personality. You know, I have a sense of that and want to be the captain of the ship and just simply guide the proceedings.

S1: You mentioned being Sue Sylvester a little bit. NBC is bringing back weakest link and the original American incarnation, though the show’s host was a Brit and Robinson who was famously harsh. Yeah, she sometimes went a little bit too far. How do you calibrate between, like, curmudgeonly, book caring and then just sort of rude person who goes too far and, like, insults people?

S2: I think a lot of people like that. She went too far. But for my money, she sometimes I got really uncomfortable. It seemed kind of randomly mean that you just mean mean to be mean. But that’s also the charm of Ann Robinson. But I, I think everybody knows that they are taken care of and all the contestants and I think the audience knows for me that I’m I don’t go that far. I’m too nice person, although I understand that Ann Robinson is a really nice person, too, and she really committed to that snarky schoolmarm character. But yeah, mine is my own brand of it for sure. And it’s probably a little little more velvet glove, but still a little harsh. Delana, here we are again. You missed both of your questions. And what I found interesting is as you were trying to come up with the name of the Indy 500, you just kept circling, circling. You had the five. I really did. Yeah. You really did have the five.

Advertisement

S1: One of your most famous roles, as we’ve already named, checked your a couple of times is Sue Sylvester from Glee. She was obviously a fictional character who wasn’t entirely realistic in that, you know, a real person who did or said some of the things she did, especially in a school setting, would probably be arrested or certainly fired, but but not if they’re the president of the United States. But in context, it was kind of OK for Sue to mock, like, for example, Mr. Hughes. But Jane. But Jane Lynch can’t talk about a contestant’s physical appearance, can she? Like what’s off limits on.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Well, physical, I have. But it’s you know, you have to know if it’s mean or if it’s just obvious. We had this one guy who’s a he’s a bouncer and he’s an amateur wrestler and loves football. And I talk to you about how, you know, at least tease his girth, serves him well in this life. But, you know, I would never you know, there’s always a line between mean and cutting. And what’s great about the the show is that the contestants kind of love it when I do that.

S1: Are the insults pre scripted or do you kind of improvise on the spot?

S2: I improvised on the spot and I have my good friend and co executive producer Stuart Krasno in my one working ear. I’m deaf in one ear and he will he’ll suggest things for me to say. And there there are 99 percent of the time really good. Every once in a while, you know, like if. If it feels random, yeah, and just mean to be mean, you know, then then I will let that go. But he’s usually very, very good. So it’s the two of us kind of coming up with it together.

S1: How often do you have to retake stuff as a game show host or. Oh, never, ever. So what we see is how it went.

S2: Well, yeah, but I mean, if I bumble a word or something, I will go back. But we don’t stop the cameras for sure to keep them going. But then of course, in the editing process, what’s so interesting is I saw the first episode and it flew by half the stuff, which I actually can’t really remember. But it’s almost like when we had four or five jokes, they only chose one. And, you know, the show moves pretty quickly.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Yeah. You, of course, have a storied history as an improv comedian, actress, most notably in Christopher Guest’s great movies. You’re obviously really good at improv. What’s your preference working on improvised or scripted projects?

S2: Well, I’ll tell you what, I can’t do 50/50. You can’t go half and half. It’s like you’re either on script or you’re improvising. Yeah, it’s like sometimes the director will say, you know, this is the script, but you can go off script any time you want. And it’s like, well, I either have to have that head or the other head on. I can’t do both. And I’m sure there are people who can do both at the same time. But I can’t. So yeah, I the improvisation for the Christopher Guest movies is really a liberating one because he shoots and shoots and shoots and shoots. So you don’t have to worry about, you know, nailing a joke or making it interesting or making it funny because that’s his job. You we stay as organic as we can in the in the given circumstances of the scene and as our characters. And then usually something funny will come out of that or something interesting will come out of just that. But he kind of picks and chooses moments and kind of weaves them together and creates a narrative. And it’s usually in my head, it’s always a far more interesting than what I think I did when we were shooting.

S1: But now I just watched a couple over the weekend. So for example, in Best in Show, I don’t know I don’t know exactly how well you remember. I know some years ago I know that that movie was made. But your character of the you know, the dog handler, if he’s kind of rolling and you’re doing your thing while knowing that he’s going to make something of it later, like how did you get into those characters? Does he kind of give you a brief and you kind of sit with them or or how do you just kind of find the person who you’re going to be in front of the character?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Well, the process for how he works is that two or three months before we shoot, he calls each of us and tells us who we’re playing, who usually have a partner, usually partners, people up, some either, you know, like with Jennifer, she was my my employer and then my lover and with John Michael Higgins, he was my husband and with Fred Willard, he was my co-star on the entertainment show. But he calls you up two or three months ahead of time and says, this is your partner. You’re playing this person. She has a history of this. She does this. Their marriage is like that. They live in Florida and their obsession is with blah, blah, blah. So you get that much and then you go away and create the character. And as John Michael Higgins always says, you pack heavy. You really get to know who your character is. You you for me, anyway, it it means looking at myself in the mirror and kind of doing monologues. Is the character talking about something that has nothing to do with anything but just on what my character might think about a certain thing and that’s how I get her into me. And then you show up and there’s no rehearsal and he just rolls the camera. And you know what the given circumstance of the scene is? You’ve spoken to the wardrobe person, so you know what you’re wearing. You’ve spoken to the set person. So you know what your house or your office looks like and you just go from there. So it’s it’s really you prepare ahead of time and then everything, all the elements come together. And he rolls the camera with Sherri. And we have this fantastic friendship, too. It’s really great. And we have a little bit of a family dynamic going here and pretty much mirrors what I grew up with. You know, my my father was the the taskmaster, the the disciplinarian, which is what I do. And that’s right. Mr. Punishment. Oh, well, you know, and also reward. But Sherry’s is responsible for the unconditional love, you know, just that decorative abilities. Exactly. The heart and the soul, you know, which is, as you mentioned, those partnerships.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Yeah. There are all these couples of various kinds. Do you work with with that person or are you completely in your own head, in your own?

S2: It’s interesting, like Jennifer and I, because we were Jennifer Coolidge and I, because we were in Vancouver in the same hotel. We did a lot of walking around, you know, Stanley Park and talking. Michael Higgins and I barely spoke about our characters. We did a lot of rehearsal for the music. Of course, we worked for months together on that. But I think we kind of I don’t, you know. We were shooting, that was the first time I heard anything that he was working on, and so that that was happening in real time on camera. The same thing with Fred. Every once in a while, Fred would come over and go, hey, this is how I want you to set me up and give me a line so I can set him up for a joke. But I didn’t meet with him at all either.

S1: Wow. So in a similar vein, how do you prepare to host a quiz show? Like, do you have a a pretty routine, a pretape ritual that gets you in the headspace of being the hub of all this?

S2: No, not really. The work, especially on vote for both Hollywood Game Night and Weakest Link, is done prior in rehearsals, because the most important thing is figuring out the game. And if I’m going to be the captain of the ship, I need to really understand the game and I have to really know how it works. I have to know what my phrases are and they have to be consistent. So that was what we did it first. And of course, we couldn’t do it on set because of covid. So we did it via Zoome with standard contestants and we probably did four or five of those. And those were very hectic rehearsals where I’m figuring out what I’m doing in real time as we’re doing them. And of course I watched I watched the show and it was I was a fan of the show when it came out in the early aughts. And then I watched a lot on YouTube. So I was quite familiar with the phrases and, you know, like time is up, you know, those those little things that you want to be consistent and say them the same way every time. And it’s also important to the game. You that sort of thing has to be really in concrete. So that was a lot of the practicing and then the the riffing or the insults or the character that just kind of flows. So I don’t have to prep that so much. I kind of figured out through trial by fire the persona that I was going to be just by being in these rehearsals that kind of came naturally. I didn’t sit down and like prepare for it. The way I prepare for a character later arose through the rehearsals.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: And is that in part because when you’re actually there with the live contestants, as it were, you have to be very strong. You have to be very clear. You come back to figuring things out then.

S2: Exactly. I need to create an atmosphere that is absolutely controlled and in my hands so that they can just do their job, which is, as I said, has come up with the answers to these questions in a short time frame because the clock is ticking.

S1: And I know I’m not feeling the stress right now, but then actually reminds me that, OK, this is something I’ve always been curious about on a game show, as you said, that the host is such a key role because they’ve got to kind of be the boss of how the game works, make sure everybody’s playing properly. You got to, like, do whatever the schtick is in this case, the, you know, the harshness, the insults. But are you also, in a way, kind of stressing the contestants? Because, you know, are you trying to not stop them from winning? That’s too much. But like, just kind of make it as hard for them as possible to.

S2: Not at all. It’s hard enough. My I’m I’m there deep down inside. I’m pulling for each and every one of them, and I care deeply. But for the most part it is as I’m as neutral as neutral can be as we’re playing the game. Absolutely.

S1: Now, you mentioned earlier that when you were rehearsing, you had to do it in a kind of covid compliant way remotely. But I take it that you were able to actually tape the show in person on the set?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Yeah, we had a brand new set to. It’s beautiful. It’s almost yeah, it’s in the round and it’s bigger. And we’re all the podiums for the contestants are six feet apart. I’m about eight and a half feet away from them. No studio audience, which the studio audience never played a role very much in the original. So that was a no brainer to let that go. And yeah, so we it was down to, you know, you walk this path, I walk that path. Nobody is passing each other. You know, we’re all even though we’re all masked and everything. And there’s this guy in basically a hazmat suit that is all over the set, spraying it in real time, spraying it, sanitizing it. And we’re all in masks until the very last second. And yeah, it’s very controlled, very strict, almost militaristic.

S1: Well, how many episodes of you taped already? 13. And we did them in five days. So that’s a very intense work week.

S2: It was it was fantastic, though. I loved it because I hadn’t worked in a while. And yeah, it was I was on my feet for eight, fifteen hours a day and I haven’t worked that hard since I’ve waited tables. My feet are still a little numb. I have a couple of toes that are still a little not.

S4: We’ll be back with more of June Thomas’s conversation with Jane Lynch after this. Part of our jobs here is to talk to brilliant people about their jobs. We are happy to talk to them on your behalf. If you have a question about work, how to get inspired, how to stay committed to a dream when you’re slogging through a day job, whatever it is, give us a ring at three zero four nine three three work or drop us a line at working at Slate Dotcom. OK, let’s rejoin June’s conversation with Jane Lynch.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Most recently, perhaps at least, what’s been seen, you play Sophie Lennon, a comedian on the marvelous Mrs. Meixell, when your fifth Emmy for that role. No, she’s a deceitful, manipulative character. I know that actors aren’t in full control of their own casting, but between Sophie, Sue Sylvester and Amy and Angel from Hell, you do seem to be, if not typecast, like certainly seen a certain way by casting directors. Yeah, probably. Why do you think that is?

S2: Well, it’s why wouldn’t it be? It’s just kind of what I put forth there. It’s kind of how I get the impression people get of me in the world. And then, you know, I just take certain aspects of that and blow them up.

S1: I know, though, in your 2011 memoir, Happy Accidents, a good read, I recommend it to everyone you wrote about frequently being cast as an authority figure. I don’t have that level of confidence. I don’t experience that level of delusional cockiness I can portray in a role. But authority is so often projected onto me in art and life. You wrote that about 10 years ago. Have you had any more insights into why you’re so often picked for those roles since you wrote it?

S2: Well, I think, you know, we all have a persona. I’m six feet tall. So right there people expect that I know something because it’s just how we view people of someone has size. We look up to them. If you’re forced to look up to them, then you sometimes look up to them and think that they know everything. Yeah, I probably have a lot more confidence now than I did maybe even back when I wrote that book. But yeah, I did not match how I felt my insides, but I was able to play it because I’m actually obsessed with the way people walk through the world, especially people who kind of emit this confidence and authority that is not earned that I that I don’t believe that they’re fooling themselves. Yeah. And that always kind of blows me away. And I like doing that in a character.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Yeah. The more grounded it is, the more the more, you know, they would do it, right? Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. So how do you slip into that kind of person? It’s larger than life over the top. Like nobody in real life. Is that.

S2: Oh, people are in real life like that because I’m taking it from real life. I’ve seen people like that that walk into a room and they’re all full of themselves. And you can see right through to this syrupy little sense of self. They really have. You know, sometimes people walk into a room and they have a natural power and it’s graceful. And it’s something that you oh, I would trust that person. But this person walks into the room and you inherently do not trust them. It’s not organic. It’s covering up some insecurities that are ultimately you’re going to see them. You’re going there eventually. If you line up with this person and think they’re going to be trustworthy, they will turn on you because they’re that small and that kind of person. I’m fascinated with and with Sue Sylvester. They gave me a very good reason for why I acted that way and that I had a sister with Down’s syndrome and I spent most of my life protecting her. So I took on this militaristic thing when deep down inside my heart was breaking for the vulnerability of my sister in this very cruel world. So I was protecting her. And but it was it’s a very thin veneer, about as thin as her tracksuit.

S1: Must’ve been great just knowing that your wardrobe every single episode will be yet another best. Although like pajamas I was remembering because I was watching A Mighty Wind. Oh yeah. Yeah. She sings. Of course you do. Because you sang so many times in Glee. But I remember when you did Vogue that was sort of presented, you know, who’s going to really sing. And partly it was because it really, you know, she looked so different, like Marilyn Monroe ish. Of course, Madonna is.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S6: See Grace Kelly. Hello, Gene. Picture of a beauty queen, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Sylvester dance on air.

S2: They had like do you still remember preparing for that particular. I do. I do. That was a big day. It was a big deal for me. It was a big deal for Ryan Murphy. He was so excited to do it. He oversaw every detail of that. You know, we basically remade the Vogue video shot for shot. We’ve been used a lot of the original set pieces. They happened to be at Paramount. So, yeah, that was that was a big deal. And the dancing was quite challenging for me. I worked on it for quite a long time. We kept pushing the date of shooting it. He kept pushing it because his schedule was so wacky at that point. He was so busy. So I was very grateful to have the extra time to get that dance in my body.

S1: Did being Sue Sylvester all those years kind of help you, you know, know that you seem to be getting so many of these roles of larger than life characters? I mean, to sue inform Sophie in a way.

S2: Sure. Well, because Sue is informed by Jane Lynch and I play Sophie Sophie’s person, not the character she plays, who is much more free and joyful. It’s how Sophie wishes she were. But Sophie’s very tightly wound and again, deeply, deeply insecure and the kind of elite seemingly area direness of her is a complete act, pretty good act. And she can’t go anywhere without a couple of servants. She has no real friendships. She’s always just creating an outside of veneer and hopes that people won’t dig too deeply. And of course, you know, Suzy Myerson, played by Alex Borstein, can see right through it. You know, she’s on the streets. She she knows that someone putting on airs. She knows what that is. And so Sophie really has no idea that Suzy can see through her until the very end of there of this last season.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Nora Ephron, who said that she cast you in Julie and Julia because you’re the tallest actress. I know. So it was your height again that got you that job in a rare non comedic role. What was that like? Was it very different playing that kind of.

S2: No, it was a comedic role. I think if you look at it, that was a comedic role that Meryl Streep’s Julia Child and, you know, the sisters in real life, Julia and her sister were very, very close and came from the same mold. They were very big physically and boisterous and and loved life, just enjoyed everything the way they would eat food, all the flavours. You know, that was very much I don’t think of that as a straight role. You know, I met Nora Ephron at the premiere of A Mighty Wind. She was going coming out of the bathroom and I was going in and we met and I was thrilled to meet her. And she said maybe we’ll work together someday. And within about six months, I got a call that she said, You’re the tallest person I know. And she said, how would you like to go to Paris and and shoot a movie? And I said, Oh, I would love to. And it ended up that I didn’t go to Paris because they didn’t have a railway station. That’s what she thought she could do that in Paris. They didn’t have one that didn’t have, you know, Pepsi-Cola signs and advertising. And but there is a train station that is kind of locked in time in about the 1930s in Hoboken, New Jersey. So so I went to Hoboken instead.

S1: You’ve also done a ton of voice acting in recent years. What’s the biggest difference between voice acting and regular? I don’t know if you say a full body acting in terms of your voice, but like in terms of preparation, are there differences beyond time in hair and makeup?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: I just never I show up and I haven’t even read the script yet. I know. And they expect it. They expect that that’s what it is. You know, I know the character. There’s nothing very challenging about it. And my instincts are always so much better than if I work on something so simple. If I work on it, I’ll destroy it. So it’s best to just go off of my immediate instinct. And that’s why it’s so lovely, because there’s no pressure. There’s it’s fun. You know, you get to know the directors. I do like a cartoon, either a guest spot or something that I’m a regular on two or three sessions a week and I really enjoy them. You know, they’re done in less than an hour. And, you know, it’s the same people that I see every time I do it. And it’s really lovely and it’s always very simple. There’s nothing very challenging about it. You’re really just a cog in a very big wheel of, you know, you don’t have any say over what you look like. No, no, no, there’s no improv that that’s about it. So you just show up and do your little part and it’s always very pleasant. And, yeah, it’s it’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours of the day.

S1: Wow. Now, has that been happening over quarantine or whatever we’re calling this?

S2: It has moment in the beginning before we knew what was going on, we it was kind of dark. We didn’t do it. And then for the first couple of weeks, like I did a couple at home, you know, I got myself a home studio. I bought a mic and studio. I went in my closet of a home. That’s what all the greats did. Yeah, exactly. I, you know, had where you have clothes in your closet and that masks the sound. I got a nice microphone and a nice little music stand. And I did a I actually narrated a whole docu series for National Geographic Meet the Chimps and. Yeah. And then, you know, they they came up with a way to do it at the studios. And it’s, you know, again, very militaristic, very regimented. You go in one door, you go out the other, you don’t sign anything there. You priest sign your stuff at home. And I bring my own headphones and they sanitize the mic and no one’s ever in the room with you at the same time. So it’s, you know, and everybody’s on Zoome, the director and except, of course, the engineer who has to be there.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Yeah. Wow. And so when you do that kind of thing, I’m just going to say something that I suppose is everybody knows, but I’m not quite sure, even though you’re in scenes with people, you’re not actually in the studio with the other people.

S2: Never are you. And never were. Yeah, no. Not just covid but you. Never our own record. Ralfe, our director wanted us together a couple of times just to see how it would go and get some improv. And so there was some improv. So I was in the studio twice with Sarah Silverman and John John C. Reilly. Jack McBrayer.

S7: Jane, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time. It was my pleasure. Really fantastic to talk to you. Thank you. Same here.

S4: June, I know that part of the point of improv is to make it look easy, but when Lynch was describing how she actually prepares to improvise in a Christopher Guest film, I understood how much work is involved in that.

S1: I know I am so glad that she expanded on that process. I mean, once she pointed out, of course, the ensemble is in fact, a series of couples are paired characters who play off one another and maybe kind of prepare a little bit together. But I’m not sure I had realized that while idly watching. And it really made me want to go back and watch again for like a fourth or fifth time.

S4: It’s true. They make it look really easy. They make it look really natural. And you sort of stop thinking about the fact that there’s no script in the truest sense, you know, and but it’s clear from hearing her talk about it that that takes work, that it’s it’s not maybe it’s not about studying a script. It’s about another kind of preparation. And I really I find that very illuminating since I was also really struck by the fact that on The Weakest Link, Jane doesn’t see it as the host’s job to keep the contestants from winning, that she’s kind of a neutral party or she even wants them to win a still weird role to play.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: It really is. And this is where I confessed that earlier this week I recorded a podcast for another company, not a Slate podcast, where I was a contestant on a trivia show. It was not my finest moment. And I was really aware that the host and the scorekeeper and even my fellow contestants were kind of willing me to get it together. And in that case, I’m afraid I just was the weakest link. But the experience really made me realize that emceeing a quiz well requires a lot of psychological acuity to kind of either Boyup the contestant or know when to meet in the case of weakest link, when to make fun, when to kind of hold back. Yeah, I think it’s another one of those jobs that looks easy, but in fact, to do it well, it’s really quite challenging.

S4: June, I believe that you are an avowed Gleave fan, and I wonder if you can talk about what it is you love about Sheen’s performance as Sue Sylvester on Glee.

S1: Well, Glee was a really weird show. I did indeed watch it throughout its run right to the very end. And I do think it was an important show and that it genuinely made a difference to how mainstream America viewed same sex relationships. But Sue Sylvester was really a very over-the-top character, like so over-the-top that like the only kind of character that I can really compare it to, like the closest analogy was the kind of mustache twirling bad guys from the silent movie era, like just kind of ridiculous. And yet I think the fact that she could more or less grown Sue Sylvester in something like reality is a huge testament to her acting skills.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Well, you know, I think that Jane Lynch, as a supporting performer, reveals herself as a really superb actor. Hmm. Right. Like, if you go back to the sort of the cliche of their big new small roles. Right. Not in the hands of the right actor. And I’m thinking specifically of Julie and Julia, which is a film I absolutely adore. As you mentioned earlier, it’s Nora Ephron film about the blogger Julie Powell and the great French chef Julia Child. Lynch plays Julia Child sister. It’s an extremely small moment in the film, but it’s really well done and very, very memorable. And I think about it when I think back to that movie really says a lot about what kind of performer she is.

S1: Yeah. You know, the film is really warm. It’s uplifting, and it’s a different kind of role than she usually gets. I think in the interview I spoke of it as a straight role, which she pushed back on insisting it was comedic. But on reflection, the thing that makes it unusual in her filmography is that in it she plays like a joyful, happy, lovable character, which she really rarely gets to play. And in her autobiography that is in Jane Lynch’s autobiography, she talks about loving this job that she had right out of graduate school. She was selling jewelry on this home shopping channel, but she got fired because, as she put it, no matter how good I was improvising my enthusiasm for jewelry and housewares, I was not feminine and adorable enough. And I really love that. Nora Ephron saw Jane Lynch’s adorable side and it really worked out for her.

S4: Well, it has clearly worked out for her. She is not the weakest link for sure.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: We hope you’ve enjoyed the show. If you have, please remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and then you’ll never miss an episode. And yes, I’m going to give you one final slate. Plus Petch Slate plus members got benefits like zero odds on any Slate podcast and bonus episodes of beloved shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. But most importantly, you’ll be supporting the work we do here on working. It’s thirty five dollars for the first year. You can get a free to travel right now at SLAPP working.

S3: Plus thanks to Jane Lynch and our amazing producer Cameron Drus. Thanks also to Whitney Tessy, who provided some really valuable research out this week. Come back next week to hear Remans conversation with poet Javier Zamora. Until then, get back to work.

S1: Hazlet plus members, thanks so much for your support for Slate’s journalism as a token of our appreciation, we have an extra question or two just for you. So this is for our Slate plus members, people who pay for extra materials, some very good questions. Have very special questions. OK, so say you were having a conversation with someone who spent the last 15 years in Antarctica doing research or something. So they hadn’t seen any of the work you’ve done in the last 15 years. But they asked you to recommend something because they want to get a sense of your work. What would you tell them?

S2: Just add on the level of pure kind of binge enjoyment, and if you’re coming off of out of Antarctica, you want something that you don’t have to think too much about in that you just going to laugh. I would say party down. And of course, the first season, because I wasn’t in the second season, but I would say party down the first season, which was I think it was 2008, but it’s just one episode after another of really I think just really great comic acting with some very unique people in a very simple situation. You know, they’re caterers and they go to a different party every week.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: That was Priscu Sylvester. And that’s another diluted character, isn’t it? It was just talking nonsense, a lot of them.

S2: Yeah, she was a lot of the time. And Sue Sylvester doesn’t talk nonsense and neither does Sophie Lennon. In fact, Constance was Constance Carmel was probably the stupidest character I’ve ever played, not the brightest light in. You know, she didn’t have she was guileless. She did not have a mean bone in her body. She gave everybody the benefit of the doubt. She was just pure, kind of pure goodness, but kind of stupid. And and it was kind of a relief to play her because I didn’t I didn’t have to put anything into my head, you know, I didn’t have to be strategizing or plotting or planning or trying to cover this or that, covering my tracks. You know, she was just there. She’s just kind of like putty.

S1: I was trying to think, would she be a good contestant? Weakest link? Not necessarily. I know she’s not going to win the money, but like, she would give you a lot to work with, maybe with Constance. Yeah.

S2: Oh, yeah, yeah. She would give me a lot. I would I’d have a field day with her. First of all, she probably I was going to say she’d be voted off in the first round. But you know what, I think she was had that kind of luck that she would have made it to the final and probably made it, made all the money, probably walked away with the million dollars. And I have no idea what to do with it.

S1: Yeah, it’s awesome. Could you talk about a piece of art? Could be a TV show, a book, a movie, a comedy routine, anything that was very influential on your creative life.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: You know, I never know how to connect dots in that way to go. Oh, and that inspired me to blah, blah, blah, or even maybe something you just liked a lot when you were young. Oh, musicals and musicals like we were we were raised on The Sound of Music. That was the first movie. Actually, the first movie I ever saw was Alfie with my mother. Yes. Inappropriate and totally inappropriate. But the second one was Sound of Music. And I remember I went to an old theater in Beverly Ajaz, which is a suburb of Chicago, and it was an old theater that had curtains. So the score started playing and the curtains opened. And you heard. Oh. And I remember just being absolutely transported.

S1: Oh, have you done musicals other than Glee and other kinds of.

S2: Not a lot, but I did do and I love them and I sing them all day long, so I have no right singing a lot of the things that I sing around the house. But I did Annie on Broadway for two months. I played Miss Hannigan. Oh, yes. Yes, I missed it. Oh, that’s OK. That’s all right. It was you know, I hadn’t been on stage in probably two or three decades at that point and to do the eight shows a week and be a part of an ensemble. And oh, I was saying like, oh, the theater actor life for me. I love it. And it was from that that I started doing stage show with Kate Flannery, who’s a very good friend and a terrific singer, and we got ourselves a five piece band and we’ve been touring ever since, and a show called Two Lost Souls. And then we have a Christmas album called A Swing and Little Christmas. And it’s a late 50s, early 60s type kind of rock and jazz album, big band kind of a thing drinking a martini while you’re listening. Absolutely. When you’re supposed to be touring with that, right? Yes, we were we had to cancel everything and we rescheduled everything for 20, 21. And I’ll tell you, I don’t have much hope. I don’t know how we’re going to get we’re all going to gather together in theatres again. I don’t know. We’ll see. Yeah, here’s hoping.

S3: And that’s it for our Sleepless segment. Thank you so much for your support. We will be back with you next week.

S9: So.