Jane Lynch and the Mommy Track (Suit)
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
September 12 2011 4:00 AM ET
Nearly 30 years ago, Jane Lynch was a bitchy Cornell University student with a tragic perm and a habit of ending her day with a six-pack of Miller Lite. The Dolton, Ill., native was studying theater, seething with envy and entitlement, and like the beloved antihero she plays on Glee, Sue Sylvester, “hell-bent on revenge and out to crush the dreams of the innocent.” But that anger was a holdover from childhood. And her arrogance, as she recounts in her new memoir, Happy Accidents, was really hiding a deep secret: She was different.
Lynch grew up a middle child, desperate for attention from her banker dad and a fashionista mom whose biggest quandary was making sure her children would have “normal” lives (a maternal concern that Lynch understood to mean don’t be different, don’t make waves, and definitely don’t be gay). Lynch’s parents threw quintessential ’60s mixers, martini-drenched cocktail soirees that meant leftover half-empty glasses Lynch could sneak drinks from, cigarette butts she could scrounge to relight as a tween. Once, when she was only 12, Lynch recalls, “My dad caught me lighting up outside…I overheard him proudly telling my mom in the kitchen, ‘She’s out there smoking like a pro.’ ”
It was a solidly middle-class, white-picket-fence world, but Lynch says something was wrong. She was frightened by an underlying difference. She felt out of place at home, in her family, even in her own body. When she sneakily played dress-up, it was in Dad’s clothes, not Mom’s, and she dreamed of becoming the heroic prince in the Disney films, never the princess. She longed to be the ultimate 1960s man with a cocktail in his hand and a woman on his arm. Long before he was a TV character, Don Draper was a hero in little Janey Lynch’s mind.
So as soon as she had access in her adolescent years, Lynch turned to booze to smooth out the edges and mute the difference. Later she drank and drank and drank to hide the pain and confusion. Even though she wasn’t a crazy drunk as a young woman (“I worked, I paid my taxes”), she was a functional alcoholic who more than once woke up to find vomit from the night before with no recollection of how it got there. It would take an Indigo Girls–inspired lesbian-songwriter grunge phase and a night of dope and despondency at 31 to make her hit Alcoholics Anonymous—and finally come out to her parents.
Lynch has come a long way. She’s hosting the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards in September and is only the third woman in the show’s history to do so solo — and she’s up for an award to boot. Lynch, who already has a shelf full of honors (an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a SAG award for Glee alone), is one of the most recognizable women in television. And that’s a bit ironic, especially because many of her roles were originally written for men.
Often playing a straight shooter with a dry wit and a poker face, the actress has been in a bevy of films, including thinky kiddie flicks (Shrek, Forever After, and Rio); critically acclaimed mainstream movies and boy-centric blockbusters (Julie & Julia, Role Models, The 40-Year Old Virgin, and the upcoming Farrelly brothers reboot of The Three Stooges); and the Christopher Guest indie darlings that first brought her fame (Best in Show). But her real legacy is on TV. Beginning with 1993’s Empty Nest, Lynch has appeared in more than 50 TV series, most of which were top-ranking prime-time hits in their day, including Friends, Frasier, Dawson’s Creek, Criminal Minds, The L Word, and, of course, the number 1 prime-time comedy still running, CBS’s Two and a Half Men.
It is her turn on Two and a Half Men that got her into the biggest role of her life: motherhood. A lesbian and recovering alcoholic who found widespread fame at 48, Lynch has never felt her own biological clock ticking; she assumed parenthood had passed her by. Then she spied psychologist Lara Embry — famous for a custody battle she waged with her former partner over one of their daughters and eventually won — at a gala for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in 2009. Embry’s best friend was a Two and a Half Men fan and urged her to get the star’s autograph.
And, like in those fairy tales Lynch watched as a kid, the couple fell in love. Within a year, Lynch was married with children. (When they wed, Lynch’s equally witty mother quipped, “Well, at least you’re marrying a doctor!”) Their children are Haden, 9, Embry’s biological daughter who lives with the couple full-time, and Chase, 11, of whom Embry shares custody with her former partner, Kimberly Ryan.