In the first two seasons of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Jane Lynch’s Sophie Lennon has been an operatic, but reclusive, antagonist. She lives in the shiniest of glass houses, and she doesn’t appreciate it when anyone questions her career or her lifestyle. In the third season, Sophie is unleashed into the rehearsal halls of Broadway, and she delivers one of the hilariously deluded performances of the year.
When I spoke with Lynch, she assured me that Sophie never read Strindberg’s Miss Julie, the classic apple of Sophie’s eye. She has dominated the comedy world for so long that she never thought a manager would get her another gig to prove that Sophie can actually act. The main difference in this new season is that Alex Borstein’s Susie is now Sophie’s manager, and she has something to prove. When you put that with someone who has everything to lose, you get comedy magic.
With Sophie off her pedestal, she is constantly shaken and insecure, a dynamic we haven’t seen from Lynch in a very long time. When everything explodes for Sophie at the end of the season, your heart almost breaks for her–the glamorous facade officially crumbles. Lynch has embodied countless imposing characters, but she allows this Sophie to be vulnerable and exposed. We are witnessing a character on the tightest of ropes. Will she earn our trust or prove that she’s a monster?
Awards Daily: One of your most memorable moments from this entire season is when we hear you but we don’t see you…
Jane Lynch: (Laughs)
AD: You and Cary Elwes are having what is described as, “violent, animalistic sex.” To break the ice with our conversation, can you tell me what kind of directives you were given or how long you had to jump into that?
JL: We were told just that. (Laughs) I think it was described as anger sex or revenge sex, maybe? When we shot the scene, we happened to be in the theater by that point. They set up some mics and some seats in the back and told us to go at each other—vocally! We did a little loops in our respective studios by ourselves. It was just us going at it at the back of the theater.
AD: That’s amazing.
AD: We get to see a very insecure side of Sophie in Season 3. In one of the rehearsals for Miss Julie, she announces—she doesn’t simply say—“I don’t feel safe!”
AD: Do you know the last time that Sophie felt this way?
JL: Probably before she found Sophie from Queens. I just have this sense that she did have aspirations, but she was never able to step into it. She’s afraid of failure and she’s afraid of humiliation. When she found that character, she could wrap herself in this confident, foul-mouthed person who didn’t care what anybody thought. She finally takes that fat suit off and it’s just her and her ability, and she doesn’t believe that she’s a good actress. I believe it, but she doesn’t feel safe. She doesn’t go anywhere without her manservant. Nobody comes into her house without the sort of Trumpian entrance hall. That is to keep her safe. This is the first time in a long time that she’s allowed herself to feel vulnerable. She’s scared.
AD: She does have that space between the front door and wherever she is in her house. Even if she found out someone was there to see her, she has a lot of time to mentally prepare before they actually reach her.
JL: Nobody comes without an appointment. People don’t just stop at her house.
AD: That’s very true.
JL: There’s a whole show when someone comes over. You meet my manservant at the door, you are taken by another servant, and then you wait until I am ready to have you come in. You are escorted into the room—I don’t greet you. That’s her show.
AD: What do you think Sophie likes about Miss Julie? Why do you think she picked that play?
JL: It’s not thought through because there is that one scene where she asks why no one told her that there was a third character.
AD: I love that part. (Laughs)
JL: Yeah. She never read it. She heard somewhere that it was a classic, and she knew that there were some big actresses in England and Sweden and even here in the States that have done it. She knew that it was supposed to be great but she’s not actually familiar with it. She never read it. The character’s name is in the title, and that was important to her.
AD: That is actually really sad.
JL: I know.
AD: Do you think that Sophie is at all more at ease because she now has a manager that is a woman?
JL: No, I don’t think it matters at all. She wasn’t feeling safe with her other manager, and Alex Borstein’s character is quite masculine. She’s almost like a man in a man’s world, and there’s nothing particularly feminine about her. She’s not classically feminine.
AD: That’s true.
JL: She’s not exactly maternal, but she’s loyal. It has nothing to do with her sex. Sophie sees how loyal Susie is to Midge. Sophie wants someone to love her and care for her and adore her as much as she does to Midge.
AD: Is that constant state of worrying weird to live in all the time?
JL: As an actress? No, but I can identify with it for sure. It is a very uncomfortable feeling, and I am able to call upon it very easily where you feel like nobody gets you or nobody sees you. It’s like that wonderful John Prine song, “Hello In There.” She just wants someone to say hello and it causes her to act horribly.
AD: One of my favorite things about your performance—really all through the show—is how Sophie talks. Your diction and elocution are so impressive. It’s like the words are waiting for you to speak them. The scene in the bathtub is a great example of that in this third season.
JL: From the early talkies on, all actors had elocution lessons, so they talked in a very specific way. It’s Mid-Atlantic, so it’s a combination of Standard American and British, and I think she would be schooled in that. She wants the effect that she’s had classical training, but she’s a very good mimic. I’m so glad that you noticed that.
AD: When I was watching that scene, I felt like I was leaning forward to really hear everything Sophie had to say.
JL: Aww, well, thank you.
AD: Let’s talk about how everything goes to hell at the end.
AD: Do you think Sophie will ever fully grasp what she’s done? Susie gives it to her at the end, but she turns it around her. It’s so sad.
JL: There’s one moment where Susie yells that Sophie could’ve been something or done something great. I’m not sure if it’s in the final edit, but I let that land when we filmed it.
AD: Oh, that’s in there.
JL: Oh, good! You see her kind of collapse. Now is that going to change her behavior? Is she going to have a come-to-Jesus moment? That’s up to Amy and Dan. People like that who are so deeply entrenched in their own narrative and starring in their own movie in their own mind…it’s hard to pull them out of that. They feel safe with that. Is this enough to shatter the illusion where she becomes, on some level, humbled, real, or even kind? It’s possible, but is it probable? I don’t think people change their stripes. But sometimes a crashing, crushing moment can shake someone out of that but sometimes not.
AD: I had forgotten how devastating that moment is, and at the end of the scene, you go your separate ways. The camera pulls back and it looks like your posture is hunched over like you’re defeated. It’s so sad.
JL: She’s been defeated for sure. It’s quite a blow.
AD: Probably the first time in a long time.
JL: Oh, yeah. Maybe even since before she strapped on that fat suit.
AD: Is there any world where Sophie Lennon and Midge Maisel could see eye to eye or even work together in the future?
JL: It will be up to Sophie Lennon. I think Midge is a forgiving person, but she’s not a stupid person. She won’t put herself in the path of this destructive, back-biting diva. She just won’t do it. It will be up to Sophie to change her colors. Not that she has to have a complete turnaround, but enough where Midge can somewhat trust her. Sophie will have to initiate that shift.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is now streaming on Amazon.