Dot-Marie Jones, the actress who plays Coach Shannon Beiste on the hit TV series Glee, knows plenty about hard work. She grew up one of six kids on a cattle ranch in northern California. Her dad died when she was ten, and she recalls how the kids took on the responsibility of running the ranch, "My sister Carolyn and I did all the outside chores…at [ages] 10 and 12 we had to milk cows before we went to school and when we got home from school before we could go play."
In high school, Jones was drawn to sports partly because of her imposing size: "In 8th grade, I went from 5'6" to 6'1". No cheerleading for "The Beiste." She started working out and became a top track, volleyball, and basketball athlete.
For a self described "small town farm girl" it was a big deal when she started getting scholarship offers from colleges. She thought, "Is this serious? This could change my life." Jones ended up being a 5-time all-American in shotput in college and was sent to the 1988 and 1992 Olympic trials.
She also started participating in arm wrestling competitions. Jones took her first world title at age 19 and went on to slam down 15 more consecutive wins.
A major in criminology, after college Jones worked as a probation officer in a juvenile detention center in Fresno, California. She often dealt with kids in the maximum-security lockdown unit. While she liked the work, she also found it sobering and "sad." "We had everything from kids stealing candy to kids killing people."
Four and a half years later, she got her break into showbiz. A friend, Shirley Eston, who played "Sky" on American Gladiators hooked Jones up with an audition for a similar program set in the Middle Ages called Knights and Warriors. Jones spent the next 19 years playing all kinds of "tough chicks": prisoners, cops, and biker chicks. As she puts it, "always big, mean, scary women."
The role of Coach Beiste in Glee, which she took in 2010, offered something more nuanced. Jones says, "It's like I still get to play the big, tough chick, but then there's that vulnerable, huge heart side." The producers, Ryan Murphy and Brian Falchuk, created the part specifically for Jones-a bet that paid off with her recent Emmy nomination.
"The Emmys were announced on July 14th , which ironically was my dad's birthday. I just had this feeling and I said, 'Come on Dad, make this a great day, make this a lucky day," she recalls. "To see Emmy-nominated before my name…it's overwhelming and yet I'm so proud of where I've gotten."
What's especially gratifying for Jones is that she received the nomination for a character she relates to on a show she loves. Sometimes the overlap can be painful and she describes playing the role of Coach Beiste as hitting "raw nerves" on occasion. Growing up, Jones was stared at and harassed for her appearance. "One of the biggest similarities with Coach Beiste is…the torment and…having people be so obnoxious and say things."
For Jones, the message of Glee is about being yourself, whoever you are. As she puts it, "In every episode of Glee, there are so many messages…it doesn't matter what you look like, what color you are, what sexual orientation you are." The vulnerable side of Beiste has generated a huge and vocal fan base-her "punkins" as she dubs them.
"I've received some heart wrenching, beautiful emails from people," Jones says. "One girl said 'I appreciate what you're doing…to show how people treat people who are different and who they perceive a certain way.'" Jones continues, "She said that she was one of the girls that never had a place to sit at lunch."
Lucky for fans that Jones is a self-proclaimed secret "gush"-just like Beiste. She wrote back, "You'll always have a seat at my table."
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Something else Jones can share is her tenacity and work ethic. After twenty years in show business, she feels she's finally in a place she belongs-sitting at the right table, so to speak. She got there through patience, hard work, and a lot of rejections. Now that she's on a hit show and has earned an Emmy nomination?
Jones says, "All I want to come of this is to keep working."