Jane Lynch: Gleefully funny

Women's Impact Report: Class Actors

Not since Steve Carell introduced the bumbling Michael Scott on NBC’s “The Office” has an actor inhabited a comic role as thoroughly as Jane Lynch does the ruthless Sue Sylvester on Fox’s “Glee.” Her success can be measured many ways, including her recent Emmy as best supporting actress in a comedy series.

Lynch credits the show’s writers for the strange appeal of Sue, the scheming, drill-sergeant-like cheerleading coach at William McKinley High School. But viewers know that without Lynch, Sue would fall flat.

“Sue is a warrior and always looking for a fight — and if there isn’t one, she’ll find one,” the actress says of her TV alter ego.

Yet there’s another, more human side to Sue, one best glimpsed in the scenes Lynch shares with Robin Trocki, who plays Sue’s sister, Jean. “I wondered what hurt Sue to make her so mean,” Lynch says. “I figured it was something that happened in high school, because she’s so conscious of the pecking order. But the writers came up with her having a sister with Down syndrome and how the anger came from the way her sister was treated. So she’s out to avenge that hurt, which hurt her as well. And we see more of that in the new season, when our mother — played by Carol Burnett — comes back. She’s a Nazi hunter who abandoned her kids 40 years ago. ”

Those unfamiliar with Lynch from “Glee” are likely to recognize her from elsewhere on the tube; she seems to have been on every major series. She even earned a second Emmy nomination this year for her recurring guest-starring role as Charlie Sheen’s tough therapist on the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” And her bigscreen appearances, though less frequent, are just as memorable: She played the uninhibited store manager Paula in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and has been part of Christopher Guest’s droll ensemble in pics like “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind.”

Lynch acknowledges that all her characters share commonalities. “I think it’s that arrogance, that belief in themselves,” she says. “They’re pretty darn secure and confident of their own appeal.”

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