On 'Angel From Hell,' Jane Lynch plays an eager, giddy oddball who barges into a young woman's life armed with cock-eyed advice that somehow turns out to be wise
NEW YORK (AP) -- "A nice match," says Jane Lynch, referring to herself and her new sitcom role. "Made in heaven, if you will."
On CBS' "Angel From Hell" (Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. EST), Lynch plays Amy, a spirited but scatterbrained oddball who barrels into the life of Allison, a sweet but neurotic young doctor played by Maggie Lawson, insinuating herself as a self-styled "guardian angel." ("Angel From Hell" also stars Kevin Pollak and Kyle Bornheimer as Allison's father and brother.)
Is Amy really on a job from God? Or is she a boozy, jobless nutcase from the streets?
"At one point I do something great for Allison and she says, 'Are you really an angel, or are you just crazy?' And I just say, 'Does it matter?'"
In the process, Lynch stands tall (all imposing 6 feet) keeping Allison bemused as to just who Amy is.
Lynch admits to being a bit bemused, too.
At a recent interview in New York, Lynch reports that once her series took flight, "with every new script I read, I said, 'This is TOO crazy!'" Like when Amy stops on a street corner to consult with a traffic light, which she recognizes as a fellow angel in traffic-light disguise.
"This show is not going to be the sweet Roma ('Touched by an Angel') Downey story," Lynch says with a laugh. "And I'm not Michael ('Highway to Heaven') Landon. I'm kind of coarse, I come from a very strange, psychotic place. But to Amy, it's all perfectly natural.
"The most important thing for me in playing her: stay in the heart. Amy's mission is to really love somebody, and let her KNOW she's loved. No matter how weirdly Amy behaves, she's SO committed to this woman Allison!"
"I grew up in a Southside suburb of Chicago," says Lynch, 55. "It was idyllic. But I was plunked into a family that was not artistic, and didn't know how to deal with my emotions. I could be pretty volatile, especially when I didn't feel understood, which was 99 percent of the time. I do think that, as a young person, I suffered over that. But as I look back, it doesn't even feel like part of me - except when I act, and need those emotions. Then I can dredge it up."
"There I was as a kid: a closeted homosexual who wants to be an actress. I had no choice! Wanting to act was something I was wired with when I was born. I never thought I would have success or celebrity, although I did want that. But what I wanted more than anything was to work."
Lynch attended Illinois State University. Then she entered Cornell University, where she pursued her master of fine arts degree, "and there I came into my own. I did a lot of plays, all kinds of plays. I caught up with myself artistically."
"When you get out of school, you just go where the wind blows: Here's an audition, there's an audition. And before you know it, you're where you're supposed to be. And that was Second City," where Lynch was hired for the touring company.
After that, she scored lots of work onstage and in TV and films, though nothing launched her as a star. "There was a part of me that said, 'Ohhh, when's the ship gonna come in for me?' But then I would think, 'Why SHOULD I get a ship?' And once you get over that, in comes your ship!"
Her "ship" was a commercial for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes that was directed by Christopher Guest, who then remembered her when casting his 2000 dog-show mockumentary, "Best in Show."
Another high-profile job: joining Steve Carell in the 2005 comedy hit "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
And then, of course, she stole the show, and viewers' hearts, as track-suit-clad meanie Sue Sylvester in the high-school musical series "Glee."
COMING OUT (SORT OF)
"When I was younger, I would lie in bed and go, 'Nobody can ever know!' My parents didn't even know. Then, once I started working, I didn't march in any parades, but I wasn't hiding.
"Then I got married very publicly" to clinical psychologist Lara Embry in 2010. They divorced three years later. "My marriage was a big thing. I live a smaller life now. I'm not in a relationship, and I don't see myself in one ever again. I was never a relationship person.
"But I was out there at a very important time, and I'm happy about what's happened (with legal victories for same-sex marriage and other equal-rights inroads for the gay community).
Long overdue? "It was as if people said, 'Oh, for God's sake, let's just stop this foolishness and move on.'"
When the very-busy Lynch can carve out a bit of free time, she tours with her cabaret act.
But she also sings for an audience of one - herself. She's loved singing since childhood, and sings loads now, if only for her own amusement. And often the same song, over and over.
"This is one of them that I've sung since childhood," she says, and offers up a song her angel Amy would endorse: "I don't care what they say, I won't stay in a world without love ...!"
EDITOR'S NOTE - Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at email@example.com and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore