With the April 24 opening of Broadway’s Funny Girl and new seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Party Down available to stream, five-time Emmy winner Jane Lynch, 61, is having the time of her life — and no one is more surprised than she is that big opportunities now chase her, instead of vice versa. “My white-hot ambition, [which I had] as recently as five years ago, just doesn’t exist anymore, not at all,” says Lynch. “I’m just letting things roll in. I don’t know if that is a product of age or my particular evolution as a person.” She tells AARP what’s up in her miraculous career year.
Back to Broadway as Mrs. Rosie Brice
Nearly a decade after her startlingly good Broadway debut as Miss Hannigan in the 2013 revival of Annie, Lynch now takes on Rosie Brice, the mother of heroine Fanny Brice (Beanie Feldstein), in the first-ever revival of the show that made Barbra Streisand famous. Ironically, whenever Lynch got a big career break, her own mom would leave a message on her answering machine, singing Rosie’s big tune in Funny Girl: “I taught her everything she knows!”
“I’ve seen the movie and know the Broadway soundtrack, probably the first piece of music I ever learned,” says Lynch, who saw her first Broadway show as a Cornell MFA student in 1983: Slab Boys, with Sean Penn and pre-fame Val Kilmer and Kevin Bacon. “Boy, they were so good!” Lynch never thought she’d make it to the Great White Way herself — “I certainly didn’t allow myself to have that crazy a fantasy” — but now she’s duplicated their leap from Hollywood to Broadway.
Loving living it up … on less
In Manhattan for Funny Girl, Lynch exults in living out of a suitcase and focusing on the stage. “I love eight shows a week, just devoting your life to that one thing,” she says. “I love hotel living, the spartan nature.” That said, the star confesses she is not a big fan of room service. “I’m still too cheap for that,” she says. “As life has gone on, I want less and less: less objects, less possessions, less people. Nothing makes me happier.”
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Could Sophie Lennon return?
Lynch feels an affinity for Sophie, the raucous, famous stand-up comic she plays on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — a character whose attempt at a serious Broadway career is as calamitous as Lynch’s is triumphant. “Sophie has one persona onstage that’s very free and funny and crass and confident,” she says. “Offstage, she’s quite brittle and thin-skinned and puts on airs in order to direct people away from that very soft underbelly.” Lynch says she can relate to Lennon’s frail sense of self. “Both parts of that persona are alive in me,” she says, “but the frail part isn’t as frail as it was when I was younger.”
The connections between Fanny and Midge
Despite the half century separating the protagonists of Funny Girl and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Lynch nonetheless sees the two as having a lot in common. “It’s about a woman trying to stay true to herself,” she says. “They tell her you can’t do this because you don’t fall into this mold. Each of them — Fanny and Midge — refused.” So does Lynch’s character, Rosie. “She has a thriving business doing what men traditionally do, owning a bar, a place where people come to dance at night. She knows what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world — she just plows forward, like her daughter. The fruit don’t fall far from the tree.”
She’s bringing back Constance Carmell — but not Sue Sylvester
After a 12-year hiatus, a revival limited-series season of cult comedy favorite Party Down is in production, with Lynch as the spacey, optimistic actor-turned-caterer Constance. “I always wanted to go back and play Constance Carmell again,” she says, only now the character is a rich widow with her own theatrical ambitions. Lynch thinks if they were to revive her memorably bullying cheerleader coach character Sue Sylvester on Glee, “it should be at a new high school. It was such a big hit, because kids and adults love that idea of people coming together to raise their voice in song and having each other’s back. It’s a great recipe.” That said, will Sue ever join a Glee reunion? “Can’t see it happening,” she says.
Gayle Jo Carter, the former entertainment editor at USA WEEKEND magazine, has interviewed newsmakers for AARP, USA WEEKEND, USA Today, Parade, Aspire and Washington Jewish Week.