From director/co-writer Christopher Guest (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman), the new comedy Mascots takes place in the ultra-competitive world of sports mascots, where men and women put on furry suits or inhabit unusual characters and compete to win the World Mascot Association’s prestigious Golden Fluffy. These individuals who dedicate their lives to being a mascot will stop at nothing to be the best.
At the film’s press day, actress Jane Lynch (who plays mascot legend Gabby Monkhouse, aka Minnie the Moose, now a judge for the World Mascot Association) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about finding her groove again, after the 10 years that have passed since the last Christopher Guest film she did, how she developed this character, why Gabby Monkhouse takes her job so seriously, and the nervous anticipation of doing one of these films. She also talked about her upcoming Christmas album, the Wreck-It Ralph sequel, returning to the CBS series Criminal Minds, and what gets her to say yes to doing a role.
Collider: It’s been awhile since the last Christopher Guest movie. How did you find out that this was going to happen and how much time did you have to figure out what you wanted to do with this character?
JANE LYNCH: Oh, we get a couple of months, but sometimes you wish you didn’t have two months to sit on it. It’s been 10 years since we did For Your Consideration, so I thought maybe that chapter was done, but I was so happy that it wasn’t. So, I got a phone call and [Christopher] said, “We’re going to do a movie. It’s about non-professional mascots, and you’re going to play this character, Gabby Monkhouse, who was Minnie the Mouse, and you were forced into retirement because of a devastating injury from holding the splits too long.” He gave me the whole backstory, and then I had about two months to fill that in. He told me that I had a problem with Ed Begley, Jr., but that it was up to me, what I wanted it to be, as long as I was very angry with him. So, I made something up and I didn’t even tell Ed. Ed and I didn’t even talk. We just saw each other on the set, and then we did it. I was hearing the thing about the micro-penis and the Tom Thumb Society, for the very first time, while the camera was on me, and it was a Herculean task to not laugh.
Is it often difficult not to crack up when you hear things like that, for the first time?
LYNCH: Sometimes it is, yeah. That was absurd. That was the most absurd, hilarious thing I’ve ever heard. It was so well-crafted. His whole character came out in a four-minute diatribe, with one line after the other. I was dying. It was just amazing.
With such a crazy world to work in, what sort of research did you do for this and how did you decide who you wanted this woman to be?
LYNCH: The thing that Chris does so well is that he finds these subcultures that are very passionate and everybody within it wants mastery of it, but we don’t even know about it or care about it. In the case of mascots, sometimes we don’t even notice them. And sometimes when we do notice them, they’re ridiculed. You don’t think about who’s in them, and we’re not supposed to. They’re not allowed to take their heads off. That’s a big mascot no-no. So, it has these rules and there’s this hierarchy within them. They get together at the end of the year and put together routines to see who comes out on top ‘cause our greatest fear is of being ordinary. Nobody wants to be ordinary, and these are really just ordinary people with really nothing exceptional about them, but they fancy themselves special. Nobody wants to be just an ordinary person, and these are ordinary people who wish they were extraordinary, which is why we laugh so much. We’re all conditioned to think we have to get to the top and be the best.
Did you see all of the performance numbers while they were happening?
LYNCH: Yes, because we were judging them. We got to watch all of them. They took it very seriously, but the judges also took it very seriously. There was criteria and requirements that needed to be met, and a level of excellence that needed to be met. You should see the judge sheets. The prop people are so fantastic. Our prop sheets that we used to judge were double-sided, so that you could check things off and make notes. We took it very seriously.
Does Gabby Monkhouse take it all even more seriously than the rest? Is she a harsher judge because she had to give up her mascot dreams?
LYNCH: Yes, she takes it very seriously. She takes it as seriously as she did when she was a mascot. She’s always comparing everybody to how devoted she was. So, the thing with the poo did not please her, at all. It was in bad taste. It was a cheap joke. And The Fist should be banned.
Does she prefer the animal mascots?
LYNCH: I think she probably loved the hedgehog and thought it was charming and risky and sweet. She appreciates that artistry, and there’s no artistry in The Fist.
Did you ever try on a mascot costume, just to see what it was like?
LYNCH: I did not. Not that I didn’t want to, but there was just no chance to do it. From what I understand, there are many stories of mascots fainting. They have to stay hydrated, and they have little thing in their suits. There’s a whole line of products, where you can get built-in battery operated fans. You’re not allowed to take off your head because we should never know there’s an actual person inside. You don’t want anyone to see the person.
Is it daunting and terrifying to be responsible for anything that comes out of your mouth, in these films?
LYNCH: Well, you don’t think about being funny. That is a trap. The humor will come out. The humor is built in. Every once in awhile, you might say a line where they go, “That was funny,” but for the most part, you’re staying as grounded as you can. He knows how to choose actors that stay very grounded, and yet funny things come out of their mouths. But, the situation is front-loaded with humor.
So then, are you nervous until you get on set and are back working with all of those actors again?
LYNCH: Yes, it’s the anticipation that’s the worst. It’s the foreboding, “My god, it’s two weeks away. I’m nowhere near where I need to be.” That’s the great unknown. Then, once you’re there, of course, it’s easy and it flows and it’s fun, and you’ve done your work ahead of time.
Gabby Monkhouse has written a book, A-Moose-ing Grace: An Ex-Mascot’s Guide to God and Success in Real Estate. Did you ever think about what kind of advice she gave or what type of things she had to say in it?
LYNCH: I didn’t think about it, but she’s a very definitive person, so even if it makes no sense, she would write it in a way that it does. She’s a celebrity in that world, so it almost doesn’t matter. All she has to say is, “You know, I think . . .,” and people listen.
You have a Christmas album, “A Swingin’ Little Christmas Time,” coming out in November, which is so random, but so awesome.
LYNCH: It’s random, and yet a perfect thing to do. Go to www.JaneLynchChristmas.com and get a musical preview. I work with this wonderful five-piece band, The Tony Guerrero Quintet, along with Kate Flannery, who was Meredith the Drunk in The Office, and Tim Davis, who was the vocal arranger on Glee. The three of us sing, and the band is amazing. We’ve been working together for about two years. So, we decided to do a Christmas album in July. We started putting it together with some public domain songs that won’t cost us anything in publishing, and then Tony wrote five songs and they’re fantastic. They sound like they’ve been classics forever. We added some strings and horns, and we used studios late at night when no one was in them. We created our own little label, called KitschTone Records. Some of the stuff is a real throwback. Some of it is rearranged, but not tampered with too much, so you’ll recognize them. The thing about Christmas music is the recognizability. It’s great.
How did you decide on the songs?
LYNCH: It was by committee, with Tim, Kate, Tony and I. We sat down, one hot day in July, and said, “Let’s do a Christmas album,” and then knocked it out.
Did you have any personal favorite Christmas songs that you wanted to include?
LYNCH: Yes, we did an a cappella version, which I have always wanted to do, of the “Coventry Carol.” It’s beautiful, and we did it in three part harmony with no accompaniment. We have two a cappella songs that, in my opinion, are just gorgeous.
How cool is it to have some new tunes on there, that could become classics?
LYNCH: And that’s the reason I love them. They sound like someone wrote them in the 1950s. That’s the music that lasts, that we listen to, year after year. We still listen to the original lush arrangements with the orchestras, and that’s what our album is.
Are you going to be doing any live performances with that?
LYNCH: Yeah, we’re going to do three shows at The Nikko in San Francisco, which is Michael Feinstein’s place, on December 8, 9 and 10. I haven’t put those shows together yet, but I will. We’re going to sing stuff from the album, but I haven’t put together the body of that show yet. That hands over my head. It’s the anticipation. I’m like, “Oh, my god, people are buying tickets! I have to put this together!”