Allison Janney may be best known for her TV work, but she got her start on stage. Now, after four seasons (and counting) on “Mom” — not to mention the seven seasons she spent on “The West Wing” — she’s returning to Broadway for the first time since 2009 musical “9 to 5,” starring in a new revival of John Guare’s 1990 play “Six Degrees of Separation.”
“It was always my plan to come back to Broadway, because theater is my first love, and it’s where I fell in love with acting,” she says of her next stage stint, in which she’ll star opposite John Benjamin Hickey (“Manhattan,” “The Normal Heart”) and Corey Hawkins (“24: Legacy,” “Straight Outta Compton”). With Hawkins, the star of the “24” reboot, in the mix, it’s impossible not to ask: Has Janney been approached for a revival of Aaron Sorkin’s beloved White House chronicle “West Wing”?
“Everyone wants to, but really, how could we do that? We’re all too old!” Janney said with a laugh. “They could do it with a whole new cast, and Aaron should. I know everyone fell in love with our characters, and I love that, but it seems like ‘West Wing’ should be filled with young, idealistic, visionary people. Maybe, I don’t know, they could give us some other jobs in the White House.
“But gosh, it would be just a great time for ‘West Wing’ now, for whoever is disillusioned by what’s going on today,” she went on. “Those are the people you want working in Washington: People whose hearts are in the right place, people who reach across the aisle, people who want to do the right thing. It was a great show. I wish we could do it. Believe me, I wish we could.”
For the moment, however, she’s still not done with her current TV gig. She’s just begun rehearsals of “Six Degrees,” which begins previews April 5 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater ahead of an April 25 opening. But in a few days she heads back to L.A. to finish the last two episodes of the current season of “Mom” — a series that earned her two of her seven Emmys but currently, it’s on the bubble for renewal for a fifth season.
However long “Mom” lasts, Janney’s in it for the long haul. “Are you kidding me? Other than the theater, it’s the greatest job in Hollywood,” she said. “It’s the most civilized job. It’s not the 18-hour days that I did at ‘West Wing.’ It’s a little bit of live theater, it’s a little bit of everything. It allows me to use everything that I’ve been trained for. I love the job, and I love what the show is about. I’m proud of it, and I would happily do it as long as they invite me to do it.”
This spring, though, she’ll transition from the rowdy recovering addict Bonnie, her character on “Mom,” to Ouisa, the wealthy New Yorker who, with her husband Flan (Hickey), becomes fascinated by a young man, Paul (Hawkins), who isn’t entirely what he seems. The play felt very much a product of its time back when it premiered at the dawn of the 1990s — but Janney and her castmates are finding it newly relevant today.
“So many themes and issues that it deals with are applicable to today’s world, in some ways much more profoundly,” she said. “One thing that stuck out to me enormously was when Ouisa says, ‘We must have truth.’ And these days, I think a lot of people feel very unmoored by what’s going on in Washington, and are thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I thought I could count on truth, but now that’s being shifted.’ It’s very confusing and very unsettling. Plus, the character of Paul coming in and pretending to be somebody he’s not, wanting to be a part of something that he’s not — I’m thinking of people wanting to be in this country.
“And of course the idea of connection, of losing connection with other people or wanting connection with other people at a time when we’re all so overly connected with social media and the internet. But we’ve lost this human connection. We need human connection, or we die.”