role call

Jane Lynch Answers Every Question We Have About The Fugitive

On how a young Chicago comedian found herself under an umbrella with Harrison Ford talking liver samples and how not to look stupid on camera. Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Harrison Ford is top-billed in the opening credits of The Fugitive. Jane Lynch isn’t listed at all. And yet, certain fans still approach her about her two minutes of screentime — much of it spent in a white lab coat talking liver tissue samples — opposite the erstwhile Indiana Jones. “It’s kind of a thing,” she says. “It has to be people who love movies. Real film buffs. Because it is a great movie, and it did well. People still watch it, and it’s still celebrated.”

That’s because The Fugitive is loaded with smart performances, sharp dialogue and propulsive, old-school action set pieces. Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble, a Chicago surgeon convicted of murdering his beautiful wife (Sela Ward). After a heart-stopping train-meets-bus-crash, he goes on the lam, and Tommy Lee Jones’s U.S. Marshal and his team search every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in the area to find him. (You just read that sentence in Jones’s Texan snarl, didn’t you?).

Released August 6, 1993, The Fugitive arrived as a bit of a summer movie afterthought in the wake of blockbusters Jurassic Park, The Firm, Sleepless in Seattle, In the Line of Fire, and Cliffhanger. It wasn’t even the only big-screen adaptation of a 1960s TV series that season. (Dennis the Menace, anyone?) But the clever cat-and-mouse interplay between Ford and Jones proved to be irresistible. Not only did the movie end up as the second-highest grosser of the year, it scored a Best Picture nomination — a true rarity for a mainstream action movie. (Jones won in the Supporting Actor category.)

Lynch was a Chicago-area comedy improv star when she got tapped to play Dr. Kathy Wahlund. But for clarity’s sake — her full name is never referenced — let’s just refer to her as the tall blonde in the lab who assists Kimble, her beleaguered former colleague. Indeed, though she only appears in a few scenes, she provides Dr. Kimble with a crucial piece of information that enables him to figure out who’s actually responsible for the vicious crime. “It’s not a big role but it had a plot point,” Lynch says. “A lot of the other local hires in the movie just played a cop and said a couple lines.”

The actress, of course, has gone on to enjoy a big career with a slew of memorable performances in everything from Best in Show to The 40-Year-Old Virgin to Glee and Party Down. She’s also been hosting NBC’s revival of The Weakest Link since 2020. Before the SAG-AFTRA strike, Lynch gave winning answers about the movie that started it all.

How does a Chicago comedy star end up in The Fugitive? There must be a good story.  
It was a surprise to me. I was doing The Real Live Brady Bunch at the Annoyance Theater, which was this crazy thing where we acted out episodes of The Brady Bunch onstage. I played Carol Brady. And I got a call from my agent who said, “You have this offer to be in The Fugitive.” And I was like, “What?!” I knew it was coming through town. This agent couldn’t even get me an audition! And Andy … Oh, God, the director. What’s his name?

Andrew Davis directed the movie. 
Yeah, yeah. Andy Davis. I actually just saw him at the airport! And his assistant who turned out to be his producer had seen the show and told him, “Hey, you could cast this person.” He had never met me to play this role, which, in keeping with most roles that I got early in my career, was written for a guy — I think, I’m not positive. And so he hired me. I remember I made $8000. I almost dropped when she told me that. That was a lot of money!

Was The Fugitive production a much-to-do around town? 
It was a huge deal. A production would only come into town once in a while, but when it happened, there were always calls for local hires. There was Vice Versa with Judge Reinhold before that, and I had a small part in that too. The Blues Brothers was before my time.

As a seasoned stage actress, did you have lofty big-screen aspirations? 
Oh, yes. Everybody wanted the brass ring. I mean, there were a few people who said they didn’t care about it, but you knew they really did care. Like, “Yeah, I don’t want to go to Hollywood. I’d rather stay here in Chicago!” I never trusted that. I was doing commercial auditions and booked a few. I was starting to do voiceover work. I was probably making a living at that point. I know I had stopped temping.

Did you know in advance that you’d be sharing a key scene with Harrison Ford?
I have no idea if it was a surprise to me. I don’t know if I even read the script in advance. You know, in those days, it was just, “Hey, you got the part.” I think that’s how it went down. All I know is that I’m jumping up and down because I’m going to be in this movie.

Julianne Moore is in the movie too, and surely you know her role was cut down from what’s in the original script.  
And I’m sure you know the story? I’ll tell you what I know.

Wasn’t she going to be Kimble’s love interest? 
Right, and then they decided not to give him a love interest. They thought it was more powerful if he was grieving for his wife the whole time. That’s what motivated him. She was the love of his life. They did not want him to have any dalliances so the story would be purely about this destroyed man who was now being fingered for her murder. I think that made it a much more intense and compelling and emotional story for him.

Was your role bigger as well? 
It’s pretty much to scale. But I was cut from the scene in the beginning. There’s a big party in the ballroom, and I had a quick thing where I walked up to Richard and said a few words and my character was introduced.

So the first time we see you, you’re being interrogated by two U.S. Marshals. But not Tommy Lee Jones. 
I think I was in a scene with him. I remember working with him. But maybe it was cut.

Trust me, you have no scenes with him. 
Okay, then it was cut too because I did meet him and I do remember rehearsing and running through something with him.

Who was more intimidating: Tommy Lee Jones or Harrison Ford?
Ummm … Tommy Lee Jones. They’re both kind of gruff but Harrison Ford was really nice to me. I was young and there was a scene between the two of us that he wasn’t happy with because of the writing. It was a rainy day. He said, “Jane and I are gonna figure this out.” And he grabbed my arm, and he put an umbrella over both of us. We went to his trailer and worked on the lines together. And then we came back and did the scene.

Was it the scene when you’re looking at liver tissue samples under a microscope? 
Yeah, that one! And he added the line, “Kath, you beaut.”

Didn’t he also give you some advice? 
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We were both shocked as we were looking at whatever was in the liver sample. And my mouth was agape and he said, “A little acting advice: No matter how smart you are, if your mouth hangs open like that you’re stupid.” He was being funny but it’s very true. Unless you want to look really shocked or stupid, you can’t drop your jaw like that. I thought it was great, great advice.

Were you treated well on set or did they keep you ensconced in that little lab? 
No, no, no, no. Come on. I had a trailer too! They’re called Honeywagons, and they were for the supporting cast. It’s not like we were extras and they put us in a big room. No offense to extras. But we’re actors. We had a place to hang out, and you talked with the other actors. They don’t just bring them in later into the scene because they’re stars and you’re not! We’re all equal. If you’re speaking a line, you’re an actor. You’re getting your makeup and hair done with them. You work with the same wardrobe people. But I know Harrison had a Gulf Stream trailer situation.

Did you think the movie was going to be a hit? 
I had zero thoughts about any of that. Zero. You’re just in a little bubble and then you get to burst out of it one day and work with Harrison Ford. You’re not looking at the reviews. You’re not thinking, “Oh my God, am I in the trailer?” Not at all.

Why not? 
It wasn’t about that for us. Well, I’ll speak for myself. I was just about tending to my little career. That meant everything to me.

Were you invited to the premiere? 
No, no. But I went to a screening for the local cast and crew at Pipers Alley Mall in Chicago. It was so exciting. I wasn’t a creature of the business at that time so I sat back with my popcorn and watched the movie, and then I came up on the screen and I was like, “Ahhhh!” And I’m checking myself out and then you go back to the movie.

Chicago is a true character in it. Can you confirm if the St. Patrick’s Day parade is really that big of a deal?
I’ve never been! I think it is. But I know that they do dye the river green. That was a great scene.

So The Fugitive turns out to be this box-office smash and gets nominated for Best Picture. How did it impact you professionally? 
This is the first I’ve heard that it was nominated for Best Picture. I did not know that. I did move to Los Angeles right as it came out to meet with people. This was back in the day when you’d send out postcards with your headshot on it. So I wrote, “Watch me solve the mystery of the liver sample with Harrison Ford in The Fugitive,” and had these cards printed out and sent to all the casting directors. I ended up meeting a lot of them and getting auditions. But I don’t think I got a role just based on what I did in the movie. I doubt that.

The Fugitive was a rare non-comedy for you. Did you think about taking a more dramatic acting route? 
You’re asking me about questions and thoughts I’ve never had! I never consciously wanted to be a particular kind of actor. I just wanted to audition and was happy to get the next job. But now I’m older. I no longer have that white-hot hunger. That’s been over for quite a while.

Have you run into Harrison Ford or Tommy Lee Jones in the ensuing years? 
I have not seen either of them. But I’ve seen [Ford’s wife] Calista Flockhart a few times. She’s said to me, “Oh, he spoke of you,” and I said, “I speak of him,” and I’ll say, “Give my best to Harrison.”

And what are the fan interactions like? Do they even realize you’re in it? 
I don’t get it a lot, but I still get it. It’s not like Vice Versa. I mean, nobody knows me from Vice Versa. God bless it, but it didn’t stand the test of time.

Then why do you think The Fugitive still holds up? 
Oh, it’s a masterful film. The acting is brilliant and the suspense is just so crazy-high and Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones together are amazing. I love when they’re, like, at the water factory or a dam and Tommy Lee Jones is right about to catch him. And Harrison Ford yells, “I didn’t kill my wife!” And Tommy Lee Jones goes, “I don’t care!” He doesn’t care! He’s got a job to do and bring in this fugitive. He doesn’t care!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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In the 1988 low-budget comedy, Lynch briefly played an uptight executive opposite Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage. Jones really did chase Ford through Chicago’s famed St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1993; per Davis, the scene was filmed with unobtrusive hand-held cameras. It lost to Schindler’s List in 1994.
Jane Lynch Answers Every Question We Have About The Fugitive