'Glee's' Jane Lynch talks new role as Miss Hannigan in 'Annie'

Jane Lynch with Olivia, an Lhasa Apso breed,

Jane Lynch with Olivia, an Lhasa Apso breed, in Venice, Calif. (March 9, 2013) (Credit: AP)

That little Annie kid with the red hair better watch out -- Jane Lynch will have her doing pushups in seconds.

It seems perfect casting -- Lynch, beloved by millions for her searing, sneering high school gym teacher Sue Sylvester on TV's "Glee," is making her Broadway debut as the villainous Miss Hannigan in the acclaimed Broadway revival of "Annie" at the Palace Theatre. She took over the role from Katie Finneran last week and stars in the show through July 14.

Lynch also will host "Hollywood Game Night," a prime-time celebrity game show created by Sean Hayes, debuting in July on NBC.

Pre-"Glee," Lynch was known for comic turns in films like Christopher Guest's "Best in Show" and alongside Steve Carell in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." A poignant performance as Julia Child's sister in "Julie & Julia" followed. She got her start in Chicago, performing with the acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company and The Second City comedy troupe.

Lynch, 52, is married to psychologist Lara Embry and is raising a stepdaughter, Haden, 11. She met last month with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio in her dressing room.

 

You're debuting on Broadway as a mean, maniacal woman... who abuses kids. How will you pull that off?

Oh, I'm gonna dig deep. It's gonna stretch me. Unlike anything I've done in a long time.

 

I guess, actually, they're two very different characters.

They are. Miss Hannigan is much more sloppy... and drunk. More see-through. And maybe not as successful as Sue Sylvester at manipulation. Sue is stealthy. But Hannigan is kind of a mess.

 

Are you nervous?

The dance is the hardest part for me. I've been working diligently on that for about a month. There's 16 bars of tap. When I saw the show, my friend who saw it with me just grabbed my arm and whispered, "You're gonna have to tap." So... right now... it's... a whole bowl of ingredients that you hope will make soup. There's the dancing, singing, acting, the blocking, the backstage traffic patterns, the wig, the makeup, the costume changes -- it's a whole bunch of things. As we're sitting here, I'm downloading a whole bunch of files in my head.

 

Do you have any memories of the original "Annie" production?

I grew up in Dolton, Ill. -- we didn't get to Broadway much. So I never saw a production of it, but I know every breath of the cast album. To actually watch the show and see -- oh, wow, that's why they have that song... It was fun to discover that.

 

Actors have told me that being a replacement is the hardest job in the business. You get few rehearsals -- you just have to hit the ground running.

You do. One of the first things I did was understudy at Steppenwolf and Second City. So I'd have to be completely ready to go. They'd say, "Come in now, So-and-so is throwing up." I'd show up and have to plug myself into their show. It's not that I arrive and say, "Hey, let's try a new take on this scene." I became very good at that. I like to be confined artistically.

 

What do you mean, confined?

I love parameters. Otherwise it's like jumping off a cliff. James Lapine], our director, would say, "You know, if you wanna change this blocking..." and I'd say, "Don't worry about it." I like knowing that I have to go from here to there. I'll be creative within the confines. I feel safe in the confines.

 

Later this year, we'll see "Hollywood Game Night."

It's Sean Hayes' brainchild. Sean has these ridiculous, fun game nights at his house. I've been to a few of them. They're elaborate -- he plans them to the second. We play Celebrity and other pop-culture games. On the show, we'll have two teams, with three celebrities and one civilian on each team.

 

So how are you on game nights? Do I want you on my team?

You would want me on your team, but you don't ever want to play against me. I'm rather, umm... I'm brutal. The Sue Sylvester in me comes out. I'm a nice person in real life. But when I play games and you don't know the answer to what I think is a simple question, I will shame you.

 

Meanwhile, on "Glee," Sue Sylvester... fired?

She was.

 

Will we still see her next season?

Oh, yes. I don't know when she'll go back to McKinley, but she's started a new life as an aerobics instructor for 23 Hour Fitness.

 

What happened to that last hour?

They scrub down the steam room, I think, in that hour.

 

So, we'll see her in another life.

Yeah. We'll see -- they haven't even picked up my option yet, so... we'll see.

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