After four seasons as Sue Sylvester on Glee, Jane Lynch has gone from sitcom guest-star extraordinaire and comic dynamite in films like Best in Show and The 40-Year-Old Virgin to one of television’s most recognizable and celebrated actors, hosting the Emmys and Saturday Night Live. But way back when, she paid the bills with her clipped Midwestern voice, in numerous commercials and animated cartoons. “I made my living doing voiceovers, and getting an animated film was always the brass ring of being a celebrity,” says Lynch. “So now I’m just really grateful that I’m a celebrity and I get to do it. I’ve always loved it.”
In Wreck-it Ralph, the Disney animated blockbuster that mashes together worlds of familiar-looking arcade classics, Lynch voices Sergeant Calhoun, the voluptuous battlefield leader from the Halo-type game, Hero’s Duty. Sue Sylvester would be proud — judging by her gruff demeanor, Calhoun might just be related to R. Lee Ermey’s sergeant from Full Metal Jacket — but she’s not dressed in anything from Sylvester’s wardrobe. Calhoun’s leather and armor outfit shields a body that makes Lara Croft look like Peter Pan.
It’s no wonder that goody-two-shoes Fix-it Felix (Jack McBrayer) falls for her. When big-lug Ralph (John C. Reilly) grows weary of his villainous role in his video-game and sneaks into Hero’s Duty to earn a medal, he threatens to unplug both games forever. Calhoun and Felix team up to bring Ralph back home before their worlds are officially Game Over.
With Wreck-it Ralph already available as a digital download and due on Blu-ray and DVD on March 5, Lynch spoke to EW about her resemblance to Calhoun, her hopes to reunite with Christopher Guest, and how much she was paid to act opposite Harrison Ford 20 years ago. Then view an exclusive behind-the-scenes extra that explains the inspiration for Calhoun’s terrifying alien world.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on the Best Animated Film Oscar nomination for Wreck-it Ralph. Do voice actors get to attend the Oscar ceremony?
JANE LYNCH: They do not, sadly.
That doesn’t seem fair. I was really looking forward to seeing you walk the red carpet dressed as Sgt. Calhoun.
I did that on Ellen. You’ll have to check that out. I went as Sgt. Calhoun for Halloween and I wore it on Ellen.
Calhoun makes Barbie look like Twiggy. Was she always so bodacious in the early drawing stages?
No, I don’t remember her being so bodacious. Or so young and at her physical peak. She got sexier and tougher and more leather added to her outfit. It looks like she did Pilates for seven months in a row. So yeah, she definitely became hotter and her body became more smoking. I’m sure they were inspired by my own physique.
Did you know what the character was ultimately going to look like that, or was there some surprise when you saw the film for the first time?
I did, but what I found really interesting, and people who know me saw this too — she kind of moves her mouth like me and she moves her body in a way that I might move my body if I were Calhoun in that kind of game. Because they videotaped us while we did our sessions, so they actually were inspired by what we did, so I found that kind of interesting and fun.
I make no apologies but I’m tempted to purchase the limited edition Sergeant Calhoun doll… for only $145. For my children, of course.
Of course. I have one. It’s really worth the money, my friend.
I read that in one earlier incarnation of the script, Calhoun was a dude.
It’s kind of my lot in life. I have numerous roles that I’ve played that were originally written for men. The first role I ever had was playing a king in The Princess and the Pea story. My character in 40-Year-Old Virgin originally was a man. I’ve played tons of doctors and teachers and lawyers on guest spots on sitcoms that were originally conceived for men, that my agent was smart enough to say, “Do you see a woman in this role?” That’s happened to me a lot.
That’s interesting, and of course, that would have added a very different twist on the relationship between Calhoun and Fix-it Felix.
[Laughs]. Yeah, I do believe there was no love story at that stage.
In the movie, Ralph is tired of being the bad guy. After playing Sue Sylvester so famously on Glee, is there any part of you that kind of relates to that?
No, not at all. I’m grateful for [Sue]. I still do a lot of other things. I think the most important thing is that I don’t see myself as a one-trick pony.
A good example of that is A.C.O.D., which I had the pleasure of seeing at Sundance last month, in which you play a sort of child therapist who reconnects with a former now-adult patient played by your Party Down co-star Adam Scott. Now in real life, you’re married to a clinical psychologist and you’ve also authored a very personal memoir, so I couldn’t help but wonder whether the character you play in A.C.O.D. pulls from your own personal experiences.
No, I’ve been playing therapists and psychologists for a long time. I think most notoriously on Two and Half Men. For some reason, I tend to play psychologists. I guess I have enough of the crazy and enough of the well-spoken entitlement to tell somebody else they’re crazy.
I couldn’t help but think of you during the weekend because I caught a glimpse of the Westminster Dog Show, and it just made me think of Best in Show and all the other Christopher Guest movies you were a part of.
I think Christopher just captured that whole culture. And that movie stands up over time. It’s 13 years old and I think it’s still very funny.
He’s working on a show for HBO now, but are you planning to collaborate again soon.
I hope so. I probably can’t do that [show] because I’m on Glee. But I hope we do something. I hope I haven’t reached the end of that line.
On Glee, Will and Emma almost got married last night, but what can we expect from Sue in the second half of the season.
My storyline gets very interesting. I start having a feud with Darren Criss who plays Blaine. That’s about all I can tell you, but we have a feud where we sing at each other.
Forgive me for reaching this far back, but I’ve only seen The Fugitive on cable about 117 times since it first came out in 1993. And you have a small but essential role as one of Harrison Ford’s loyal doctor colleagues. IMDb.com, which is always right, claimed you earned $8,000 to play Dr. Kathy Wahlund.
Yeah, that was another part that was written for a man. They basically thought the movie was too man-heavy. I knew [director] Andy Davis’ assistant at the time, and she told them that there was this girl in Chicago who can do it. They hired me without even auditioning me, and that was such a crazy thing for me. The $8,000 was a ton of money, and still is a ton of money.
I got to the set that day and I was very very very very nervous, because I was going to meet Harrison Ford, who was quite possibly the biggest star in the world at that time. Harrison was not pleased with how the scene was written, and so he grabbed me and we went in to his trailer and we kind of mapped out the beats of what we thought the scene should be. I was pretty good at that kind of thing, so I held my own, and we immediately became two actors just trying to figure out how to make this thing work. I spent some nice time with him in his huge trailer and couldn’t believe I was there actually working with him.
It’s not inevitable, but when an animated film is as successful as Wreck-it Ralph, there’s bound to be talk about sequels. Is that something you’d embrace?
I’d jump into it in a second. It was so much fun.