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Jane Lynch on How She Almost Wreck-It Ralph-ed Her Career

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"I think I'm done. I don't know where I'll go or what I'll do. Maybe I'll just go somewhere and teach theater."

This isn't how one expects Jane Lynch -- the Emmy Award-winning actress who plays Sue Sylvester, the aggressive cheerleading coach in Glee, and who can now be heard voicing the tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun in Walt Disney Animation Studios' latest production, Wreck-It Ralph -- to sound. But it wasn't all that long ago that Lynch had really had her fill of Hollywood.

"I must have been 37 or 38 at the time," this 52-year-old recalled during a recent interview. "Don't get me wrong. I had a pretty nice career going. I was making a good living doing a lot of voiceover work for radio. A guest spot here and there on television. But I just wasn't able to break through to the next level."

Which is why -- during a hike through the Hollywood Hills -- Jane confided to a friend that she was thinking about chucking it all. Getting out of the business.

"And she said 'Don't you dare. You just keep doing this,' " Lynch continued. "So by the time we got to the bottom of Fryman Canyon, I was back in the game. And I'd gotten a good workout too."

And it's a good thing that Jane decided to hang in there. Because the project that finally really put her on the map in Hollywood -- Christopher Guest's 2000 mockumentary, Best in Show -- along just a few years later.

"That's the thing that kind of blew the doors open for my career," Lynch reflected. "But to get handed the brass ring at 40, at a time in my life when I actually knew who I was and what I wanted to do, that was like some preposterous fancy coming true."

Which brings us to where Jane is today. Back to work on a super-popular TV series ("We've just finished shooting our eighth episode for this season") as well as enjoying the whole Wreck-It Ralph experience.

" I grew up on Disney films. And to now be a part of one, to know that someday Wreck-It Ralph is going to be on a shelf next to Jungle Book and Snow White and Cinderella, that's a pretty amazing thing," Lynch said.

Mind you, Jane wasn't entirely sure what she'd gotten herself into when she'd initially agreed to take part in this new WDAS project.

"Like I said, I'd done some voiceover work earlier in my career. I'd worked at ICM with some truly talented people like Lorenzo Music & Tony Jay recording radio commercials. So I knew my way around a microphone and a set of headphones," Lynch stated. "But when you're asked to do a reading for someone like John Lasseter -- who I'm a huge fan of, by the way -- that's a really, really big deal."

That was one of the more intriguing aspects of being recruited to work on Wreck-It Ralph. That -- before WDAS would actually commit to making this new animated feature -- they staged a reading of the first draft of this film's screenplay up at the Pixar campus in Emeryville, Calif.

"This was like 2 1/2 years ago. And it was like a big field trip," Lynch remembered. "We all went out to the airport and got on a Southwest flight to San Francisco. Once we landed at the airport, we all then got on this big bus and drove on over to Pixar. There we met the film's director, Rich Moore. They fed us, feted us, and then we read the script."

And Rich & John must have liked what they heard. Because six months later, Jane found herself in a recording booth recording lines for Sergeant Calhoun, the formidable female who basically drives the action in the "Hero's Duty" video game.

"I have to admit that I was a little nervous when I showed up for my first official Wreck-It Ralph recording session. I was wondering if Rich wanted me to do a different voice or to kind of do my own thing," Lynch continued. "Happily, the reason Rich hired me is that he wanted me to use my own voice, my comic persona."

In fact, that's why Moore put together the vocal cast that he did for Wreck-It Ralph. Comic performers like John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer and Jane who had lots of experience when it came to improv.

"Rich was very encouraging when it came to us coming up with our own takes on our characters' dialogue. During our recording sessions for Wreck-It Ralph, he'd always ask if we had anything that we thought might be better. Put a different spin on a particular piece of dialogue," Lynch explained. "And John (C. Reilly), he really embraced this idea. That's what he does. He has to make his characters real, his own. Which is why -- when I recorded with John -- he'd maybe say his lines as they were written in the script once."

And the entire time John, Jane, Sarah and Jack were recording their dialogue for Wreck-It Ralph, WDAS had a video camera set up in the booth. So that the artists and animators could then reference how these actors actually moved as they later animated individual scenes for this film.

"And when you watch Wreck-It Ralph, you can really see how that video reference footage paid off," Lynch said. "When I was watching the movie the other day, I noticed that Felix does exactly what Jack does when he's talking. The exact same hand moves & gestures. And Sarah Silverman is all over Vanellope."

But Jane's proudest moment came when she finally saw the fully rendered version of Sergeant Calhoun up there on the big screen.

"I mean, here was this idealized version of me up there on screen. The way that I imagine that I go through life with clear skin and beautiful hair. So I lean over to my wife during this screening and say 'Don't I look great?' And she turns to me and says 'Honey, it's animation,' " Lynch laughed.

So even though she was never much of a gamer ("I played 'Asteroids' when I was in college. And I was usually very drunk when I did"), Lynch is thrilled to be part of projects like Wreck-It Ralph and Glee. Especially at this point in her career.

"When I was younger, I actually wanted to be in the spotlight. To have people want me, want to have a piece of me," Jane said. "But now that I've matured, I've realized that -- at the end of the day -- what's really important is the work, not what people think of me."

"Which is why I tell kids who are just getting started in the business and are looking for advice that you gotta find your own path," Lynch concluded. "You have to be prepared to keep doing it, keep trying no matter what. No one's just going to hand you a career. I waited for years for someone to hand me one and it never happened."

In short, don't give in to those moments of self doubt like Jane once had high up in the Hollywood Hills. Don't Wreck-It Ralph your chances to make in show biz. Just soldier on like Sergeant Calhoun. Because you never know. A Best in Show-like career break could be waiting for you, just around the corner.

Jim Hill is an award-winning entertainment writer who lives in New Boston, NH. Over the past 30 years, he has interviewed hundreds of veterans of the animation & themed entertainment industry and written extensively about The Walt Disney Company.

Jim is currently working on a behind-the-scene history of the development & construction of Disneyland. For his more immediate musings on movies, TV shows, books and theme parks, please check out his blog, jimhillmedia.com.