Allison Janney: ‘I would get cast as 40-year-old women when I was still in my teens’
Janney, who didn't find success as an actor until she was in her late 30s, thinks things are looking up for women – even very tall women – in Hollywood
By Tara Brady
There is a story from Hollywood's golden age that tells us that Lana Turner, upon visiting her tailor, looked over at a dress dummy for the Irish-born Greer Garson and sniffed: "She's a very tall woman."Was Turner being euphemistic? Perhaps not. It's not easy being tall in Hollywood. Just ask Allison Janney.
"It was really hard for me to get cast in anything for a long time," she says. "I would get cast as 40-year-old women when I was still in my teens. There just wasn't a lot of work out there for people of my height."
No wonder she is giddy talking about Spy, a new espionage caper from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig that brings together Janney (1.83m) and Miranda Hart (1.85m) as handlers for unlikely CIA operative Melissa McCarthy (1.6m).
"I've known and admired Melissa forever," says Janney. "And we hit it off immediately with Miranda, who is just glorious. We really want to work together again. We're going to have to find or write a play for tall women."
Spy boasts a plot that is at least as good as the last two Bond films, with plenty of Pink Panther-worthy bumbling. Even better, Janney gets to boss Jason Statham around.
"I only knew him as the consummate screen tough guy," she says. "But it turns out he's charming and funny and loves to be silly. He's just delightful. And it was just a playful shoot. I think I made up a new swear word."
Standing up for herself
In truth, we're not too surprised to see The Stath cowering and sulking at Janney's every command. As CJ in The West Wing, she was quite capable of slapping down her own president ("That's fine. Just don't show off"), while her steely stand-off with the ultrasound technician in Juno is perhaps that film's finest moment.
"People talk about mom roles," says Janney. "But mom roles can be pretty interesting."
She has, indeed, recently taken home an Emmy – her sixth – for her work on Mom, the Chuck Lorre-produced multi-camera sitcom concerning a mother (Janney) and daughter (Anna Faris) who are both recovering addicts.
"Mom is the best day job I ever had," she says. "It's two weeks on, one week off, which is very civilised after the 17-hour days on The West Wing. Glorious even. So I've been able to do HBO's Masters of Sex , which I loved doing also, alongside Mom.
"I'm so grateful to have stumbled into such a great show at this point in my career. It manages to take very serious topics like addiction and make them funny. Because in the end, isn't that how people get through things?"