Allison Janney: This Is An Embarrassment of Riches
By Jarett Wieselman
Mom, CBS' comedy about three generations of one effed up family, has spent the last eight weeks slowly and fascinatingly revealing itself to be so much more than your standard sitcom. Sure, there are jokes -- and some pretty hilarious ones at that -- but the series truly thrives through its unexpected interest in exploring the dramatic reality of addiction recovery.
Mining comedy from drama, and vice versa, has blended into a surprisingly intoxicating cocktail thus far, and tonight's episode features the show's most successful execution of this unique formula to date as Allison Janney's character, Bonnie, falls off the wagon. And while the requisite joke beats are touched upon, the weight of this issue quickly takes center stage and Janney delivers one of the most powerful, and emotional, monologues of her career.
I caught up with four-time Emmy winner to talk about Bonnie's big backstep, discover what it means for her character, and the show, moving forward and discover which topic will be tackled by the dramedy next!
ETonline: I have to tell you, every week I continue to marvel at how successful Mom is it blending comedy and drama within the framework of a 22-minute sitcom.
Allison Janney: I love that you said that. It's the thing I love the most about the show. I'm so glad we're approaching it that way and dealing with it in that way; especially with this episode where Bonnie falls off the wagon. I was so impressed and happy that the writers are taking us to these deep places of realization, and having us go through unbelievable pain, yet find the comedy in it. I think it's so honest and true when you're telling something painful that you make light of it -- at least that's what I do. I joke to cover up the pain. It feels true and real and I'm thrilled we are approaching it this way and not just dropping one ba-dum-bum joke after another.
ETonline: A few weeks back Bonnie joked that it was only a matter of time until she fell off the wagon. How committed to her sobriety did you think she was?
Janney: Oh, I think she had one foot in sobriety and the rest was out the entire time. We actually learn in the episode that she hasn't quite been sober for a while. Most addicts in the beginning stages don't want to admit that they have a problem and it has control over them. The belief that you can control it is the biggest thing -- that you can have a drink every once in a while. That's what Bonnie has been doing, and this is the episode where she realizes that she's totally powerless and could potentially lose her daughter and her grandkids, which is the thing that saves her. She needs them more than she needs alcohol.
ETonline: The show has set up two very antagonistic relationships within AA for Bonnie -- with Octavia Spencer's Regina and Mimi Kennedy's Marjorie, so I kind of loved that those are the two who really end up being there in Bonnie's hour of need.
Janney: I know, I also loved that these were the most unlikely women she'd find this incredible sense of camaraderie and commonality with. These women she, on the surface, despises, but secretly wants to like her -- she just doesn't know how to make them do that. She's so prickly and can't help but be obnoxious. That scene, when they start telling their stories, that's what happens in AA meetings where people are suddenly humbled by other people's stories and you find these unlikely friendships. Those three now have this really powerful bond.
ETonline: How much is her relapse recovery talked about moving forward?
Janney: It's not a huge storypoint; we won't deal with Bonnie's recovery on an episode-to-episode basis, but it will always be there and rear its ugly head from time to time. Now that she's moved in, she's making a real effort to take care of everyone because Bonnie wants to make sure she's not an unwelcome guest. But we end up moving on to dealing with another serious issue because we discover Mimi has breast cancer.
ETonline: From addiction relapse to breast cancer, this is really the most unusual half-hour sitcom, Allison.
Janney: [laughs] I know, it really is. Coming in, I didn't know they would deal with subjects like relapse and cancer and I certainly didn't know how far they were going to go, but I've been so surprised and grateful because it makes me that much happier as an actress. Look, I'm happy to do the ba-dum-bum jokes, but how much richer and better is it to have the laughter through the tears? It's exciting on an entirely separate level.
ETonline: This episode aside, when I watch the show, I think, "Man Allison Janney is having the best time." How much are you enjoying Bonnie?
Janney: She is a lot of fun to play. It's a delight to play her blindness to her own narcissism. She's fearless, comfortable in her own skin and doesn't suffer fools; I wish I were a little more like Bonnie in my own life.
ETonline: At the same time you're guest starring on Masters of Sex with a character that, in the beginning, was also mining a lot of humor from the sadness of life.
Janney: I know, you're right. When they told me about Margaret's storyline, I thought it was incredibly moving and sad. Such a great story to tell, especially during that time -- I mean, it would be Margaret's last guess that her husband was gay. And to watch her go through trying to figure it out and the heartbreak of thinking it's her fault, is incredibly painful to play. But then there are those wonderfully light moments, like when she has her first orgasm and you see what that does for her and you watch her discover herself through this awful scenario. It is an embarrassment of riches to play Margaret and Bonnie at the same time -- completely different roles, but I'm equally grateful.
Mom airs Mondays at 9:30 p.m. on CBS and Masters of Sex airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.