Seven-time Emmy winner Allison Janney is drawn to bold and eccentric characters. She was hilariously hateful in Bad Words, zany in Hairspray (the audience loved it when she yelled “devil child” at poor Amanda Bynes), and of course, tough and efficient as C.J. Cregg in The West Wing. Coming soon is a juicy role in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and her first time playing a detective in The Girl on the Train.
As she launches into her fourth season of CBS’s dark comedy Mom as Bonnie, a recovering alcoholic and addict, she admits it’s “fun to play someone who is inappropriate and says things you wish you could say but you don’t.” But offscreen, what she treasures most is having friends over and “playing a game, laughing, just hanging out.”
Jeanne Wolf: It tickles me that you can become wild and rude on the screen because the women you portray are so different from you.
Allison Janney: It’s true. Some of the gals I play are fearless, but personally, I have to work on my own fear and low self-esteem. I’m really thin-skinned. I don’t even go online because I could not stand to read most things written about me. Acting is cathartic in some way. I feel very connected when I’m acting — more connected than when I’m just walking around as Allison.
JW:What about being in the public eye — all those red carpets?
AJ: It’s incredibly nerve wracking. Sometimes I wish I could disappear into the crowd. But my height makes that impossible. I’m six feet. With heels on, I tower way above everyone. I practice in front of the mirror and say to myself, “Just relax, breathe, be yourself,” but it never seems to go as well in front of the cameras. Now, my boyfriend (Phil Joncas) doesn’t care about any of that stuff. I’m always afraid reporters are going to write about us and bring up our age difference (she’s 56; he’s 36), but he’s like, “Babe, I don’t care.” It’s a great quality not to worry about what other people think of you.
JW: Did you draw on your own mother for Mom?
AJ: Not at all. Bonnie is the one character that I’m totally not like, and neither is my mother. Playing her is kind of like laughing in church. It feels so wrong and yet so good. My parents, especially my mother, are very grounded people. They aren’t really impressed with Hollywood or celebrities. I had to call my mom to tell her I was nominated for the Emmys this year. Mom said, “Oh that’s wonderful! That’s great.” Then she went on with whatever she was doing. Some people want their kids to accomplish what they didn’t accomplish themselves, but my parents aren’t like that. They sort of let us find our way, you know? I’m grateful for that.