Interview with Allison Janney

by Melissa Silverstein on June 3, 2009

in Actresses,Theatre

allisonjanneyI’ve been a big fan of Janney since I saw her onstage over a decade ago in A View from the Bridge and LOVED her as CJ Cregg on the West Wing.  I recently saw her as Violet in 9 to 5, a show much maligned by critics but loved by audiences.  She’s also appearing in Sam Mendes’ new film Away We Go (opening Friday) and I got to speak with her in NY.

Women & Hollywood: Why do you think that that the audience and critical reception is so different for 9 to 5?

Allison Janney: I do not read reviews and I don’t want to know them but I feel the audience response is breathtaking.  It’s fun to be onstage and hear people enjoy it so much.  I feel like it does resonate today because audience responds to it.  I love what they wrote at the end  for Violet to say, “we’re the little guy and the little guy never gets any of the credit.” The little guy is anyone who is unappreciated for what they do or overqualified for the job they are in or lost their job because of the economy.  I think it really speaks to people these days.

W&H: Could 9 to 5 be this year’s Wicked?

AJ: That it such a great show, the relationship between two women.  You never see that in a Broadway show.  What is so trite about it?

W&H: Why did you want to be a part of Away We Go?

AJ: Because Sam Mendes asked me.  He literally called me and asked me.  Then I found out that Dave Eggers had written it and I am a big fan of his.  Sam said that it was not a big part so if something else came up I could take it.  He was so sweet.  I read it and I thought I could totally have fun with this.  I love working with Sam.  He knows how to talk to actors, how to inspire you, and I trust him.  He pushed me to be bigger and I would love to be considered part of his acting troupe.

W&H: Some of your characters have been so amazing especially CJ Cregg who I can watch every day of the week.

AJ: Me too.

W&H: In the last season of the West Wing CJ was so amazing.  What do you think it is about her that resonates?

AJ: She was so damn good at her job and yet she didn’t lose her femininity.  She was in the boys club and holding her own.  You admired and respected her.  She made you laugh.  She made you cry.  You felt like you could know someone like her.  She was a real character.

I was so proud to have gotten to play her too because I always get self conscious when I’m talking because I don’t think I come up with the right words.  To play CJ was so much fun.  I looked forward to memorizing my lines no matter how many there were because I knew they were going to be fantastic and fun to say especially when I got to dress down a 4 star general.  It was always a joy to do that.

W&H: The show which was written years ago seems to resonate in today’s current political system.

AJ: It was weird.  Aaron (Sorkin) would write episodes and we would film them and as they aired things would be happening that he had written about.  People thought they were ripped from the headlines but they had been written the previous month.  He had such great consultants that he has in touch with and they probably had their finger on the pulse.

W&H: You do drama with comedy and comedy with drama.  Are you first a comedic actress or a dramatic actress?

AJ: I think that my drama is infused with comedy.  I’m better at physical comedy than anything else.  I took a lot of ballet and figure skating and was athletic.  I know how to move my body around.  I think I’m funny in spite of myself.

W&H: What was it like to work with Meryl Streep on The Hours?

AJ: I fell in love with her.  She was such fun to work with.  Unintimidating.  She made you feel comfortable around her.  A real girl’s girl.  She has fun and plays and is silly the way an actress should be and she’s brilliant at it.  I also got to do a play last summer with her daughter Mamie.  She was fun and I fell in love with her too.

W&H: I read that Patricia Resnick (9 to 5 writer) is writing a show for you?

AJ: She is writing something and we’re going to see if we can work it out.  I love her.

W&H: Why do you think that Juno resonated so much?  Do you think this movie has the same kind of potential?

AJ: I see what you mean.  Juno felt different than anything I had read before.  I didn’t know what part I was being considered for but I wanted to be a part of it.

Janney can be seen nightly in 9 to 5 at the Marquis Theatre in NY and on Friday in Away We Go.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen June 3, 2009 at 12:30 PM

Great interview! I really liked her answers and look forward to seeing her in Away We Go.

Thomai June 3, 2009 at 3:01 PM

Love her.

Love her work.

Abigail Tarttelin, London June 3, 2009 at 8:46 PM

I Love Janney. Loved her in Juno. And also everything else.

Elena June 4, 2009 at 4:40 AM

Awesome interview!

“The West Wing” is probably my favorite show of all time – needless to say, as a feminist I simply adored C.J and found it terribly refreshing to see such a strong, smart female character with a powerful job on network TV. I loved hearing Allison Janney’s take on C.J. & the show.

Keep up the amazing work Melissa,

Matt January 6, 2010 at 7:09 PM

Thanks so much!!!! I agree that CJ is probably the greatest female character ever to appear on television. She had such intelligence, witt, charm, humor, and capacity, and she was respected for her dedication and strength, not her ability to score men or be a good wife/girlfriend. That really was refreshing.

I have always loved Janney, and feel she hits every character she plays out of the field, but watching her play CJ is truly something to behold. I don’t know how she did it, but that level of talent is simply spectacular.

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