Jane Lynch remembered her former "Glee" co-star Naya Rivera as "a force of nature" who always stood up for others.
Lynch shared her thoughts on Rivera, who died last month in an accidental drowning in a California lake, with Jenna Bush Hager while filling in for Hoda Kotb on the 4th hour of TODAY on Wednesday. Her appearance came almost exactly a month after she joined her former "Glee" castmates in mourning the loss of the 33-year-old actress.
"She was a force of nature, and it's just gut-wrenching and heartbreaking that she's gone," Lynch said.
Rivera starred for six seasons on the Fox series as high school cheerleader Santana Lopez. Lynch, 60, played William McKinley High School cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester.
"I think that one of the things that kind of got lost when we were doing the show was what a force she was because there were so many talented people," Lynch said. "She was one of those people. She wasn't in every scene, but when she was ... she just blew everybody away.
"I had three-page monologues, so did she. It took me a week to get mine - she would do them right off the bat. She'd be changing them and she had no problem with it."
Rivera was also a friend of Lynch's niece, Meg Doyle, who worked as an assistant on the set of "Glee."
"My niece Megan was very close with Naya, and Megan always said that with Naya you felt like somebody had your back," Lynch said. "She was somebody who wasn't going to let anybody mess with you."
Doyle remembered her friend in an emotional Instagram post last month.
"She took me under her wing. Brought me into her crew," Doyle wrote. "It didn’t matter that I was a lowly assistant at the time. When I think of my first four years in Los Angeles, I think of Naya. Being in Naya’s presence made me feel larger than life."
Lynch, who is a lesbian, also stressed the impact Rivera's character on the show had on young LGBTQ people. Rivera portrayed Lopez's relationship with Brittany S. Pierce, a character played by Heather Morris.
"She was a great advocate and loved the fact that she and Heather Morris had the lesbian relationship on the show and how much that meant to so many young people," Lynch said.
Morris remembered Rivera in an emotional video tribute last month in which she talked about their characters' relationship on the show.
“We both knew how special it was,” Morris said. “I think she knew a little bit more than I did.”
Lynch also paid tribute to Rivera in the aftermath of her death with a message on Twitter.
"Rest sweet, Naya," she wrote. "What a force you were. Love and peace to your family."