Jane Lynch encourages students to "know thy self" to find success in life and career

The multi-award-winning actor talks about the importance of "yes," her approach to comedy and drama, and more during the virtual Spotlight@SDA event in fall.

Spotlight@SDA artist Jane Lynch

It’s taken Jane Lynch quite a journey to get to where she is now. From hosting the Home Shopping Network at 2 a.m. in the ’80s to learning the meaning of community with her Shakespeare company to her major role on the hit television series Glee, the award-winning artist cites her experiences — good and bad — as the reasons for her success.

“… even if it was an unpleasant experience, I always learned something, even if it was about just controlling my temper. Or working — say that the elements of it weren’t professional or up to par, it was a good exercise for me to just accept where I [was] and do the best that I [could],” she said in the fall for the School of Dramatic Arts’ Spotlight@SDA series. The virtual event was moderated by Zachary Steel, assistant professor of theatre practice and head of comedy at SDA.

A Golden Globe and two-time Emmy Award winner, Lynch is best known for her portrayal of Sue Sylvester in Glee, Sophie Lennon in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and in the Christopher Guest films Best in ShowA Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration.

Know thy self

As an artist who has experienced her fair share of challenges, Lynch encouraged students to let the difficult times flow through them and use those moments as inspiration for their work.

Know thy self – you have to start there. … That’s when my work started to become profound, when I started to see it,” she said.

“I think in order for something to be funny, you really have to be in touch with your own humanity and vulnerability,” she added.

In her career, Lynch has earned two Emmy Awards for hosting Hollywood Game Night, as well as one each for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Glee — the latter which she also received a Golden Globe Award.

Her credits also include television shows ManifestoThe Good Fight, Criminal Minds and Two and a Half Men; and films Wreck It Ralph I and IIThe Three StoogesThe 40-Year-Old VirginTalladega NightsRole Models and Julie & Julia.

As a performer who has mastered comedy and drama, Lynch explains that her approach to both is the same: she starts with the internal life of the character.

“What is the Achilles heel of the person you’re playing?” she asked. “When you have that, everything else falls into place.”

Drawn to confidence

Throughout her work, Lynch has been attracted to characters who are authoritative or entitled because she identifies with confidence, she said.

“… that fascinates me in characters, too — and sometimes it’s unearned entitlement or it’s fake, it’s cruel and sometimes it’s always covering something tender…” Lynch said.

To which, moderator Steel replied: “The most obvious one is Sue Sylvester. She is authoritative and vicious, but there’s also a tenderness there.”

“That track suit is a suit of armor and protecting the tenderest of hearts,” Lynch responded.

One area of her job, however, that Lynch admits she lacks confidence in is her dancing ability. For both roles on Glee and her Broadway debut as Miss Hannigan in the 2013 production of Annie, she remembers dreading the dance aspect.

“I can’t be choreographed. I go into a fetal position for a little while, then work on it myself. … I have to work at it,” she said.

Love of ensemble work

Working at her craft is essential for Lynch. As an artist, she comes in thoroughly prepared — having done all of the work and made decisions about her character before she goes on set. It is this work ethic that Lynch is drawn to, which is why she loves working in ensembles.

“I love working with other people. I love working with other people, who work as thoroughly … You’re like a cog in a beautiful wheel,” she said, citing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as the “best of everything.”

At the end of the conversation, the event was opened to students to ask questions in which Lynch gave advice about getting out of one’s own head about being funny, encouraging the young artists not to let doubts and fears control them, and the importance of saying “yes” early on in her career.

“If anybody were to ask me for advice is to just say ‘yes.’ Unless it’s something like porno. Don’t do that. Use your head. But, for the most part, I would do anything and I learned a lot of things that maybe had I said ‘no’ to I wouldn’t have had the great experience.”