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by Nigel M Smith
July 3, 2013 11:03 AM
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Allison Janney on Playing a Motormouth in 'The Way, Way Back,' Her Upcoming CBS Sitcom 'Mom,' and What She Binge Watches


"Mom" CBS
I'm sure that when playing a character like this you run a fine line, especially in any comedy, of going too broad. How did you gauge that with the directors?

Jeez, I just had to trust them. If they saw a take and they liked it, or if I did something else, I think Jim [Rash] and Nat would come in and go "Hey, half as much" or whatever. Because I tend to be -- I go all the way, I go big, big, big, and then they pull it in and temper it a little with some fabulous direction. So I really rely on the directors, because I'm not a good judge of what I do, I just say it. And I trust them implicitly, they're such great comics. I put my faith in them.

We talked briefly in our first interview about how your "Drop Dead Gorgeous" co-star Ellen Barkin was doing so well on "The New Normal" at the time. You expressed a concern or a desire to get on the small screen, to get more work, right?

In television?

Yeah, or just in general. I don't know if I caught you in a vulnerable moment.

You must have, I have a lot of those.

Yeah. But I mean, since we spoke you're now on this show "Mom." How's that going?

I'm really excited. I've had a really fat year so far. It's been great. I got to go work with Melissa McCarthy in her movie "Tammy" in North Carolina with Susan Sarandon, and I just had a ball doing that. And I got to work with one of my comic heroes, Hugh Grant. I just adore him, and I got to do a film with him, a Marc Lawrence film that's untitled. And it was nice to see he's as self-deprecating as I am and can be, and when he films and messes up he's so hard on himself, it's heartbreaking. With "Mom," I've always been looking for the perfect half hour multicam, because I think that -- what's the word -- that area, that kind of work, I feel like I would take well to it, coming from theater and performing in front of a live audience. And also when we filmed the pilot, the writers would come over after one take, and go, "OK, say this now," and they would give you big chunks of things to say differently. And I would be like, "Really? They're going to do this in front of people?" It was very exciting and thrilling to do.

"I've had a really fat year so far. It's been great."
I hope that people like it and watch it, because I could get used to that schedule, which is very civilized for an actor not to have to work 18 hour days. I have worked some 18 hour days in my life on "The West Wing" and in movies, and it's just so exhausting. I would like to be able to have a life outside of my work, to have a life at the same time as my work, you know? It would be a dream, so I hope "Mom" is a big [knocks on wood] hit.

I'm sure you've been offered many a pilot before. What appealed to you about this one?

The script, first of all, is everything that I get excited about. I read the script, and if I respond to it or not, that's where it starts. And this one I really responded to, and then I heard that Anna Faris was set to play the lead character, and I adore her. I think she's really talented, and I hadn't met her before, but from watching her -- I think I can kind of tell what kind of person someone is, and I wasn't wrong about her. She's very kind and generous and lovely. And I just do better when I work with people who are nice. I mean, everybody does, but in this business sometimes you never know what you're gonna get, or whose ego…it's a world of low self-esteems and huge egos. [Laughs] Sometimes it's not a good combo. But she's wonderfully adjusted and I can't wait to really get to know her.

Well, I can't wait to see you two spar. Moving back to the film at hand, did you feel like a Sundance darling at all this year given the fact that you had two films playing there -- this one and "Touchy Feely"?

I did, it was fun to have two films there. I like that feeling. I'd like to have more of that. I like going there and having a couple things to do. I like Sundance. It was only my second time there. I've had other films there, but I was working on "The West Wing," so I could never do anything. But I like being there, it's a great event, and I think it's very prestigious and it's exciting to have films accepted there, you feel like you've been accepted by the indie world, which is a cool world to be accepted by.

Were you there for "Liberal Arts"?

I was not. I don't know if we did get into Sundance, did we?

Yeah, it premiered there the year before.

Where was I? Where the heck was I? No, was I there? I was there!

You were there!

I was there! Oh my god, I'm drunk. Why don't I -- there are so many things I do in my life, I don't remember things. That was my first time at Sundance, with "Liberal Arts." Yes.

You waited a long time to go.

I know! I know, I'm a late bloomer in everything.

"The West Wing"
So let's talk a bit about Aaron Sorkin. Do you watch "The Newsroom"?

I have it on TiVo, and I haven't. I've been into the binge watching lately, and I haven't watched the whole thing yet, but I have it on my TiVo waiting to dive into, and I haven't done it. I think part of me is like -- I feel like, you know, my father jumped to another family. It's that feeling of "I'm not in that, I'm not going to watch it." Don't say it just like that alone, otherwise it will sound awful.

I'm going to lead with that.

[Laughs] I love Aaron, he's amazing, but I have not watched the whole thing.

But you've seen episodes?

I have seen episodes and I love it, and I recognize Aaron's writing and how he's so masterful at characters and stories and drawing people in, and riding that fine line between something being too emotional or, what's the word…oh god, my mind. He's just a brilliant writer, that's all I can say.

You said you binge watch shows. What do you binge watch? Tell me "Scandal."

Oh, "Scandal." Love "Scandal."

Good.

I just watched "House of Cards." Brilliant. "Game of Thrones" I love and hate and can't believe the things that happen in that show. I swear, after every episode, "I'm never going to watch this again! I can't believe they killed that person! How can they do that?" Nobody's sacred, it makes me mad. And then a couple days go by and I go, "I wonder what's going to happen next week."

I don't think I could read the books, I think I would not be able to. It would take me years to read one of those books, I think. I love that show. What else am I watching? I love "Veep." Adore it. I got to be on it with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who's just a genius. All of the actors on that show are just brilliant.

I'm sensing from everything that you're saying that you're drawn to political fare. I mean, even "Game of Thrones" has political intrigue.

It does, but I am so not a political person. I mean, I vote and I care about things--

"The West Wing" didn't make you that way?

No, and it's infuriating because everyone thinks I'm as smart as C.J. about things, and I'm just not. So when I hear that someone is really excited to meet me because they're big "West Wing" fans and they're really political people, I'm like, "No, I'm not going to meet them," because I will be a disappointment. Because I'm not comfortable talking about politics. I was raised in a family where we didn't really talk about politics around the dinner table. We didn't have heated conversations about what was going on in the world. We didn't talk about it. I do care, and I do things that are good, and I vote, and I believe in certain things, but I'm just not that comfortable being a spokesperson for them.

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