When the Glee offer arrived last year, Lynch, true to her workaholic form, was already committed to two other series: Starz’s Party Down, on which she played a relentlessly positive failed actress working for a caterer, and an ABC project that, if it had been picked up, would have slotted her into “an uninteresting role that I might have been tied to for many, many years.” This meant that for the first four or so episodes of Glee, as Lynch swaggered grandly down the hallways of fictional William McKinley High firing insults from the side of her twisted mouth (“So you like show tunes. It doesn’t mean you’re gay. It just means you’re awful”), her status there was temporary. “We were keeping our fingers crossed that I got to stay,” she says. By the time she was released from her other commitments, Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker had reviewed Glee gleefully and crowned Lynch “the greatest Broadway-musical villain to ever costar in a TV series.”
What is perhaps most extraordinary is that Lynch plays Sue Sylvester without a trace of attack-mode desperation and without poisoning the show’s cheerful air.
“She’s so over the top, it’s laughable,” the actress says of her alter ego. “Tony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs—there’s a despicable, scary guy. Sue Sylvester is not scary; she pretends she is. She thinks she’s the villain in a movie of her own. I felt all along, because you have to play something real emotionally, that she would much rather have her students’ love than their fear.”
Ian Brennan, the young Glee writer–coexecutive producer responsible for most of Sue’s toxic lines (he composes them, he insists, while “almost in a trance”), says Lynch is a big reason he has the best job in the world. “Jane is absolutely unparalleled at what she can do. She just has a sort of magic behind her eyes,” he says. “She’s been everybody’s favorite for so long, but now she’s hit in a big, mainstream way. That’s what’s so cool about seeing her get the recognition—she’s been working her ass off her whole career.”
“I love what I do,” says Lynch, who in career terms thinks of herself as an antistrategist. “I rarely step outside of myself and assess where I am, where I’ve been and where I’m going. I kind of try to be in the present.”
At the moment, the present is full of the perks that a hit show offers. To wit: a dressing room that she’s appointed with her own pillows and scented candles, instead of the journeyman actor’s shabby temporary quarters the size (and occasionally the aroma) of a bathroom stall. A comfy wardrobe consisting entirely of gym shoes and custom-made polyester tracksuits in dark colors. “They’re slimming!” she says, noting that there’s a neon purple number in the works because she wanted one “that makes viewers go, ‘What the . . . ???’ ” Her tracksuits “are like putting on your pajamas every day.” And she can get camera ready in less than half an hour. “My makeup takes 20 minutes,” says Lynch, who cuts down on primping time by putting herself on blow-drying detail. “I’m very picky about my hair,” she adds. “It’s very fine, but I have a lot of it. I have to make sure that the volumizing product is just enough; too much, and it will go flat. If it turns out wrong, I will rewash.”