I haven’t seen much of Glee beyond a few funny clips and the famous “Vogue” video, but I still rooted for Jane Lynch above all others on Emmy night this year. It’s about time! I thought while watching her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, her first Emmy win. Finally, one of the funniest and most dynamic actresses in the industry is getting her due. Sure, America’s had a full-on love affair with Lynch since Glee premiered in 2009, but before that, she was just a vaguely recognizable face without a recognizable name.
After years of working hard (she’s had more than one hundred different roles in TV shows, commercials, and movies since the ’80s) and taking risks (she’s taken over parts written for men—and played them better than any man ever could), Lynch is getting the notoriety and respect she’s deserved for far too long. And in honor of the new TV season—and Glee’s second season premiere—fast approaching, what better time to honor a woman I consider one of the most positive examples of female representation in the celebrity world today?
Thumbs Up: Jane Lynch
It’s rare in youth-obsessed Hollywood that an actress who started working in her twenties still finds work at age fifty. It’s even rarer that an actress who entered the industry so young actually got her big break at the age of forty—and thanks to a Frosted Flakes commercial, no less. But that’s where Christopher Guest (who directs sugar-cereal commercials in his spare time, I guess) first met Jane Lynch and invited her to audition for what would become one of his most beloved movies, Best in Show. In her role in that film, the public first experienced Lynch’s finesse for improvisation, her ability to put a uniquely funny touch on a scene without stealing it completely.
She participated in other Guest movies after that, and even had a memorable two-episode stint on Arrested Development, but her best role, in my humble opinion, was one she created on a whim: Paula, Andy’s electronics-store boss in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The part was actually written for a man, until Steve Carrell’s wife suggested that the cast include more women. Lynch, who had taken on men’s roles in the past (being six feet tall helps) came in and transformed a bit part into one of the most celebrated roles in the whole movie.
Almost all of the hilarious quotes from that movie—or at least the ones my friends and I reference all the time—are courtesy of Lynch and her improvisational prowess. Just check out this scene, and keep in mind that none of this was in the script; Lynch created the sexually confident, man-hungry Paula all on her own. Unfortunately, this clip doesn’t include my all-time favorite line, “I’m very discreet … but I will haunt your dreams,” but the Guatemalan love song alone is worth the viewing.
How awesome and inspiring is it that a woman can appear in one of Judd Apatow’s male-centric movies and dominate every one of her scenes? (Apatow’s films aren’t as collaborative as Guest’s; there’s almost always someone vying for more laughs than his or her costars.) Lynch had only a handful of lines in the entire movie, but she did so much with them that her character easily became a fan favorite.
She’s So Good, She’ll Haunt Your Dreams
As if hitting a career peak at the age of fifty and taking role risks that most of her actress peers would shy away from weren’t testament enough to her status as a positive role model, Lynch also has the rare designation of being an openly gay female in Hollywood. When you think of the small number of actresses you could say the same about (other than Ellen and Portia), that unfortunately says a lot about how largely closed Hollywood is to that lifestyle. But Lynch doesn’t hide her sexual orientation; in fact, she married her girlfriend in June 2010. So she breaks the Hollywood mold in three ways: she’s achieved fame past the starlet age, helping fuel the demand for more roles for women in that age group; she’s found her greatest success inhabiting roles outside the box, be they highly authoritative and masculine or sexually charged and deviant in nature; and she embraces her sexuality without letting anyone make it her defining characteristic.
How empowering to know that achievement needn’t always come by kowtowing to the industry’s rules. I can’t think of a better source of inspiration for aspiring actresses—and women of all ages and ambitions, really—than Jane Lynch, who proves that women can break away from stereotypical labels (like “ingénue” versus “mother/cougar” for actresses) and create their own paths to success. What’s more, the renown of Lynch’s many projects, such as Glee, proves that audiences want to see more hilarious, innovative women like her. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.
Read the previous Media Malcontent column.
The Media Malcontent is a monthly column dedicated to celebrating the positives and pointing out the negatives when it comes to female representations in the media. If you have a question or suggestion for Vicki, please send it to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.