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Juno - Allison Janney interview

Allison Janney in Juno

Interview by Rob Carnevale

FORMER West Wing star Allison Janney talks about her role in Jason Reitman’s Oscar nominated comedy Juno, being discovered by Paul Newman and some of the advantages and disadvantages of being an older actress.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your character, Bren, in Juno? She’s very different from you I gather…
Allison Janney: Yes, I love Bren. She’s a tough love girl but when it comes down to it she’s Juno’s biggest supporter. I really loved getting to play her. She stands up and protects her.

Q. Is that because you wouldn’t do that in real life?
Allison Janney: Yeah, because I wouldn’t have the words to do it. I would be very inarticulate and the words wouldn’t land the same. So it was nice to be given the right words to say. It was the same joy that I got out of playing CJ sometimes, being that smart and knowledgeable. Not may people can do that in real life and I’m definitely one of those. Obviously, the character also loves dogs and I happen to love dogs. In that scene where Juno comes in late from visiting Mark and I’m sitting there cutting out pictures of dogs and putting them in my dream book, that was my idea.

Q. What was it about the script that you loved?
Allison Janney: Well, the first two pages I read I knew this was going to be a good script. I laughed out loud during the first two pages. It’s kind of unique. It’s a unique language and rhythm and really fun. It was right up my alley. It was so smart in the way that it makes you laugh and then cry and I thought to myself: “God, I haven’t had that happen in a long time!” I wanted to be a part of this movie. I then met Jason [Reitman, the director] and he was so lovely. I’d worked with his father too…

Q. On what?
Allison Janney: I worked with his father on Six Days, Seven Nights but I’d never met Jason. I’d loved [his film] Thank You For Smoking and I’d seen some of his commercials that he’d directed online and he’s got a great sense of humour. He’s a perfect match for this script.

Q. What was it like working with such a young cast and crew?
Allison Janney: Ellen Page is so easy going and wise beyond her years. But they’re all so young and cool. Diablo [Cody], too… and this is her first screenplay. But I’ll work with young, old… I don’t care how you are. If you’re talented I’ll be happy to hang out with you.

Q. You were discovered by Paul Newman while you were young weren’t you?
Allison Janney: Yes I was! By Joanne [Woodward] and Paul. That was my first year in college. I was 18. I was in a play that Paul directed, so that was an extraordinary experience. Then they sort of became my mentors. Joanne directed me in plays in New York and was instrumental in my coming to New York to study at Neighborhood Playhouse. Then I came to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) in London – I got a Fellowship to come over here. It’s nice to have those sorts of mentors in your life…

Q. Do you stay in touch now?
Allison Janney: I do. Not as much but I do. I see them occasionally. Joanne is still directing plays in Connecticut. I love theatre. I sort of grew up doing theatre and I want to do it again. I’d like to do a musical. And I’d love to come to the West End.

Q. Are you a mentor to anyone now?
Allison Janney: No I’m not really. I wish that I was. I certainly have people calling me for advice. And my mother’s always calling me and saying: “Can you talk my neighbour’s daughter because she wants to be an actress…” [smiles]. I’ve definitely given advice to a lot of people but I don’t have anyone in particular that I mentor.

Q. Do you ever feel the constraint of the older actress?
Allison Janney: Well, I am what I am. I’m 6ft tall, so there’s a constraint right there! I’m 45, 46, 49 or 50. That’s going to have its advantage and disadvantages and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it except to be open, available and ready when things come my way. I hope there’ll be more women out there like Diablo who’ll be writing parts for women like me. Because there are women like me to be portrayed in films.

Q. You mention the disadvantages of being an older woman in films, what are the advantages?
Allison Janney: One of the advantages is that you don’t care as much about so many things. There are women in history throughout the world that need to be portrayed. Women don’t stop being interesting at 20, they get more interesting and more fascinating and people are going to have to write about them. We’re undeniable [laughs].

Read our interview with Jason Reitman