Allison Janney Got A Little 'Help' From Her Friend
By Jarett Wieselman
Kevin Bacon better watch his back because at the rate Allison Janney keeps working, his status as Hollywood's most accessible "six degree-r" is being put in serious jeopardy.
Janney's latest role, as Charlotte in The Help, only added to her tally since the star-studded film -- Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Mary Steenburgen, Cicely Tyson -- featured the year's most dynamic and diverse female actors this year.
With the film hitting DVD, Janney sat down with ETonline to talk about her interesting history with The Help, why its success is doubly exciting for her and how she's planning to get one degree closer to the cast of Glee!
ETonline: Were you a fan of the book before this role came about?
Allison Janney: It's actually a funny, beautiful story. Tate Taylor [director], Octavia Spencer [played Minnie] and I have been friends since I moved out to Los Angeles in 1998. Kathryn Stockett [author of The Help] and Tate grew up together so I met her many years before she wrote the book. And when the book came out, Tate gave me the galleys before anyone published it. So for this to fall into place the way it did feels like a family business. It's very extraordinary and out of character for Hollywood.
ETonline: Given that, does it make the film's success doubly exciting?
Janney: It does. It's surreal to see this happen. Tate has been making his low budget movies for a while. To go from there to The Help is astounding. And to have Katherine insist he direct this movie was a truly wonderful gift she gave us all.
ETonline: Was Charlotte the role you wanted from day one?
Janney: Tate saw me as Charlotte from the moment he read the book. I love the way he wrote for her. He gave her more of a redemption in the movie than she had in the book, and I just loved the journey that she goes on. I understand her struggles and her fear – that's what I related to. Fear of change. Fear of not wanting your life to be taken away from you – that's what it must have felt like to her. I think so many parents only see what they want their kids to be and never see them for who they are. That's why that moment is so poignant because I think a lot of people have not had their parents say "I'm so proud of you." It strikes a chord with audiences.
ETonline: And she really lays into Hilly!
Janney: It's always good to tell somebody off who deserves telling off. I've gotten a few of those in my career. I told the technician off in Juno, C.J. got to tell so many right wing idiots off in the press room on The West Wing. It's fun to play the person who puts someone in their place – it's so cathartic for the audience too.
ETonline: I have to admit, there are few actors who have a greater presence in my DVD collection than you.
Janney: Oh that's sweet -- will you help me pick my next project then?
ETonline: Happily. Although I will probably just keep pushing you to make a Drop Dead Gorgeous sequel. Loretta is my spirit animal.
Janney: [laughs] You're too funny. She was a good character. I have to tell you, it's extraordinary how much of a cult following that movie has developed over time. I think one of the weirdest moments for me was last Christmas in an airport, sitting next to these kids who were talking about Drop Dead Gorgeous and saying my lines. I don't think I'm being naive in saying that they didn't know I was next to them. I turned to them and said, "I'm sorry, I just have to tell you, I was Loretta." They freaked out! It was so funny. I don't know why it continues to build, I never know how that happens.
ETonline: Do you have an awareness of the public's reaction to your work?
Janney: No. I feel like I should, but I'm so thin-skinned that I prevent myself from reading anything about me. I barely know how to use Facebook – I'm trying to get better with it now that it's on my iPhone and it saves my password. Somehow that's easier because I'm a complete idiot with passwords. I can't handle negative comments or crazy people – I don't have a healthy layer of skin, so I feel bad that I haven't grown a pair. I should toughen up and participate.
ETonline: Does that mean you can't watch yourself on screen?
Janney: I don't enjoy it but I can. I kind of loved watching Crystal on Mr. Sunshine, but mostly I don't enjoy watching myself on screen.
ETonline: That makes me sad since you've never seen The West Wing, American Beauty or Drop Dead Gorgeous?
Janney: I can watch some of them now – I just need time in between filming it and watching it.
ETonline: After all those amazing roles, what is it about a script that makes you want to be involved?
Janney: It's the writing. If I see a line I can't wait to say or a moment that I can't wait to bring to life – I jump on it. That's a big thing for me.
ETonline: Does that mean we should be excited for your role in Chris Colfer's Struck By Lightning?
Janney: First, let me say, I'm in love with him. Chris is the most talented, lovely man on the planet. I love the role I play, but it's not very glamorous. It's the most raw and out-there role I've ever played – there's red marks on my face, dark circles under my eyes. I was made to look not great, so while I enjoyed the filming and the emotional journey, I really won't enjoy watching that one [laughs].