By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—For five seasons, veteran comedy actress Jane Lynch has hosted NBC’s “Hollywood Game Night,” in which celebrities compete for charity alongside civilian contestants vying to win as much as $25,000.
The blond, statuesque actress describes the fun-filled show, which has featured cast members from “Veep,” “The Walking Dead,” “Superstore” and other popular TV shows as well as music artists including Ne-Yo who compete in wacky competitions. Ne-Yo returns for the Tuesday, Aug. 15 episode to vie against fellow music artist Michael Bolton and Filipino actress/model Vanessa Lachey, and others.
Best known for her TV role as scheming high school cheerleader coach Sue Sylvester in “Glee,” Lynch says she relishes the role of game show host, and views the show as more of a party than a traditional game show. A veteran of the Christopher Guest comedies “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind” and “Mascots,” the actress says she’s ready and willing to join his repertoire whenever he asks.
Q: You seem to have a lot of fun hosting “Hollywood Game Night.”
Lynch: Especially after five years. The first six episodes I struggled a little bit. Hopefully, it didn’t show. It’s just a blast. It’s a well-oiled machine. We get these great celebrities who come to have fun. They’re game. No one’s sitting on their hands. It’s a lot of fun.
Q: What were your struggles in the beginning?
Lynch: Just figuring it out. My voice was very piercing and high and I was trying to find my way through. (She laughs.) By the end of those (first) six shows I was much more of a cool cucumber.
Q: Is there a big difference between being a host and an actor?
Lynch: Yeah, but I don’t think about it (while I’m doing it), so that’s a good thing. It just comes kind of naturally. I love hosting parties in real life. I don’t necessarily like going to them. But I love watching people have fun. So (hosting “Hollywood Game Night”) fits into my skill set.
Q: Is that the producer/director in you?
Lynch: Probably, and knowing when to step in and corral the cast and knowing when to let things just happen. That’s one of the biggest instincts I’m walking away with from this show is that I have a feel now for allowing things to go a little crazy without going off the rules of the game, which is very important because we’ve got a guy up in the booth who, when I see him come down the stairs, I go, “Oh, God.” He’s watching the game—that’s all his job is—to make sure we’re staying within the parameters of the game because there’s money involved. We give somebody $25,000, possibly, at the end of the show.
Q: Do you consider this more than a game show?
Lynch: Yes. It’s beyond game show. It’s a party. It’s as if America is sitting back and enjoying a party with six shiny celebrities and two civilians just like them. You get to see these celebrities without their Hollywood game faces on. They’re just being themselves. We’ve been so lucky with everybody we’ve had on the show. They’re so genuine. They play the games and have fun. Nobody holds back.
Q: Has anyone come in and taken it way too seriously?
Lynch: It’s happened a couple of times. Of course, I’m not going to mention names. Out of all the shows they’ve we’ve produced of this show, that’s a fraction of a percent.
Q: You play former Attorney General Janet Reno on the “Manhunt: Unabomber” series. And you’ve been in “The Good Fight.” Are you going to return in that?
Lynch: I hope I do too. I want to do that again.
Q: Are you pleased you can take on these varied roles at this point in your career?
Lynch: I didn’t plan it that way. It’s just the roles that land at my feet and I ask myself, “Do I want to do this?” or “That looks like something fun.” I did that throughout my career, even before I was (well known). I was doing little musical shows. I was doing sketch-comedy shows. I was doing voiceovers. I was doing commercials. I was doing guest spots on sitcoms and procedurals. If you look at my credits on IMDB, you’ll see I was on almost every show in a guest spot from 1992 to 2000. So, I’ve always done a variety of different things. I guess it suits me.
Q: Do you have any further plans to work with filmmaker Christopher Guest?
Lynch: Not right now, but hopefully when he does something else, he’ll ask me. I love working with him and for him and everybody’s who’s involved. Our last movie was “Mascots,” which is on Netflix. He still directs commercials. I met him doing a commercial. I did a Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes commercial with him in 1999. That led to being cast in “Best in Show.” He’s great. Anytime you laugh watching a commercial, sincerely laugh, he’s probably directed it.
Q: Do you feel the impact of television in that people come up to you and feel like they know you?
Lynch: Yes, and it’s a mixed blessing, for sure. There’s a lot of need to take home a trophy kind of feeling that doesn’t sit real well with me. They’re good people and there are a lot of kids too because they’re conditioned to think that’s what you do. Taking selfies with you. And I don’t do it. I’m very nice about it. I’ll give somebody a hug and say, “No, thank you,” and grab them by the shoulders and say, “It’s nice to meet you,” or something like that. I don’t say, “Buzz off, kid.” It’s like I want them to know on some level that you don’t do that. I know that I should be grateful but I did not sign up for that.
Q: Maintaining that, the line between your private life and public persona, is probably not easy, right?
Lynch: It’s not, and it’s social conditioning too because kids are brought up on television and social media. You can waste 24 hours Googling a particular person, and this person might not be a very nice person but they loom hugely in your mind. You see them on the street and can’t stop yourself from running up to them. So, it’s social conditioning and there’s no sanity around it. I don’t think parents think there’s anything wrong with it, either. Or they just don’t think about it. I don’t want to sound like the whiny, liberal actor who’s had a terrific life not wanting to give back to children. That’s the meme that can go out there and I have to allow that.
Q: What was the fulcrum of your career?
Lynch: Probably “Glee.”
Q: Why did viewers connect with that show?
Lynch: I think “Glee” was a huge, positive, wonderful thing for kids. It’s all about inclusion and finding people in your life that support you and love you for exactly who you are, and not in spite of it, but just because they love you, and they raise their voice in song. I thought that was a huge shot in the arm for kids and our culture too. You can’t underestimate what that initial thrust of “Glee” was.
Q: Did you keep any of the track suits from that series?
Lynch: I did. In fact, I have one left now. I’ve given two away to charity. I have one left, a baby blue one left. It fits me like a dream. I’ve never worn it out.
“Hollywood Game Night” airs Tuesdays on NBC at 10 p.m./9c.