FRESNO, Calif. — Years of throwing the shot put and professional arm-wrestling left Dot-Marie Jones with a bum right shoulder. It got so bad, Jones was scheduled to have surgery in January to place a metal cap on her humerus, the upper arm bone.
She canceled the hospital visit when her hand started to itch.
"Every time my palm itches, I book a job," Jones says. "It was driving me nuts, so I knew I needed to postpone the surgery."
Two days later, she was cast in an episode of the cable series Hawthorne, and that turned into a five-episode arc. While shooting the series, Jones got a call from her agent: Ryan Murphy, the man behind Glee, wanted to know whether she would be available in mid-July.
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Murphy, who had previously cast Jones in Nip/Tuck, wanted her for a recurring role on the hit Fox series. She was cast as Coach Shannon Beiste, who takes over McKinley High's football team when Coach Ken Tanaka (Patrick Gallagher) has a nervous breakdown.
"They guaranteed me I would be in five of the first 13 episodes, and I've already been in six of the nine shows shot for this year," Jones says.
Jones had been out of high school only a year when she entered — and won — her first arm-wrestling competition. The 6-foot-4 Jones went on to be a 15-time world and six-time national arm-wrestling champion.
She went to work at the Fresno County, Calif., Juvenile Hall after graduating from California State University, Fresno. She got involved in acting after meeting Shirley Eson, who played Sky on American Gladiators, and she auditioned for the 1992 competition series Knights and Warriors.
Soon, Jones was facing down competitors as Lady Battleaxe. That led to roles on Married With Children, Roseanne, Birds of Prey, Lizzie McGuire and other TV shows.
As for Glee, there was never a question of whether Jones could handle the acting part. The big question was her musical skills.
"I can sing," Jones says with a laugh. "I'm no Mariah Carey, but I can carry a tune."
She has been told that Coach Beiste will have to belt out a number sometime this season. If given the choice, Jones would sing something by her favorite band, Heart, even though she'd be nervous about doing the songs justice.
Singing or not, Jones considers the Glee role one of the best she has ever had.
"I was so happy to get a character with so much depth," she says. "She's tough on the outside but has this huge emotional heart. It's really a fantastic role.
"I think what happens with this character is going to surprise a lot of people. I know I'm the luckiest person in this town, because there are 5,000 behind me waiting to get a role like this, and behind them are 5,000 more."