Allison Janney Remembers Her First Mention in Variety

Allison Janney First Time in Variety
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

The prestigious Williamstown Theatre Festival prides itself on discovering top talent, and in the summer of 1985, a tall, young actress arrived in Massachusetts ready to make her mark. Allison Janney’s roles as “Woman #1” and “Man #3” in the festival’s production of “Citizen Tom Paine” earned her not only her first review in Variety, but also set her on a path that would include her Emmy-winning role as C.J. Cregg on “The West Wing” — as well as her current Emmy-nommed parts on CBS’ “Mom” and Showtime’s “Masters of Sex.”

What do you remember about that summer?

I didn’t get paid — you don’t get paid to go to the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I auditioned, and got accepted, and got cast in the first play there. My first official big job! I was thrilled to be in the in crowd. I was finally doing what I wanted to do.

How did it feel to see the review in Variety?

I don’t think I even had an agent at that point. I had a manager who told me I was in Variety. I felt like I was validated; here’s proof that I’m an actress.

Who were your contemporaries at the time?

I met a lot of people that summer who ended up changing my life. It got a lot of work for me. They ended up remounting that play at the Kennedy Center. That was how I got my Equity Card.

Who were your mentors?

Joanne Woodward. I met her through Paul Newman, because he directed me in a freshman production at Kenyon College. She formed a theater company, and gave us a place to work. (We) put on a night of one-acts, and had agents come see us. It’s so hard to be seen and be noticed, and she gave us a significant leg up.

What was the best thing about that time?

To start a career without being associated with a group of people is very terrifying, and I was so grateful to be working with actors, to be at the playhouse, to be in school, and to be with Joanne providing us with workspace to do scenes. I felt filled with hope and possibility.

What was the hardest thing?

Not being sure it would work out. I was pretty hard to cast, because I was so tall (6’0”). I had not been out in the real world yet.

What would you do differently if you could go back to that time?

I would go to the gym more.

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  1. Fan says:

    ‘I would go to the gym more. ‘Too funny. LOVE HER.

  2. Okay. After reading that, off to the gym.

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