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'The Audacity To Win' The Presidency

As Barack Obama's presidential campaign manager, David Plouffe was responsible for constructing an unprecedented grass-roots campaign. In his new book, The Audacity To Win: The Insside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory, Plouffe presents a behind-the-scenes look at a historic campaign.

20:51

Other segments from the episode on November 4, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 4. 2009: Interview with David Plouffe; Interview with Jane Lynch.

Transcript

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“The Audacity To Win” The Presidency

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

It seemed like a far-fetched prospect in 2006, when my guest, David Plouffe,
and his partner, David Axelrod, had their first meeting with Barack Obama about
running for president. Plouffe became Obama's chief campaign manager, Axelrod
the chief strategist.

In Plouffe's new memoir, "The Audacity to Win," he says that last November, he
had a hard time actually believing they'd won; and Axelrod said, it's too big
to comprehend. Plouffe writes: We had just elected the president of the United
States; an African-American man, born to a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother,
just four years out of the Illinois State Senate. How they won is the subject
of the memoir.

Earlier in Plouffe's career, he managed two U.S. Senate races, a congressional
race, and was the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee. In 2004 he became a partner at AKPD Message and Media, the firm
founded by David Axelrod. Axelrod is now Obama's senior advisor; Plouffe is not
serving in the administration.

GROSS: David Plouffe, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, you'd worked on Obama's 2004
Senate campaign. When he told you that he was considering running for
president, did you honestly think he was ready?

Mr. DAVID PLOUFFE (Author, "The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons
of Barack Obama's Historic Victory"): First of all, we weren't sure he would
run. I mean, you know, most people plan to run for president for years, in some
cases decades, and so, you know, he jumped into this in a very unorthodox way.
And I think both David Axelrod and I thought that he'd probably end up not
running when we first began to discuss it.

But as it became clear that he was more serious, and this may happen, I think I
began to really feel confident that he had the potential to be a terrific
president. I wasn't sure he had the potential to be a great candidate.

GROSS: Why not?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Because he had never campaigned across the country, had never
really been in a tough election where he had had attacks against him. And there
are similarities, obviously, between a good candidate and a good president, but
they also have quite some important distinctions. And so I think that was the
outstanding question is: could he adapt to the rigors of this?

And you know, we obviously had some fits and starts, but you know, he ended up
being one of the best presidential candidates to grace that stage, certainly in
a generation.

GROSS: Now, you write that early on in the campaign, you told Obama that he had
to let go and trust the staff, that the staff will inevitably screw up, but the
most precious resource in any campaign is the candidate's time. So Obama
couldn't also be the campaign manager and the scheduler and the driver. And
Obama said: I understand that intellectually, but this is my life and career,
and I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the
people I'll hire to do it. And you said: This was my first exposure to Obama's
significant self-confidence. Did you think of it at the time as significant
self-confidence or arrogance?

Mr. PLOUFFE: No, it's interesting. That actually conversation is from 2003. So
this is when he is in his Senate race. So to think about that conversation. I
mean, we're basically talking about, you know, you've got to stop driving
yourself, you've got to let someone else keep your schedule. And you know, five
and a half short years later, he's been elected president. I mean, it's a
remarkable trajectory.

So no, I did not think it was arrogance. I just think it was someone who had
been, you know, in state Senate races – he had run for Congress once and lost –
so you know, he had done most things by himself. And now he was running for
statewide office, and so he had to learn to give up a little bit. And that's
fairly common in candidates.

You know, we all like to control our time, right? And to give that up is a
pretty big sacrifice, but it's the only way you can really run a campaign.

GROSS: You write that you had done zero research on your own candidate,
violating a central rule of politics, know more about yourself than your
opponents and the media do. Were you referring to Obama's Senate race or to the
presidential race when you wrote that?

Mr. PLOUFFE: In the presidential race. There was some research done in the
Senate race, although you have to remember that he ended up not having a
competitive general election in 2004 in the Senate race, because his opponent
had to drop out, so – and he ended up running against Alan Keyes in what was a
cake walk, so – and because he had not been preparing to run for president.

If he had been preparing to run for president in 2006 and 2007, you know, we
would have had people doing research. But that was a casualty of kind of how we
got into this, which was very last minute, without a lot of planning. And so
that made the entry into the campaign difficult because we are having to deal
with things like, you know, making sure computers worked, and we had a Web
site, and we got staff on the ground in Iowa and places like that - but we were
also getting a lot of inquiries about his life, and we didn't have all the
answers.

So that was a really tortuous period, because every day, you know, we'd get
inquiries that we didn't have the answers to, and so…

GROSS: What should you have known that you didn't know about Barack Obama when
you started running his presidential campaign?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well, I think again it was less a sin of commission that just of
circumstance. So you know, the kind of things you wanted. You want to evaluate,
obviously, every vote he cast in Illinois and in Washington and all the
campaign contributions and all the statements that have made. And you know, we
didn't have all that. We had to gather all that, in many respects. So it made
it difficult.

GROSS: You got blindsided by Reverend Wright twice during the presidential
campaign. The first time was just before he was scheduled to give the
invocation when Barack Obama was announcing that he would run for president,
and a Rolling Stone was just published in which – what were some of the things
Wright was quoted as saying in that that you found upsetting?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well, there was many. I actually right now can't recall the exact
language, but it was, you know, very inflammatory. It was along the lines of
the type of thing that we would see later in '08 popping up all over the
Internet and all over cable TV.

GROSS: Well, let me quote what you say in the book that you found most
disturbing. Reverend Wright said we were deeply involved in the importing of
drugs, the exporting of guns and the training of professional killers. We
believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we
believe in God. We conducted radiation experiments on our own people; we cared
nothing about human life if the ends justify the means.

So after reading those quotes in Rolling Stone, you and Barack Obama and the
team decided that Reverend Wright should not give the invocation, he should
just do a kind of quiet prayer, backstage, behind the scenes with Obama and his
family. And you write, but you still didn't investigate him more. What do you
think, in retrospect, you should have done to find out more about Reverend
Wright and about how statements that he was making or had made might affect the
campaign?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well, I think we should have gone through and looked at every
sermon, every statement he had ever made, and you know, we did not do that. We
looked at some of them.

GROSS: How come you didn't do that? Did you think, well, this was just an
aberration, or people were blowing it out of proportion? Like - why didn't you
look more?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well, I think we thought, you know, we – you know, and what, you
know, Barack Obama had said previously about this was obviously, we all have
pastors and priests and people who say things we don't agree with. And you
know, his relationship with that church community was quite strong, and you
know, it was much more about the church community - they do remarkable service
work and mentoring work – than any one individual.

So I think that we thought that that would be raised, and that would be how it
would be answered. But I think that we should have gone through everything ever
said. It was kind of a breakdown. We thought some of it was being done by our
research department, and it was, but not as thoroughly.

We should have – a group of us at a more senior level should have, you know,
demanded to look at all the videos of the, you know, inflammatory language so
that we could gauge whether it would be, you know, a destructive impact or not
- and we didn't do that.

And so, we weren't caught off guard that Wright had said inflammatory things,
it's just, you know, some of those tapes, when they emerged on ABC and Fox
News, and then blew up all over the Internet - that was the first time we had
seen those videos, and that was really unforgivable. In that respect, you know,
we certainly let our candidate down.

And you know, the other thing is just to, you know, think through – obviously,
he eventually, you know, separated from Wright and the church. And you know, we
really never had that discussion about whether he should do that.

Now, most of the time in the campaign, he was, you know, attending church
services in Iowa, New Hampshire and other places - not at Trinity. But - so it
was really a breakdown and something that, you know, was very searing, because
it wasn't just that, you know, we were going through a tough time - that's
always hard enough - but when you deserve some blame for what's happening, it
makes it even tougher.

GROSS: The statements that Reverend Wright had made and the controversy that
surrounded them and the hit that Obama was taking as a result of it, led to his
speech about race, which I think most people would agree was a kind of
groundbreaking speech that really reached people, you know, in an emotional
way. And from what you write, it sounds like Obama had been wanting to give a
speech about race but that you and David Axelrod discouraged him from doing it
until the Wright episode. Why did you discourage him from giving a speech about
race?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well, it wasn't something he had a great urgency about. He had
just raised whether or not, you know, it would make some sense, you know, given
his candidacy. And we explained listen, what, you know, people are focused on
is who's going to end the war in Iraq, and who's going to create jobs for the
middle class, and finally get health care done, and you know, it's tough enough
to reach people with messages. If you're offering them too many of them, you're
not going to be effective. And he agreed with that.

And what we saw in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina is - I think there
was some notion in the beginning of the campaign, you know, would he be able to
attract support from white voters. And you know, we saw in Illinois, he did.
But our view was listen, he either will, or he won't. We had confidence he
would, but not much we can do about it.

So when it came to the Wright thing, I mean, this is a remarkable leadership
moment. You know, the political playbook certainly does not suggest that you
elevate an issue like Wright. You know, what you try and do is do some
interviews and hope it goes away. And what he said is no, I need to give a
speech about this and put it in larger context.

So that guaranteed that Reverend Wright would be the dominant issue in the
campaign for a long period of time. And this was something that, you know, we
didn't do any polling on, you know, we didn't do a lot of consultation on. This
was Barack Obama's desire and his gut. He obviously ended up writing that
speech. And you know, it was a remarkable moment, and we didn't know how it was
going to turn out. But I'll never forget him saying, you know, maybe people
won't accept this speech and they won't expect my explanation, but you know,
that's fine. What's important is that I tell the American people what I believe
about this, try and talk about this in some context, maybe this can be an
educational moment. And so, what we saw after the Wright speech, was there were
still plenty of voters who were concerned about it, obviously, but they all,
for the most part, thought that he had handled it like they'd like a leader to,
and like few politicians these days seem to.

So it was a wonderful, I think, insight into him. Without that, you know, I
think we probably would have gone on to be the Democratic nominee, but we would
have been probably more weakened than we were.

GROSS: My guest is David Plouffe, who was Barack Obama's campaign manager. His
new memoir is called "The Audacity to Win." We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is David Plouffe, and he was the
campaign manager for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. He's written a
memoir called "The Audacity to Win."

When John Edwards was ready to drop out of the race, he offered to make a deal
with the Obama campaign, you know, he'll drop out, but he expected something in
return, but he also made it clear that he'd go with Hillary Clinton if she made
a better deal. Give us a sense of what happened behind the scenes.

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well, this was a conversation with someone who had been a senior
member of his campaign team. So whether this person got ahead of Edwards or
not, I can't really speak to, but what the representation was, was that, you
know, he may get out. If he gets out, you know, he'd like to understand what,
possibly, arrangements could be made for the future.

And you know, what we said was listen, Senator, we'd love your support, but you
know, we're obviously not going to be locked into any commitments. And you
know, I think when President Obama talked to Senator Edwards, the conversation
wasn't quite as direct as the one I had with his representation. And our belief
was that, you know, even though we were in a fierce contest with Senator
Clinton at the time, you know, she, having gone through eight years of the
Clinton administration, knew better than most, that you can't make these kind
of premature decisions about personnel in an administration.

So we thought at the end of the day it was a fairly bizarre moment, that, you
know, we certainly weren't going to offer anything concrete, and we didn't
think Senator Clinton would, either. So it was – what was interesting is the
Edwards campaign at that point said, you know, they didn't think we could win
South Carolina without Edwards' support, and it was interesting. It was a very
fundamental misreading of how the South Carolina primary was going to unfold.

GROSS: Let me ask you something that's a little off-topic here. John Corsi, who
was one of the leaders of the Swift Boat campaign during the Kerry campaign, he
went to – I guess it was, was it Kenya - and tried to dig up information that
could be used against Barack Obama. And he found that Barack Obama had a half-
brother who was very poor, and he tried to make that seem as if it showed
Barack Obama's lack of regard for his own family. And I'm wondering, how did
that play inside the Obama campaign? You don't discuss this in the book, but
I'm just - I'm really curious.

Mr. PLOUFFE: I don't think we paid a moment of attention to it. I mean, I think
it was preposterous, and, you know, I think…

GROSS: What was preposterous?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well, the whole notion, you know, that somehow, you know, this
reflected poorly on his character. I think that – I think the Republican, sort
of that wing of the Republican Party, you know, was so committed at trying to
destroy his character. And I think, you know, what's interesting about a
presidential campaign is it's a very transparent affair.

Voters take your full measure. You really can't hide who you are. And so we
didn't get worried about things like that because we didn't think voters would.
You know, I think a lot of times, people in politics make the mistake of doing
these kind of inflammatory things because they can get press attention, without
thinking first about how are voters going to receive this information. And I
think one thing we did well in the campaign was we always keep very focused on
voters and the people. You know, what message are we sending to them? And we
trusted them.

We thought that they were ready to have a serious discussion about serious
issues, and they were. And I think the other side – you know, when the McCain
campaign ran ads saying that, you know, Barack Obama is an empty celebrity like
Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, people didn't have a lot of tolerance for
that.

You know, there's plenty of people who said, you know, I'm not sure I'm going
to vote for Obama, I've got problems with him, and I disagree with him on
issues - but the notion that he's, you know, an empty celebrity like these
starlets, it was insulting to people.

GROSS: You focus-grouped that, didn't you, that campaign to see how people
would respond, the celebrity campaign?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Yeah, and the media was all, you know, lathering up, thinking it
was a great idea by the McCain campaign, and it wasn't working. There were many
times during the campaign where, you know, we were seeing the campaign through
a different set of eyes than the media was, and I do think the media tends to
get really taken by these ads, you know, that are kind of really over the top.
They kind of – the media tends to view things through the prism of the last
race – oh, Swift-Boating worked last time, it's going to work this time – and I
think one of the reasons we, you know, were successful was, you know, we had a
blank sheet of paper, and we studied history, but we were not bound by it. And
I think that made us a very strong and effective campaign.

GROSS: Now, you write that you expected Hillary Clinton to concede in
Minneapolis because you were confident you had the numbers. And as you're
expecting her to conceded, and as Barack Obama is preparing to make a speech
saying that he's going to be the candidate, Terry McAuliffe, her campaign
chair, introduces her as the next president of the United States. Your
reaction?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well, we were dumbfounded, because it wasn't our belief that we
had won. We had been declared the winner by every television network and every
newspaper. So it was like we were living in a parallel universe. But you know,
within three or four days, she did concede, and you know, I think if you look
at our campaign, you know, that was a year-and-a-half contest.

It was brutal, it was tough, it was close. And you know, she didn't take two or
three months to kind of get her arms around helping us. She helped us right
away and in profound and important ways. And I think it speaks really highly of
her character that she so quickly said, you know, the stakes of this election
are so high, we can't afford more of the Bush agenda, that's what McCain's
offering. And so yeah, that was a night where, you know, we were unhappy,
obviously, that it seemed to be that reality wasn't acknowledged, but what's
important in the long view is that it was quickly acknowledged, and you know,
she became a huge asset in the campaign.

GROSS: She insisted on a meeting before conceding. What happened behind the
scenes? What were you negotiating about?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well, I think the meeting was both of us wanted to do it.
Obviously, the two principals needed to come together and talk about how we
were going to move forward, and you know, for the most part, negotiations over
the convention and hiring some of her staff and trying to get her volunteers
involved in our campaign all went very, very well.

Obviously, she was carrying a debt, and so there was some discussion about how
to help with that, and we did what we could, probably not as much as they would
have liked, but it's hard thing to do to raise money to erase someone's debt
while you're still trying to run a presidential campaign.

But the negotiations, after what we went through – again, kind of looking over
the sides of the DMZ for 18 months - went swimmingly well. You know, we – 95
percent of the things in our first conversation were taken care of. And their
approach was basically - it was tough, but you guys won, and we cannot allow
the Republicans to be in control of the presidency for another four years, so
we're going to do all we can.

And her motivation there was very pure. You know, it was not about what was in
it for her. It was all about…

GROSS: She didn't ask for a position? She didn't say, and in return, I want to
be vice presidential candidate, secretary of state, Supreme Court justice?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Not at all. No, and I was impressed by that. I really think her
motivation here was that Barack Obama, his view of the world, his approach to
domestic issues, was so far superior to what McCain would do that she just
wanted to do all she could to win. It was very impressive. And in fact, you
know, when we were getting pressured by some of her supporters to pick her for
VP, you know, she went in there very effectively and said, well, wait a minute;
this is his decision, his alone. We shouldn't put any pressure on him. And I
think that's, again, because she understands, you know, given what she went
through with President Clinton, that you know, someone like Barack Obama needed
the time and space and atmosphere to make what he believed to be the right
decision.

GROSS: So Barack Obama's president now. What are you doing?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well, I am – I wrote the book. I spent a lot of this year writing
the book, and I'm going to spend, you know, the next year spending a lot of
time with my family, and you know…

GROSS: How come you're not in the administration?

Mr. PLOUFFE: Well strictly for personal reasons. You know, I have young family.

GROSS: You had a baby born, like, two days after the election.

Mr. PLOUFFE: Two days after the election.

GROSS: Amazing.

Mr. PLOUFFE: So you know, in these things, whether it be a campaign or the
White House, you know, you're all in. There is no shortcuts. And after two
years of the campaign, we needed a couple years to rebalance our lives, and you
know, what I told the president is obviously, down the road if he needs my
help, I'll be ready in a couple years. But he's got a remarkable team doing
remarkable work, and I'm proud to know them and think they're doing great work
for America.

GROSS: David Plouffe, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. PLOUFFE: Thanks, Terry. Thanks for having me on.

GROSS: David Plouffe was Barack Obama's campaign manager. His new memoir is
called "The Audacity to Win." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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The Many Roles Of “Glee” Meanie Jane Lynch

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Now that my guest Jane Lynch costars on the
Fox TV series "Glee" as the coach of the cheerleading squad, she's starting to
get the recognition she deserves. Before "Glee," she was best known for her
comic performances in the mockumentary "Best in Show" and "The 40 Year Old
Virgin" and her roles in "The L Word," "Julie and Julia" and the Starz TV
series "Party Down."

"Glee" premiered last May after the season finale of "American Idol" and
started its first season in September. "Glee" is about a high school teacher
trying to put together a winning glee club with a group of students who are
mostly losers.

The glee club coach tries to be sensitive to the needs and insecurities of his
students, but the cheerleading coach, played by Lynch, is mean to her girls and
never satisfied with their performance. She sees the glee club as her rival and
eventually even tries to take it over. Here she is confronting the glee club
coach, played by Matthew Morrison.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Glee")

Ms. JANE LYNCH (Actor): (as Sue Sylvester) So I had a little chat with
Principal Figgins, and said that if your group doesn’t place at regionals, he's
cutting the program. Ouch.

Mr. MATTHEW MORRISON (Actor): (as Will Schuester) You know, you don’t have to
worry about glee club. We're going to be fine.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Sue Sylvester) Really? Because I was at the local library where
I read Cheerleading Today aloud to blind geriatrics, and I came across this
little page turner: the show choir rule book. And it turns out you need 12 kids
to qualify for regionals. Last time I looked, you only had five and a half.
Here, cripple in the wheelchair. I also took the liberty of highlighting some
special ed classes for you. Maybe you could find some recruits, because I'm not
sure there's anybody else who's going to want to swim over to your island of
misfit toys.

Mr. MORRISON: (as Will Schuester) Are you threatening me, Sue?

Ms. LYNCH: (as Sue Sylvester) Threatening you? Oh, no, no, no. Presenting you
with an opportunity to compromise yourself? You bet you.

GROSS: Jane Lynch, welcome to FRESH AIR. I want you to describe your character
in "Glee."

Ms. LYNCH: Well, she's kind of that inner mean girl that a lot of us have, that
she's kind of right out in front. She doesn’t have a filter. She doesn’t have
that socially acceptable way that we, you know, put how we might really feel,
we'll put them into terms that, you know, are softer than what Sue would do.
She's kind of right out there, and she takes great delight in her heinousness
and her political incorrectness. And so that's where she gets her glee from.

GROSS: Now, you’ve almost developed a catch phrase. You think that's hard…

Ms. LYNCH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: …try fill in the blank.

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah. Right.

GROSS: What have been your favorite, you think, that’s hard retorts?

Ms. LYNCH: My favorite one was you think this is hard, try launching a fall
show in May. That's hard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: We did that for a promo. But the first one I came up with was the…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: The first one I came up with was the waterboarding one. If you think
this is hard, try being waterboarded. That's hard. And then, Ian Brennan - our
writer - came up with a ton more. And I think, in the pilot, I said you think
this is hard, I'm living with hepatitis. That's hard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So you came up with the waterboarding one?

Ms. LYNCH: I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: How did you come up with that? What was the context?

Ms. LYNCH: Well, the cheerleaders are in this pyramid and their muscles are
shaking and I'm making them hold it and I'm standing there with a stopwatch.
And on my way to work that day, I was thinking, you know, how can I mock them
and shame them while they're in that horrible, stressful position?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: And I started thinking about stress positions, which is what they
do, you know, that's part of torture. And then I thought, oh, you know,
waterboarding is much harder than this.

GROSS: How did you get the part "Glee" as the cheerleading coach?

Ms. LYNCH: Ryan Murphy and I have been friends for a while. I did an episode of
"Popular" back in 1999, and we had a great time together. And I hadn't seen him
in, oh, you know, almost 10 years. And I was in Vancouver doing something else.
I forget what it was, and I got the script from my agent.

I was already in a pilot that year, and my agent said Ryan wants you to do
this, and if you can't do to as a regular, you know, you can do it as a guest
star for the pilot and then we'll see what happens.

So I read it and I loved it. One of the first things it says about Sue in the
script is that she may or may not have posed for Penthouse and she's using
horse estrogen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: So I was like, oh, my God. I must play this woman. And so, you know,
the other deal that I was a part of fell apart. And by the third or fourth
episode, I was able to call myself a regular on "Glee," and I was thrilled.

GROSS: Will you ever get to sing on "Glee"?

Ms. LYNCH: I hope so, Terry. I hope so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: I'm humming all the time on the set - auditioning. But I hope so. I
did get to dance, and I really have no business dancing, so I was a little
shocked that that was the first thing they gave me to do. But I'm hoping that I
get to sing, and we’ve got nine more episodes to do, and I'm crossing my
fingers.

GROSS: Now, although your job isn't to sing on "Glee"…

Ms. LYNCH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: …we did hear you sing in "The 40 Year Old Virgin."

Ms. LYNCH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And I just want to play a scene from that film. And you manage the
electronics store that Steve Carell and his friends work in.

Ms. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: And you’ve kind of gotten wind of the fact that he's still a virgin at
the age of 40, and you think you can be helpful in changing the situation for
him. And that's what you’re about in this scene. So this is Jane Lynch and
Steve Carell in a scene from "The 40 Year Old Virgin."

(Soundbite of movie, "The 40 Year Old Virgin")

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) My goodness, Andy. You are a terrific salesman.

Mr. STEVE CARELL (Actor): (as Andy) Oh thank you.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) Gosh. You really got it down.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) Thanks.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) And your numbers are good.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) Thanks.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) I'm going to put you out on the floor full time.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) Really?

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) Yeah.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) Wow. Okay.

Ms. LYNCH: Good. We're going to get you a blue shirt and a tie.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) Oh. Great. Thanks.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) You know, Andy, I've been thinking about your problem. I
think I might have a solution for you.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) Hmm.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) You ever heard of the term (censored) buddy?

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) What?

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) It's a special friend (censored).

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) No. I haven't heard that term.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) When I was a little girl, I developed early. By the time
I was 14, I had this body you’re looking at. Can you imagine that?

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) I don’t want to.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) Well, needless to say, a lot of male attention.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) I bet. Yes.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) Especially from our Guatemalan gardener, Javier.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) Okay.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) You know, Javier, before he made passionate, yet gentle
love to me for the first time, he serenaded me with a beautiful old Guatemalan
love song.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) Really? That’s - that sounds nice.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) (Singing in Spanish)

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) Okay.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) Woo, my goodness. I think we better get back to work.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) Yeah. Yeah. I'm going to go back to work.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) Yeah.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) So, okay.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) All right. So you mull it over, Andy.

Mr. CARELL: (as Andy) All right. I will. Thank you.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Paula) Mm-hmm.

GROSS: My guest Jane Lynch with Steve Carell in a scene from "The 40 Year Old
Virgin."

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I love that scene. Especially when you sing the song that the gardener
serenaded you with.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah.

GROSS: So was that song in the script or…

Ms. LYNCH: No. That - me coming onto him wasn’t in the script, either, and I
have Steve's wife, Nancy Walls to thank for that. It was a man's part, and she
said Steve, you have too many in your movie. You should audition Jane for this
part. Because I know them from Chicago. We were in Second City at the same
time.

GROSS: Oh.

Ms. LYNCH: And so, in the audition, we came up with the idea that I would, you
know, try to seduce him and offer to take away his virginity from him. But the
song is actually from a Spanish class - excuse me - in high school. And it's a
kind of a dialogue, and it has nothing to do with love. It's whenever I clean
my room, I can't find anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: Where are you going with such haste? To a football game.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I thought I heard football at the end there.

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah, right. And I was just sitting around waiting to do a, you
know, waiting to work and I started to think, maybe I’ll serenade him. And then
I came up with that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: And I told Steve before we started. I said I'm going to sing a
little song. And he said, okay.

GROSS: Did you intentionally sing a song that has nothing to do with romance?

Ms. LYNCH: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: Yes, I did.

GROSS: Have people noticed it? Have people who speak Spanish noticed that?

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah. I mean, a lot of people - I guess my pronunciation is
terrible. Even people who speak Spanish don’t understand it. And also, I was
taught Spanish by a woman - by a Cuban, a Cuban woman, so their Vs are always
B. So when I say donde va, I say donde ba, and that threw people off
completely. They didn’t know what I was talking about.

GROSS: My guest is Jane Lynch. She now costars in the Fox TV series "Glee."
We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Jane Lynch, and she stars as the
cheerleading coach in the Fox TV series "Glee."

Now you got what I think was your big break in movies in the mockumentary "Best
in Show" about…

Ms. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: …people who bring their purebred dogs to compete in a dog show.

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah.

GROSS: And you play a trainer who's working with a standard poodle and the
owner's trophy wife, his over-the-hill…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: …trophy wife who’s had, like, a lot of cosmetic surgery has become your
significant other.

Ms. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: And so here's a scene from "Best in Show," in which you’re basically
talking to the camera with the trophy wife, who has become very close to you.

(Soundbite of movie, "Best in Show")

Ms. LYNCH: (as Christy Cummings) With Sherri Ann, we have this fantastic
friendship, too. It's really great. And we have a little bit of a family
dynamic going here, and it pretty much mirrors what I grew up with. You know,
my father was the taskmaster.

Ms. JENNIFER COOLIDGE (Actress): (as Sherri Ann Cabot) Which is…

Ms. LYNCH: (as Christy Cummings) The disciplinarian, which is what I do. I'm
the mommy/daddy.

Ms. COOLIDGE: (as Sherri Ann Cabot) Total disciplinarian. Like, Mr. Punishment.
Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: (as Christy Cummings) Oh, well, you know, and I also reward. But
Sherri's responsible for the unconditional love, you know, just…

Ms. COOLIDGE: (as Sherri Ann Cabot) And the decorative ability.

Ms. LYNCH: (as Christy Cummings) Exactly. The heart and the soul, you know,
which is what my mother did, and that was her job. You know, she was there for
the unconditional love. And it worked for my family, you know, until my mom
committed suicide in '81.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: My guest Jane Lynch in a scene from "Best in Show." Was that improvised?

Ms. LYNCH: Yes. Well, yeah. I mean, I remember I was riding in the van on the
way to the location, and that's when I thought of that - about the suicide
thing. Yes.

GROSS: Now, "Best in Show" was directed by Christopher Guest. How did you meet
him?

Ms. LYNCH: I was doing a commercial for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, and he
directed it. I did a lot of commercials like in the, you know, the ‘90s in Los
Angeles, and I got lucky enough to get into one of his. And he directs
commercials all the time. He loves doing that. And we did a la Guffman -
"Waiting for Guffman." It was improvised and everything.

And then about three months later, I ran into him at a restaurant, and he was
in the process of casting "Best in Show." And, you know, he said, hey, come to
my office today and, you know, by the end of the day I was, you know, had plans
to go to Vancouver to shoot this. And I was thrilled, because when I saw
"Waiting for Guffman," I about fell out of my seat and, you know, and down on
my knees, please, please let me work this way. This is how I want to work. This
is the way to do it, and this guy's got it down. So I was - it was really a
dream come true - a ridiculous, preposterous dream come true.

GROSS: So what was the Frosted Flakes commercial like?

Ms. LYNCH: We were stalking Tony the Tiger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: Myself and my husband, we're standing out in Battle Creek, Michigan
- of course, we shot in Los Angeles, but it was in Battle Creek, Michigan
waiting for Tony to go by. It wasn’t a very successful campaign.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: But it was fun to do.

GROSS: And what other commercials did you do?

Ms. LYNCH: I'm best known, Terry, for my work in the Nexium commercial, where
I'm standing on a cliff saying, I am every woman who’s ever suffered from acid
reflux.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: And I stopped it before it destroyed the lining of my esophagus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: So that’s - I'm best know for that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I always wonder if you worry if you do a commercial like that that
people will see you and think acid reflux. What a tragedy. You know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: And then associate my face with it?

GROSS: Exactly. Yeah.

Ms. LYNCH: You know, I was so happy to have the job and to be able to pay my
rent that month. You know, it’s, you know, people say why did you that stint on
"Married with Children"? I was like, I jumped up and down when I got that job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: That paid my rent.

GROSS: One more question about "Best in Show." There's a line that's really
funny. This is like six months after the dog show, and you and the Jennifer
Coolidge character are a genuine couple now.

Ms. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: And you’re talking about how you founded a magazine called American
Bitch, the magazine for lesbian dog owners, and there's a couple of mockups of
the cover behind you. Was that yours, that line?

Ms. LYNCH: No. No. Chris came up with that. That was Chris Guest's invention,
the "American Bitch" magazine. Yeah.

GROSS: I'm sure people repeat that to you all the time.

Ms. LYNCH: They do. People come up to me all the time. And, you know, I forget
about it and someone will say, you know, I subscribe to American Bitch. And I'm
like, oh. And I'm wondering what they're talking - and then I remember. Oh,
yes, Of course. Of course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now since you played a lesbian in “Best in Show,” did people – in that
sense that was the movie that people really noticed you in, in terms of movies.

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah.

GROSS: So did people assume that you were lesbian because you played one?

Ms. LYNCH: No, no, not at all. No, no, I don’t - you know, I don’t think so. I
don’t think that happens so much. I think you can play a character and people
don’t confuse you that– perhaps you’re that way in real life. I mean, nobody
asked Jennifer Coolidge if she was one either. I don’t think.

GROSS: But in this case you are.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MS. LYNCH: But in this case I am, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, was it an, kind of, inadvertent coming out for you? Were you
already out in the industry?

Ms. LYNCH: Well, I wasn’t really known in the industry before “Best in Show,”
and I didn’t think twice about portraying a lesbian. Again, I jumped up and
down when I got that job. Yeah - you know what? I didn’t think too much about
that at all. I never hid who I was. I also didn’t lead with it. I don’t feel
like the need to walk into a room and say, you know, as a gay person, I need to
have this, this and this. So, it – and nobody really seemed to care. And if I
lost work or if I lost opportunities because I was gay, it happened behind my
back and I didn’t know about it. I’ve had it really easily - easy, you know.
It’s been just very accepted and nobody seems to care.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You said that you had your first gay relationship when you were 20, but
it took 11 or 12 years to actually come out to your family.

Ms. LYNCH: Right, right.

GROSS: Were you out to yourself before you turned 20?

Ms. LYNCH: Yes, yeah. It was reluctant - it was the last thing in the world I
wanted to deal with. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to be. I’m one
of those people who like to tow the line. I don’t – as much as I, you know,
love being an actress, I don’t like calling attention to myself in that way. I
don’t want to be different. I’m not a rebel. I just want to be like everybody
else. So, it was, you know, kind of a reluctant realization in a: Oh, God.
Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: So, yeah. And it took me - you know, I think if I came out to my
parents when I was 18, it would have been a different story. It might have been
harder. But when I was 31 and finally came out, you know, via a letter I wrote
them, it was great. It was wonderful because we were starting to be estranged
to each other because they didn’t know about a very fundamental part of who I
was. And so, it was a good thing and it - you know, there was no drama around
it. It was really kind of a lovely moment where we all came together and said,
you know, of course this doesn’t mean anything, you know, we still love you.
And it was, you know, it was actually a wonderful moment.

GROSS: Why were you uncomfortable telling them for 11 years?

Ms. LYNCH: I think it was my own homophobia, my own internalized homophobia.
You know, I didn’t want to be gay. I wanted to be - I wanted an easy life. And
you know what? I am gay and still have an easy life. So, anybody out there who
is afraid like I was, just know that there’s - you know, come to Los Angeles or
Chicago or New York and people will love you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MS. LYNCH: It’s no big deal.

GROSS: Why did you write a letter to your parents instead of telling them in
person?

Ms. LYNCH: Well, I went to a therapist - and this is a ruse that therapists get
away all the time. They say, write a letter and you don’t have to send it. And
usually you – with, you know, having that pressure off of you. The letter was
quite good, quite honest and I was very proud of it. And I felt like I
explained myself very well and how I was feeling and then she said, you know,
it’s up to you if you want to drop in the mail. And I did - dropped it in the
mail.

GROSS: Did you feel like that was a courtesy in a way, writing a letter,
because that way your parents didn’t have to react with you in the room, they
could…

Ms. LYNCH: Yes. Oh, absolutely.

GROSS: …kind of think it over and think of what they wanted to say, and not be
like on a spot or shocked and…

MS. LYNCH: Exactly. And I don’t know that I could have gone eye to eye and had
this confrontation. That would have been very difficult. It would have
probably, you know, been the very courageous way to do it. It would have been
the brave thing to do, but, you know, I didn’t have that much courage around it
and writing a letter was easier.

GROSS: You know it’s so interesting to think of you not having the courage to
talk to your parents because every character you have ever played that I have
seen…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …has such chutzpah.

Ms. LYNCH: I know.

GROSS: Particularly your character in “Glee,” but that’s…

Ms. LYNCH: Right.

GROSS: …I mean, that’s one of the things that you do on screen in the roles
that I know.

MS. LYNCH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You’re really out there.

Ms. LYNCH: I kind of walk through the world presenting myself as that person,
but I’m – and that’s why I like playing that kind of person because I don’t
feel - I don’t have that much of confidence. I don’t have that much sexual
confidence that a lot of my characters have. I don’t have that much confidence
to walk into a room and kind of announce who I am and shame everybody else
around me - not that that’s a good kind of confidence to have. But I’m
fascinated by people who are able to do that. And because I’m six feet tall, I
do have a lot of physical energy and when I walk into a room – I - people do
kind of turn around and look. And I notice when I’m at a party, if I start to
say something I think - you know, an opinion - the room kind of gets quiet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: And people listen and I’m like – oh, my God. I’m making all this up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MS. LYNCH: But there’s something about - I have kind of an authoritative
energy, which I don’t completely own, and I’m not completely confident in.

GROSS: My guest is Jane Lynch. She co-stars in the Fox TV series “Glee.” We’ll
talk more after a break. This is Fresh AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Jane Lynch. She co-stars in the Fox TV series “Glee,” as the
mean-spirited coach of the cheerleaders. Earlier, we were talking about coming
out.

Was it helpful to you when Ellen DeGeneres came out on her show?

Ms. LYNCH: Yes, yeah. I think it was helpful for all of us. And I think that’s
one of the reasons that I walk such an easy path. She, you know, blazed it for
us. And I know she was kind of reluctant to do that, too. I think it was a big
deal when she came out and it really kind of, you know, it rocked the world and
- I mean, look where she is now. She’s got this great show and all these
Midwestern ladies are there, dancing with her. I just - I think it’s a great
thing that she did.

GROSS: So, at what phase of your career were you in when Ellen came out?

Ms. LYNCH: I was – it was when I was doing voiceovers in commercials. You know,
I was just a work-a-day actor making a nice living in a, you know, nobody-knew-
my-name type of place, you know. I hadn’t done “Best in Show” yet.

GROSS: Voiceovers, what were you doing?

Ms. LYNCH: I did lot of commercial voiceovers. I did, you know, for like
Safeway. I would do – I did announcer copy and then I would do stuff for radio,
you know, with some, you know, with a partner - partner reads, as we call them.
I made my living in voiceover for about five or six years and I would do the
occasional on-camera commercial or the occasional guest spot on a sitcom. But
mostly I did - I was, you know, making my living as a voiceover person. I loved
it. It’s a great gig. It’s a great job.

GROSS: So, what kind of characters were you supposed to represent?

Ms. LYNCH: I kind of have a stock old lady voice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: I have kind of a stock Midwestern mom voice.

GROSS: Can you give us a taste of them?

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah. Make sure you put some tomatoes on the sandwich.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: That’s kind of a south side - and then I always did this with my
voice, kind of, like - kind of, an old lady kind of thing and I use it even - I
repeat it even in, you know, when I do guest spots on sitcoms. I have like two
tricks, Terry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: And I just roll them out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now you grew up in a suburb of Chicago. How did you know you wanted to
act?

Ms. LYNCH: I think I was born wanting to act. There wasn’t anything in my
environment that inspired me. I was in a, kind of, a typical Midwestern Irish-
Catholic family and, you know, it’s not like we were doing - you know, we
weren’t in a show-business family or anything like that. I was addicted to
television. I knew I wanted to act in television. And then, you know, when we
started doing pageants and plays in school, I loved doing that. And I knew
that’s what I wanted to do.

GROSS: What TV shows were you addicted to?

Ms. LYNCH: “The Brady Bunch” was the big one.

GROSS: Oh, you got to do a parody of “The Brady Bunch.”

Ms. LYNCH: Yeah, right, the stage show. So, that was just a – yeah, that was
fun. The real, live “Brady Bunch” and I played Carol Brady in that. And, you
know, everyone who is in that show with me in Chicago, we were all raised on
the “Brady Bunch” and we are all obsessed with the “Brady Bunch.” And so it was
really fun and cathartic for us to act that out.

GROSS: What was most cathartic about it for you?

Ms. LYNCH: Well, it had this kind of sappy, you know, very overly sentimental
and really bad comedic combination, you know? And even at the time when I was
watching - and I knew it wasn’t great television.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: I knew it wasn’t a great comedy. But it was soothing and it had this
wonderful family where if you threw a little temper tantrum and you ran up into
your room, you know, a second later, there will be a soft knock on your door.
You know, you want to talk?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: That was just very soothing. And we all found, you know, here we
were like 25 years old and talking about it going, yeah, I was a fan of it,
too. And it was kind of, you know, you didn’t want to admit that maybe you
watched “The Brady Bunch” and were still addicted to it. So, it was really
exciting to put it on stage and actually, you know, act that out and do the
sappy comedy and do the – over-sentimentalize stuff. It was really fun. It was
a real high point.

GROSS: So, as we record this, “Glee” has been renewed - is that the word - for
another nine episodes, but you’re not…

Ms. LYNCH: We have been picked up for the back nine, is the technical term.

GROSS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But you’re not shooting right now. So…

Ms. LYNCH: No.

GROSS: …what you do? All the - so many actors are in this position. What you do
in that downtime when, you know, your career is going really well? You’ve got a
great role, but you’ve got this kind of down period where you don’t - where
you’re not actually working. What do you do with your time?

Ms. LYNCH: Well, I’m in New York right now doing a staged reading of a Nora
Ephron play called - Nora and Delia Ephron play called “Love, Loss and What I
Wore.” So, I’m here for a month doing that.

GROSS: Oh.

Ms. LYNCH: And I’m busy all day long doing press for “Glee” and press for that.
I have been just - I have been crazy busy, more busy than, you know, than I’ve
ever been before in between jobs. But those times in between jobs in the past,
I would start just to do some more voiceover work. I’d start on, you know,
auditioning for voiceover stuff. I just try to keep myself busy. I go to lunch
a lot. I drink a lot of coffee.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNCH: I’m very social when I’m - you know. And it just turns out that, you
know, errands and everything else, you end up filling the day. I, very rarely,
am sitting around, going, oh my God. What am I going to do with myself?

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, Jane Lynch, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. LYNCH: Sure, thank you.

GROSS: I wish you continued success.

Ms. LYNCH Thank you. I appreciate it.

GROSS: Jane Lynch co-stars in the Fox TV series “Glee” as the mean-spirited
coach of the cheerleading squad called the Cheerios. Here she is in a scene in
the teachers’ lounge, where she’s just surprised some of the faculty by
bringing them lattes.

(Soundbite of TV series, “Glee”)

Ms. JAYMA MAYS (Actor): (As Emma) What’s with all the lattes?

Ms. LYNCH: (As Sue Sylvester) Oh, Emma, I just felt so awful that Figgins cut
the coffee budget to pay for a nutritionist for the Cheerios.

Ms. MAYS: (As Emma) Yeah, I heard you guys went, like, $600 over budget on
that.

Ms. LYNCH: (As Sue Sylvester) My performers didn’t get on Fox Sports Net last
year because they ate at Bacon Junction.

Ms. MAYS: (As Emma) Since when are cheerleaders performers?

Ms. LYNCH: (As Sue Sylvester) Your resentment is delicious.

GROSS: You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org
and you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.

I’m Terry Gross.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
120086244

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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