When the Emmy nominations for lead comedy actress were announced this year, it was quite a pleasant surprise to see Allison Janney’s name back on the list. Janney had last been nominated for “Mom” in 2018, and with the CBS sitcom wrapping things up in May after eight seasons (170 episodes), this was her final chance at another Emmy for playing Bonnie Plunkett on the show.
Janney won two Emmys in the supporting category for “Mom,” in 2014 and 2015; she later moved to the lead actress field, where she was nominated twice. But “Mom” hadn’t been on the TV Academy radar lately, hence the surprise. But this now gives Janney another chance to make Emmy history. With seven Emmys under her belt (four for “The West Wing” and one for “Masters of Sex,” in addition to the “Mom” honors), with one more, she will tie Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late Cloris Leachman for most acting wins ever by a female performer.
Janney has formidable competition in the category, including current front-runners Jean Smart (“Hacks”) and Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”). But there’s a reason that Emmy voters keep returning to Janney: She’s just one of those in-demand actors who elevates everything she’s in, and seems to effortlessly jump from drama to comedy, TV to film, and finds success in them all.
“I will never forget at our second or third table read ever when Allison got an enormous show-stopping-one-minute laugh off a line that the writers didn’t realize was a joke,” says “Mom” co-creator Gemma Baker. “The line was ‘Hello.’ That’s when we knew we were dealing with someone who was always going to surprise us and make the most of what we gave her. As writers, we always felt if Allison can’t make it funny, it’s not funny and we need to find something else. Allison’s ability to go from a dramatic, vulnerable moment to a comedic one, and often back again, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It allowed us to find the voice of the show, which was often about the fine line between humor and heartbreak.”
The thing about Janney is despite her loads of fame — and yes, all those Emmys — she remains a decent and good person, according to everyone I talked to. “Mom” co-showrunner Nick Bakay coincidentally went to college with Janney, and he remembers being awed by her even at the time. “Even then, it was evident that this kind of talent, it was there from the beginning. And it’s just strange kismet that we cross paths again working on this show. Allison set the tone for everyone’s comportment on set. It was incredibly generous, welcoming, fun set. And that doesn’t grow on trees, either. It’s amazing to me that someone who is brilliantly talented as she is, is also as kind and generous as she is.”
“Mom” evolved over the years, from both being centered on the mother/daughter relationship between Janney’s Bonnie and Anna Faris’ Christy to becoming more of an ensemble series about a group of women helping each other through life and recovery. It became even more so in the show’s final season, after Faris departed the show. But at the core of that ensemble was Janney.
Baker says Bakay even had a nickname for the star: “Third-Take Janney.” That’s because after two takes, the producers would give Janney the chance to give her own spin — “And boom, she’d make a completely new choice that would blow everyone’s mind,” Baker says. “She was constantly surprising everybody.” And clearly, that includes Emmy voters