Actress Jane Lynch On Defying Hollywood’s Default Gender Roles & The On-Screen LGBTQ Revolution

You may be familiar with her character Sue Sylvester from the hit TV show ‘Glee’ which ran from 2009 -2015. She was the snippy, heartless, I-mean-business sports coach who most audiences are used to seeing being played by a man (think Coach Carr from ‘Mean Girls’, for example).

Apart from this award-winning role, Jane is best known for appearances in ‘Two and a Half Men’, ‘Talladega Nights’, ‘The 40 Year-Old Virgin’, and her latest Emmy Award-winning role hosting the NBC show ‘Hollywood Game Night’. There is something about Jane Lynch’s career and chosen roles that sets her apart from the majority of other women in Hollywood. It is that “something” that puts people like her, Neil Patrick Harris, Jim Parsons and Ellen DeGeneres, and Wanda Sykes (for example) in a league of their own.

All of these people are openly gay in an industry that, despite being seen as some sort of bastion of “liberalism”, is still very white, conservative and patriarchal in many ways. Jane Lynch has managed to transcend any sort of barrier that seeks to stereotype or marginalize her abilities as an actress, and she is paving the way for many others.

In an interview with NBC OUT to celebrate the 5th season of ‘Hollywood Game Night’, she talks about being an out and proud lesbian in Hollywood and why she pushes to break boundaries in the way certain character roles are cast. Adding to her already stellar resume, Jane has been cast in a new NBC pilot show called ‘Relatively Happy’, where she plays a divorce attorney described as a “womanizer” as well as “father figure”. Exactly the kind of boundary-blurring role that suits her to a tee.

“She defies labels. Max Mutchnick wrote it for a guy: a womanizing, Scotch-drinking guy. And then he cast me instead, and we decided to make her kind of a Marlene Dietrich in drag. She’s very come-hither with both men and women. She loves to drink, she loves to smoke cigars, she wears men’s suits — but she’s also very sexy in a feminine way,” Jane described her as.

The idea of flipping a written character’s gender is something that is signature Jane Lynch, and a trend we are seeing more of in Hollywood (think Sandra Bullock’s role in ‘Our Brand is Crisis’, the all-female ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot, and even Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley in the original ‘Aliens’ which was written for a man). These are the kinds of opportunities Jane seeks out.

“If you look at my history, I’ve played many roles that were originally written for men. The first role I ever played was the king in ‘The Princess and the Pea’ in high school. If there’s a doctor or a teacher, I had an agent that would call and say, ‘Can you see a woman in this part?’ And if they said, ‘Well maybe,’ I’d go, and sometimes I’d get it,” she said.

It’s one of those “if she can be it, she can see it”-type of actions where if the industry can go against the norm to prove a certain character doesn’t have to be cast with a male, we can see more change in gender stereotyping. But what Hollywood is doing is simply mirroring what we see in our greater culture that is still largely controlled by the patriarchy.

“I think people write authoritarian parts, sort of knee-jerk, as male. You know, he’s the boss, he’s this and that. And if you ask if it can be a woman, it’s thinking outside the box. It’s off the beaten path. But you see women in authority roles now more than when I started in the 90’s, when a research scientist would be a guy,” said Jane.

Commenting on the change in Hollywood, especially in the way the LGBTQ community is represented, Jane believes we are seeing forward momentum, and that the entertainment industry is becoming more inclusive.

“I understand the need, especially for say, the transgender community, to stand up and say ‘I am a transgender person, and I will be counted. I exist, and I will be respected’. But then hopefully we move on…Entertainment is very inclusive. Whoever does the best job gets hired. And there’s a lot of gays and lesbians in every level, every job — from crew to writing and acting,” she said.

One of the other most prominent lesbians in Hollywood is of course Ellen DeGeneres, whose sit-com ‘Ellen’ was infamously cancelled after the star publicly came out. Yet her career has never been bigger and more celebrated than it is today. Jane recognizes the importance of such figures enabling so many others, like her, to have the courage to be themselves and not fear a career backlash.

“Ellen took one for the team when they canceled her show, and look where she is today. It wouldn’t happen today. I always wondered if I would have to be closeted. I would lay in bed as a young person thinking, ‘What if I become famous? Do I hide this thing?’ But I never had to. I never had to make that decision because of the people who came before me like Ellen and Melissa [Etheridge] and K.D. [Lang]. I was never in the closet. It wasn’t an act of courage — I just didn’t have to be,” she said.

Because there are more and more TV shows and films portraying lead characters as gay or transgender, (think ‘Orange Is The New Black’, ‘Transparent’ and this year’s Best Film Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’) Jane says she is not concerned with being typecast. Hey, if Neil Patrick Harris, who is just as adept hosting the Tony Awards opening musical number as he is portraying a serial womanizer on ‘How I Met Your Mother’, this is an encouraging sign.

“What’s great about Hollywood in its representation of gay characters and trans characters is that it finds its way into middle America. It creates a wave of acceptance. I would have loved it as a kid. A ‘Glee’ would have made me very happy,” she said.

The culture we consumer, especially pop culture, plays a massive role in shaping our perspective on the world. We need to continue seeing diversity represented on screen in a way that doesn’t tokenize groups, and allows especially minority audiences to know they are part of the “norm”. Jane Lynch’s presence in Hollywood is as entertaining as it is important, and we’re glad to see her speaking out unapologetically about who she is.

‘Hollywood Game Night’ returns for a new season on NBC, June 22nd. Watch Jane talk to Chelsea Handler about being an LBTQ advocate in Hollywood:




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