by JD Cargill, CNN
(CNN)—In an industry known for elevating a certain look, prizing a certain age and sticking to the script, Jane Lynch is exceptional.
At 52, the 6-foot-tall comedienne and actress has experienced more success in the last five years of her career than most actors could dream of for their entire life. Her role as Sue Sylvester on the hit television series Glee has won her critical praise and accolades including a Screen Actor’s Guild Award, Golden Globe Award and Primetime Emmy Award.
Likewise, Lynch’s personal life is experiencing its own renaissance. In 2010, she married Dr. Lara Embry and in doing so became a second mom to daughters Haden and Chase.
With the ease of a seasoned vet, Lynch masterfully balances bawdy with heart. If you missed her outrageous turn as a lesbian dog trainer in Best in Show or lampooning fellow funny lady Roseanne during a Comedy Central roast, you might have caught her as the voice of Calhoun in the recent Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph.
For her next adventure, Lynch moves from the screen to the page, hoping to entertain kids of all ages with the new holiday book Elfbot.
CNN: Tell me about Elfbot.
Lynch: Oh, it’s great! It’s an audio book that Barnes & Noble is offering. It’s a great reverse Pinocchio story where the toymaker wants to become a toy. It’s a lot of fun. We’re hoping to start a holiday tradition.
CNN: And I hear it’s a family affair?
Lynch: Yes, my daughter Haden is on it. Actually, we all know each other very well, and Kenny G is on it. The director is my best friend.
CNN: Is it scary or exciting to see your child possibly getting into showbiz?
Lynch: Scary. There’s a part of me that had to find my own way. I started from kind of an obscure place, and I really wanted it. I think that adds to my level of professionalism. …But, I just have to have faith in the goodness of my kids, and she’s a great kid. I have this thing about me, because I came up from nowhere, that she should too, but you know what, that’s not her path.
CNN: You have come a long way, all the way from Dolton, Illinois, to the red carpets of Hollywood. Do you still pinch yourself?
Lynch: Every day! And it’s a plethora of things. I pinch myself every day, and there’s a part of me that’s always like, “wow!”
CNN: When you hosted Saturday Night Live and went completely nude for that digital short, I remember thinking, “this woman is fearless.” Was there a moment in your life when you just decided to be completely unapologetic for your creative choices?
Lynch: Oh, absolutely. It was when I was doing improv at Second City. You’re doing these sets afterwards, and sometimes it’s like the bigger choice you make, the bigger you fall on your face. I think my work started to seem profound when I started making huge choices. Yes, some of them were too huge, where you lose people and you lose reality, but I think you have to go that far in order to know what you can do—what’s inside of you.
CNN: I hope someone was recording those big moments.
Lynch: I remember playing Queen Margaret in Richard III in Chicago’s Shakespeare Company. Usually, that character is cut because she is so bombastic. Well, I wanted to keep her in! So I did and a review came out that said when I was finished, there was no scenery left! So yeah.
CNN: Cleared the room, did you?
Lynch: Exactly. It was huge.
CNN: Sue Sylvester knows how to clear a room. What’s going on over at Glee these days?
Lynch: Well, we have these new kids, and I’m absolutely floored by their talent. I love the fact that we’re following the gang in New York, you know, Rachel and the kids. The writers have really stepped up. It’s a new show this year but with all the same principles. It’s all about raising your voice in song and having each other’s back, and I think that’s why it’s resonated so strongly.
CNN: The show’s diverse themes have been a lightning rod for praise and criticism. It reminds me of a modern All in the Family. Do you ever feel like Ryan Murphy has taken the baton from Norman Lear?
Lynch: You know, I hadn’t made that connection, but I think that’s really apt. Norman Lear was really ahead of his time. All in the Family was all about progress and was so groundbreaking. Why didn’t things take off from there? But, I think you’re absolutely right. Ryan is on the line and pushing people. We have a transgender character on Glee, and we’re showing the realism in that—the struggle with the kids and the parents to accept him. Ultimately, they do, and they cast him as Rizzo in Grease. And, of course, I ruin it all! You know, it’s Sue’s own prejudice, her own fear that someone will be ridiculed, whereas the kids feel strong enough.
CNN: You’ve become a role model to millions of people but especially gay women. Did you set out to champion gay rights?
Lynch: It’s not something I ever set out to do, but I’m glad I can. I really have to thank all those that came before me. They made it possible. People like Ellen and Rosie. There are so many people out there every day working for all of us.
CNN: It sounds like the themes of acceptance and inclusiveness on Glee really line up with your own personal views.
Lynch: Oh, very much! I always wished I had something like Glee when I was growing up. I’m glad there are kids living out there in not-so-friendly parts of the country who have Glee to watch. They can see that there is hope and that it does get better and that there are people who have your back. You just have to find them.