Allison Janney Thrives with Her Second Act in TV

Allison Janney Thrives with Her Second
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Allison Janney picked up Emmy No. 5 on Saturday at the Creative Arts kudos, but the bigger win for the actress has been the fact that she’s in the midst of an extraordinary second act in TV following her run on “The West Wing” more than a decade ago.

“I’m really lucky that I got to play this part. They don’t come around that often, these kinds of roles,” said Janney said backstage at the ceremony held at the Nokia Theater. She won for guest actress in a drama series for her role on Showtime’s “Masters of Sex.” And she’s a double nominee this year, for supporting comedy actress in the CBS comedy “Mom.”

Janney acknowledged her good fortune in landing not one but two meaty roles last year. It was not easy for her to move on after “West Wing” ended its seven-season run in 2006, she said..

“It was kind of devastating after it was over,” she said of “West Wing,” “It was much harder than I thought it would be. I decided to do something completely different, so I went to Broadway to get in a musical.”

Janney logged numerous TV guest shots and took a stab at another series with the short-lived ABC comedy “Mr. Sunshine,” opposite Matthew Perry, in 2011. But there was no certainty that Emmy accolades and critical appreciation — let alone steady work — would come her way again in TV.

“The TV thing didn’t take off until just last year with both of these great shows,” Janney said backstage, with excited laughter.

The two shows allow Janney to demonstrate her range. In “Masters,” the period drama about sex researchers Masters and Johnson, she plays a repressed wife of a university honcho who suddenly discovers her sexuality — while grappling with her husband’s homosexuality.

In “Mom,” she limns an unusual example of a woman of a certain age trying to get her life back on track after years of bad behavior and bad decisions.

“It’s been a great year,” Janney said.

The role in “Masters” was a challenge because she was concerned about the expectations for her sex scenes in the pay cable arena. When she accepted her award on stage, she offered thanks to the entire “Masters” crew, particularly the one who brought her a shot of bourbon before filming her first intimate encounter.

After getting over her initial fear, Janney said she could identify with the quiet nature and subtlety of the Margaret Scully character. “I just love the way she discovered what she was lacking in her life in such a quiet way,” she said.

Janney also made it clear that she really didn’t have much choice about taking the part in “Masters.” She learned about the show in an email from series star Lizzy Caplan (who is also Emmy nommed) telling her she was about to get the call. The email also told her to “just shut up and do it,” Janney said. “I did it without getting a script. I said yes.”

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