INTERVIEW: Chicago’s own Jane Lynch at home in the directors chair

Jane Lynch
Jane Lynch

Jane Lynch accepted a new challenge by jumping into the directors chair and joining a growing list of talented actresses who appear in front of, and behind the camera.

What better place to hone her skills than her hometown Chicago where she not only directed the spots for the new Illinois Tourism campaign for STORY but appeared on camera as the official tour guide for the State of Illinois.

We all know Jane Lynch as the iconic Sue Sylvester in the musical comedy series Glee, as Sophie Lennon in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, as Dr. Linda Freeman in Two and a Half Men, and in her numerous rolls in mainstream comedy films.

She is equally comfortable on the small screen and large screen, and on stage where she is currently preparing for her roll in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, as Rose Brice, the mother of Fanny Brice (Beanie Feldman). The show opens on April 24th at the August Wilson Theatre.

Our publisher, Barbara Roche chatted exclusively with actor, producer, director, Jane Lynch, about her beginnings as a young actress in Chicago, her newfound passion for directing, and her upcoming roll in the Broadway musical Funny Girl.

ALSO READ: Jane Lynch directs Illinois Tourism campaign through STORY

Let’s talk about the Illinois Tourism campaign. The spots are wonderful. Are there more coming?

Yes! There’s a whole handful. Maybe as many as eight.

Is it true that the Illinois Tourism spots were your directorial debut?

Indeed! Yes, I have never been at the helm before. Andy Richter is a director on the STORY roster and he said if you’re interested in directing you should get in touch with my pal Cliff (Cliff Grant, Executive Producer at STORY) and it led to this.

The spots are very clever and tightly scripted. I wondered, because you are an improv artist, were you able to step outside at all? After all, you’re the director so who is going to stop you?

Well, I’m a less-is-more person. We really had the scripts down. Angela from the agency (Angela Coster, Creative Director / Art Director at OKRP) is just brilliant and really should be making movies. She and I worked very well together. We kind of had a vision together and she would say ‘I know how to achieve this,’ and we had a terrific DP (Randy Arnold.)

The spots are tight. Every word that comes out of my mouth, I think works. It’s putting together a bunch of moments that create a sense of ‘My God this is a wonderful state.’ We covered so much, and I learned so much while we were shooting it. So it was a trifecta — myself, Angela and our DP Randy.

I would guess there may be one unscripted moment, when you enter the scene on that cart…

Yeah, I didn’t mean to drop that cart either.

You are a multiple award winner, with numerous Golden Globes and Emmys and dozens of prestigious awards. In prepping for this interview, I loved discovering things that I did not know about you. I know you as Jane Lynch from film and TV. I did not know that you were a stage actress as well.

Yes, that’s where I started, Second City and Steppenwolf Theater, and before that there were years of doing off-loop, non equity stuff.

At what point did you decide you wanted to direct?

Well that just kind of happened. I really love my acting job where I’m just responsible for what I do, but I’m a story teller. I see pictures. I’m a very visual person. I was watching commercials and they’re just terrible now. When I was growing up you had jingles and concise stories and there was probably one person writing the script. Now it looks like a hundred people had to sign off on a script. So when you start with an idea and you have twelve people opine it, before you know it you’ve got the weakest version of it. That’s just too many chefs in the kitchen.

I know I can do this. I can tell a story in 30 seconds or even less, as some commercials are now. Between myself and Angela and our DP Randy, we ran a very tight focused ship. We were very, very clear, what the tone was, how the shot was going to look, and we did every spot the exact same way.

The Illinois Office of Tourism was so great to work with. Every once in a while they’d come in and say ‘Can we do this instead’ and I’d say absolutely because it was a well-oiled machine and when you’ve got that, when you are so clear on what the shot is, what the tone is and how you’re going to do it, that’s when you can start improvising, if you improvise within that framework.

So that’s how we did it and that’s how I love to work. I was fortunate to work with two other really terrific people and we saw things eye to eye.

So now that you have gotten through it and had a wonderful experience, do you feel that you will have a passion to direct?

Yes! I’m working on Funny Girl right now but I want to direct theater and tell a story in that way. This has really inspired me. I very rarely have ambitions or goals. I have mostly been pulled from one thing to another and I find myself saying ‘Oh so this is what I’m doing now. I’m hosting a game show. Oh so, I’m playing a comic on The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.’ I actually consciously now have an ambition to direct theater.

And that’s interesting because that was my next question. Acting or directing? Where’s your passion? Are you slipping more into that director’s chair than saying, ‘Hey I want that next roll?’

Oh Absolutely. I never said, I want that next roll. Ever. I love acting and that’s all I want to do but I’ve been pulled. I’ve never had a dream roll but I knew something would come next, because that has always been my experience.

On the subject of female directors, with the exception of Barbra Streisand, Jody Foster or Jane Campion, directing has really been kind of a guy’s gig. I feel that lately, particularly with actresses who are well known and maybe have a little more clout, women are starting to jump into the directors chair. Do you feel it’s possible we’re seeing a shift of power for women? 

I’ve been working this business for a long time and I feel there are many more women on the crews and there are more women directing, and it can only continue once you get on the trajectory of something like that. There will be some societal fighting back. As you see, any time we make a step forward there are people who will want us to stay in the past, but you can’t stop progress. And yes, we will have to overachieve, but that is the way society is built and it’s solidified, so just do expect more from yourself. Just keep pushing.

You’re an Irish Catholic girl from the south side of Chicago. Raised in Dolton. I was a south sider as well. I know there is no easy path from Dolton to Hollywood, so how did you forge a path to get there?

Well I didn’t think I was forging a path, I knew that I would love to be on television and I wanted to be on stage. That was the big picture but when you focus on the little picture, I just wanted to be in the game. And believe me if I hadn’t become successful in the business, I’d still be doing theater in some little town somewhere. I just love the work.

Stage or screen. What’s your preference?

Oh, I like it all. Right now I’m, of course, loving stage. But I love doing television.

You have been well received as the host for Season 2 of Weakest Link. If there is a Season 3 would you be returning as the host?

Well if they invited me, you bet I would. I loved doing that show.

I do have to ask you about Funny Girl. It’s been over 50 years since Funny Girl has been on Broadway. Have there been any changes to the original production?

Jane Lynch

It is the original play from 1964 and Harvey Fierstein did such a great job in curating this show. Many musicals either underwrite or overwrite or don’t write well. This one had a pretty darn good book. He went in there and reshaped some scenes, took some scenes out, but it’s basically the same show.

The official opening night is April 24th. Is it a coincidence that that is also Barbra Streisand’s 80th birthday?

It is a coincidence but a happy one for sure.

How are you going to feel if Barbra Streisand shows up some night in the audience?

Oh, I don’t want to know!

The film had a huge impact on me as a kid and literally set the course of my life. Did you feel a connection to the story of Funny Girl?

I’ve had friends tell me their whole world opened up when they saw that movie. I felt the same way. I saw it at the local theater, the Dolton Theater. I went with my mom and my sister. It was all the girls in the neighborhood and their moms. We were reaching across the aisles and laughing. We just loved it.

#JayneLynch #FunnyGirl #STORY

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest film, TV, advertising, entertainment and production news! Sign up for our free elert here.

Wielding decades of Film & TV production experience, Barbara Roche is the editor/publisher of Reel Chicago and Reel 360.