Breakout faces from the ’99-’00 season: Allison Janney

'West Wing' actress was discouraged from going to L.A.

Allison Janney was having a particularly tough day.

While combing over receipts and various documents preparing for a visit from the tax man, Janney was equally concerned that the climactic final episode of her hit series “The West Wing” was going to be bypassed by New York basketball fans tuning into the Knicks game.

But like her character, White House press secretary C.J. Cregg, Janney gathered her composure to talk about an extraordinary time in her life.

“I’m more of a chameleon than somebody like Richard Schiff (who plays Toby Ziegler on ‘The West Wing’) but people come up to me and say, ‘I never do this but. …’ It’s just enough for me. People are respectful of my privacy but I am very appreciative,” says Janney from her Manhattan home.

After filming the pilot and waiting to hear if NBC was going to pick it up for the fall 1999 season, Janney — a 1998 Tony Award nominee for her work in “A View From the Bridge” — knew that the show was being well received but that didn’t help ease the tension of whether she would be heading west.

“People in L.A. were saying don’t come out here because we may not make it,” recalls Janney, who was being teased by her friends, noting quality doesn’t always equal success in television. “They told me, ‘Your show is so good I’m sorry it’s gonna be off the air.’ ”

In a slice of real life intersecting with fiction, Janney had quite a thrill recently while visiting the White House. Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart let her begin the press conference by taking a question from legendary UPI reporter Helen Thomas.

With a couple of months to recoup before hitting the Warner Bros. soundstages in mid-July, Janney is excited about the upcoming season and hopes creator-writer Aaron Sorkin gives her more juicy material to work with.

“I have no idea what he has up his sleeve,” she says.

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