Dot-Marie Jones is carrying a lot of weight on her shoulders — and not just because her character on Glee, football coach Shannon Beiste, could bench-press an anvil. Rather, as the only member of Glee‘s cast to score a 2012 Emmy nomination, Jones says she feels an added pressure to do her costars proud.
TVLine caught up with the actress to discuss how she reacted when she first learned her character would be involved in a harrowing domestic-abuse arc, why she had a love-hate relationship with said storyline, and whether or not she’ll be back for Season 4.
TVLINE | Congrats on your second straight nomination in the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series category. How does it feel to be the lone cast member from Glee to get a nod this year?
I still can’t believe it. Lea [Michele], Naya [Rivera] and Chris [Colfer] all were fantastic, as well as Max Adler this year. And Jane Lynch and the show itself, too. I’m proud of the show because cinematography and makeup were also nominated, so that’s fantastic. But it’s weird being the only one [from the cast].
TVLINE | Coach Beiste’s domestic abuse story arc came late in the season — in the episodes “Choke” and “Props,” to be specific. Did you know before you got the scripts that she was going to become a victim of battery at the hands of her new husband? And what was your initial response?
When I read the first script for the episode I was nominated for, “Choke,” I was bawling. I couldn’t put it down. And then Ryan [Murphy] called me and asked, “Are you okay with this?” I said, “Oh my God, this is amazing.” For me, this is 21 years of acting, and to get something that’s not just a big tough chick, but is so substantial, so huge, and so important to young girls and boys out there, was just wow. This [type of violence] happens in real life, and it’s not okay. It’s weird because I want to say I loved doing this episode, since it was so emotionally charged. But in the same sense, I hated doing it.
TVLINE | How so?
You never want to be in that position. Thank God, I’ve never been through it, but there are so many women who deal with this on a daily basis. I’ve gotten Twitter responses, emails, Facebook posts from people who are so thankful to have this portrayed. I wanted to do it justice, and not disrespect anybody who had been through that. The people I heard from were so thankful for that episode, and a lot of them were telling me it gave them strength. The fact that you have that kind of power is mind-blowing. All that goes to the writers because they’re the ones who came up with it. I just did what they wrote, brought it to life as best I could. And I’m thankful it came across as good as it did, or I obviously wouldn’t be in this situation [of getting an Emmy nod].
TVLINE | On the surface, Shannon Beiste would’ve been one of the last characters you’d expect to be a victim of domestic abuse. But as we’ve delved deeper into her character, it’s actually not so surprising.
That just goes to show you don’t judge a book by its cover. Physical stature has nothing to do with emotional vulnerability people may have.
TVLINE | Watching “Choke,” I had this initial fear the writers were trying to wrap up this storyline in one hour, but at the end, you realize Shannon hasn’t left Cooter, that she’s in fact walked back into that house and bought his excuses.
Ryan and I were talking about it: Too often, people in real-life situations like this don’t just leave. It takes reaching that last straw or mustering up every ounce of courage to get the hell out. I love that Ryan didn’t do that in one episode. And after “Choke,” we had one [episode where Beiste’s story wasn’t mentioned], and then we came back the following week, and I had these incredible scenes with Mark Salling, who is just awesome.
TVLINE | Is it strange to be nominated in a comedy category for an episode where your performance was quite serious, quite dramatic?
I thought about that last year when I was nominated, and it’s a performance in a comedy series, not necessarily a comedic performance, so that’s how I look at that.
TVLINE | What’s your status for Season 4?
I’m not in the first couple episodes, but I am coming back.
TVLINE | Do you think Coach Beiste’s relationship with Cooter is done completely, or does she have more struggle ahead of her?
I don’t even try to second guess Ryan and the writers. You could think totally one way, and you get the next script and it changes direction 180 degrees. I’m sure there will be great stuff in the next season, but to what extreme, I don’t know. All I know is I can’t wait to get a script.
TVLINE | So when you say you’ll be back, is there a specific episode you’re returning for? Is there a timetable?
I don’t know yet. I definitely know I’m coming back as a guest star. As to how much or how many episodes, I’m not sure yet. Hopefully today changes that. I pray to God it changes it.