Many times a versatile actor/actress is very hard to come upon. When it comes to the genre of comedy it can be even more difficult. Over the last 12 to 13 years one of these people has clearly been Allison Janney. With her unquestionable brilliant work on The West Wing, which mixed her comedic and dramatic talents all at once along with a natural ability to deliver fast paced dynamic dialogue.
Janney’s career can not just be measured on screen. She was discovered on stage by true genuine Hollywood royalty in Paul Newman and the lovely Joanne Woodward. They gave her guidance and bits of advice that would see her rise and shine to the tune of FOUR Golden Globe nominations and multiple Emmy wins.
Janney now stars in the sleeper summer hit The Way Way Back in which she costars with Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Sam Rockwell.
I recently had the chance to speak with Ms. Janney about her upcoming film and past work.
If you could tell me how the project came to you and what drew you to your character.
This project came around my doorstep many years ago through Jim Rash and I knew Jim through mutual friends and had been a fan of his seeing his work at The Groundlings in L.A. I ha seen Nat’s work also but knew Jim personally. [Jim] sent me the script and I felt this is a character I would love to play and can get behind. When I had seen who he assembled as a cast I felt this is a great ensemble movie.
Jim Rash and Nat Faxon have both been writing for a while, You had a unique situation in that they are both co-directors and it was each first directing film, Did this present any kind of challenges?
I think ity gave them a great opportunity to make it easier some how. I am a fan of it because they would always, more than likely be on the same page about everything , because they had written together for so long and had this in their wheelhouse for a long time. They know every single moment and what they want.They were really fun to work with!
You are one of the few people who has really mastered the dialogue of Aaron Sorkin. How has that helped you since the conclusion of The West Wing and on into your future projects?
I was trained in the theater so I came to Aaron Sorkin with a good understanding. One of my debuts was an Olk Howard Play. Noalk Howard was an incredible writer where people talked fast and were smart.It’s been my dream to play that kind of woman, so who knew I was gonna run into Aaron Sorkin and he was gonna write me that sort of fast talking dame at the White House. It was sort of a perfect collaborating that happened for me. Since The West Wing part of me feels I’ve used up part of my memorizing chip (laugh).I think I was just in that habit day in and day out so I could memorize a huge chunk in 15 minutes before going into the press briefing room.
You mentioned that you started off in the theater. You are credited with being discovered by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. They are Hollywood Royalty as far as Im concerned.
Mmmmm I love them. I totally give them that credit too. Because I did work with them and I was working with Paul Newman when I was freshman in college and Paul always said “ if you ever need favor, all you have to do is ask.” I never asked him for that favor because I could never think of the right one to ask. I love that I never used it but always had it in my back pocket, it gave me incredible confidence. I think they were invaluable to me in terms of building my confidence and starting me out on the right foot. I adore them.
Is there any one piece of advice they gave you that stuck with you and still sort of drives you?
Joanne always told me not to make fun of the material no matter how silly, just don’t make fun of it. That always somehow made sense to me, I understood what she was talking about.Because you have to own it and believe it. She also talked about the right shoes for the character so I’ve always been obsessed with finding the right shoes for the character.
You have worked with a lot of directors early in their career much like Jim and Nat. You worked with Sam Mendes first movie and one of Ang Lee’s first films. Do you enjoy working with first time directors?
i do. So funny I guess that’s really true, I’ll tell you every single experience I think there has been a real appreciation and excitement they have. Everyone wants it to go well so everyone’s on the same team.
One thing that came across when speaking with Allison Janney is her love for her craft. When speaking about Paul Newman and Ms, Woodward there was a genuine sense of love and reverence for them. Her voice tone immediately changed in a sentimental tone and you could almost feel her love for them.
Allison Janney is a true star and great actress in this industry. Look for no less from her in The Way Way Back.