With the new series “Claws” on TNT, Jenn Lyon is literally clawing her way to the top and forcing us all to pay attention. The North Carolina native relishes in portraying a “real” woman on television and hopes that the show’s success will lead to Hollywood moving further away from representing women based on preconceived standards.
“If women could be freed from that… I think that would be wonderful,” Lyon says.
We sat down with Lyon only days before the premiere of “Claws” to discuss her favorite part of playing the character Jen, how she embraces the current moral backlash that the series has received, and why Timothy Olyphant is just so damn good at what he does.
TrunkSpace: We’re only a few days away from the premiere of “Claws” on TNT. From your perspective, while exciting, do you also worry about it finding an audience in this current TV landscape where there is so much content vying for the same eyeballs?
Lyon: Yeah, because you know, I’m ancient and I remember when there was just the three big networks and maybe like, USA and Nickelodeon. You didn’t have all of these different avenues and platforms showing produced content, so yeah, it makes me feel a little worried. I think what we have is real special though and you haven’t seen it on TV before. It’s such a show about female bad assery and I feel like it’s the right moment for it to happen. I’m just hoping everybody likes it as much as we do. I really believe in it.
TrunkSpace: It does seem like shows are given a bit more room to breathe and find an audience these days. In that time when there were only three major networks, if a show didn’t come out of the gates with 15 million viewers, it was axed immediately.
Lyon: Absolutely. TNT is really stoked about the show and they love it as much as we do, so I hope that it will be given a chance to develop. The pilot is spectacular, but I think it gives you a tiny window into these women and what their life is about. Then there’s this great cliffhanger and you get sucked into this world and I hope audiences will give it a shot.
TrunkSpace: Not only is it a female-driven concept, but it’s a full ensemble of women, which sadly, still seems rare even in this golden age of television.
Lyon: Oh yeah. Super rare! And all of us are of a different ethnicity. That’s also refreshing.
TrunkSpace: Is “Claws” an example of how networks are trying to be more focused with their content as opposed to being so broad that they are developed to be a little bit of everything for everyone?
Lyon: To me, it has something for everybody. We’ve got comedy. We’ve got sex. We’ve got drugs. We’ve got violence. We can really run the gamut. BUT, it’s also not for the children.
Apparently One Million Moms has a petition to stop the show from airing and they’re just really upset about it. I don’t know why that makes me so happy. (Laughter) I think good art should be kind of polarizing and so to be involved in something that is, it makes me proud.
TrunkSpace: That kind of moral push back from groups always seems to help ratings as opposed to hurt them.
Lyon: Absolutely. I remember when they protested “Angels in America” in North Carolina. People are going to want it more. Your actions are doing the opposite of what you think they’re going to do.
TrunkSpace: So when it comes from strictly a performance standpoint, what’s your favorite part of playing Jen in the series thus far?
Lyon: My favorite part about playing Jen is that she’s messy. She’s rough around the edges… tenuously sober. It gives me the leeway to sort of experience this full spectrum of emotional life within her. She has two kids and she has two different baby daddies and she’s just a real person. She’s like a size 12 or 14. This is a real woman on TV and that gives me so much joy because I’ve been on TV before and was super thin, never ate, played lovely things and was so sad and worried all of the time. And now I’m able to eat food AND be on TV. (Laughter) That is like a miracle to me. I think it’s so great for women to see other women of size in the show. And all the women in this show are at their natural weight. Nobody is dieting. We get to eat New Orleans food. It’s just amazing.
TrunkSpace: So if the show hits and becomes a mainstream success, do you think that will continue to force the hand of networks to present women in a more “real” light?
Lyon: I hope so. I think we have been turning that corner in the last few years, with women of size being more prevalent in mainstream shows. “Orange is the New Black” is full of all different sizes of women. So yeah, I think we have been turning the corner and I think comedy has really helped in that sense. I hope it continues to change.
I read this quote the other day and it said, “A cultural obsession with female thinness is really a cultural obsession with female obedience.” I was like, “Oh my God! That feels right!” It’s like you’re being told to keep in lockstep with some sort of standard that doesn’t have to apply to you. It presses you down all the time and to be free from that is huge. If women could be freed from that… I think that would be wonderful.
TrunkSpace: And it starts so early. Looking at a doll like Barbie, the body type is just not realistic.
Lyon: Yeah. They did that study where it was like, “If Barbie was a person, her real measurements would be…” And it was something ridiculous. It was like 48-16-20. And girls are being sexualized earlier too, so it’s like this pressure to be beautiful and sexy and an object starts so early. I don’t know what I would do if I had a daughter. I would just want to wrap her up in overalls and just keep her in a cabin. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: You’ve done so much great theater over the years. Is that something you’ll continue to pursue as you navigate the film and television landscapes?
Lyon: It’s what I went to school for and it’s what I’ve been doing since I graduated. I think I only started doing film and TV like four years ago, and so I’ve been doing theater in those four years as well. I’ll go shoot something and then I’ll be unemployed and working at a pizza restaurant while I’m auditioning and then I’ll get a play and do a play and then I’ll go back to the pizza restaurant.
This (“Claws”) is a huge opportunity. I can’t believe it.
I’ll do theater whenever though. It’s my best love.
TrunkSpace: There just seems something special about it. Once you’re doing a play, you never really want to leave the theater itself, right?
Lyon: Yeah, that’s true.
Well… that’s not true. (Laughter) Sometimes you’re like, “I’ve got to get out of here!” It’s a grind. People don’t realize that. Eight shows a week is a real grind and it’s like you’re always preparing for or recovering from the show. It’s your life. But, it’s so immediate and wonderful and I think what’s really cool about it is that it evaporates. It’s between you and this audience. You’re sitting in the dark and it’s a weird ritual that we do and then it’s just gone. And it only exists in their minds and your mind. It’s not frozen forever like TV and film and there’s something about that that gets me excited.
TrunkSpace: It’s so funny you say that because in the day and age of streaming when people can rewatch stuff whenever they want, that makes theater even more unique.
Lyon: Yes. I was doing “Hold On To Me Darling” at the Atlantic in April and we had to constantly tell people to stop recording because Timothy Olyphant was in it and all of these “Justified” fans would come and they would try to record it on their phones. We were like, “You just can’t do it.” (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: As you transitioned into television and film, did you sort of have to retrain yourself because acting for the stage is different, correct?
Lyon: Yeah, it is really different. People that say it’s not different, I’m like, “What are you talking about?” Everybody is so quiet on TV. (Laughter) Nobody talks at an acceptable level. You’ll be across the room from somebody and you’re like, “(whispering).” And in theater, you’re trying to reach the old lady who can’t hear who is sitting in the back row of the balcony. You have to fit the frame. So yeah, I had to sort of scale it back.
TrunkSpace: And to learn that out of the gates with Timothy Olyphant when you appeared alongside him in “Justified”… that had to be a great learning experience because he sort of epitomizes that quiet delivery.
Lyon: Oh yeah… that mother fucker can just do everything with like a little squint and you’re like, “Fuck you, Timothy!” He’s so good.
We got to make fun of him when he was doing the play because he always wanted to be doing something. Actors on TV… you’re always inventing business for yourself. You’re grabbing a cough drop when you’re talking to your boss or putting a file folder together. And he was always wanting to adjust the table or do whatever and we were like, “Stand there and say the words!” (Laughter)
“Claws” airs Sundays on TNT.