Allison Janney has found that, depending on the person and location, people want to talk to her about different projects.
“Sometimes a person will come up to me and I’m sure they’re a ‘West Wing’ person but they say ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ is their favorite movie,” says the 62-year-old actress. “Or I’ll think they’re about to talk about ‘Mom’ and they saw me in ‘A View from the Bridge’ on Broadway. It’s really fun to have people know all these different things.”
Yet after so many iconic roles, Janney is still finding she can do new things on screen. Case in point, her latest movie, “Lou,” now available to stream on Netflix, finds her playing an action hero. Not only that, she’s the film’s lead – something she didn’t realize until an interview with Variety.
“That’s funny, I hadn’t thought about that,” she muses. “But to be honest, I always think of working on things together as a group team effort anyway, so even if I was number one on the call sheet, it’s an ensemble thing – all acting is.”
Janney plays the titular “Lou,” a mysterious loner who prefers the company of her dog to people and lives a quiet life in the woods. As a storm rages one night, her tenant and neighbor Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) comes to her after her daughter (Ridley Bateman) is kidnapped by the girl’s father (Logan Marshall-Green.) Only then does Hannah (and the audience) begin to learn more about Lou’s past – and exactly what she’s capable of.
It’s an action-packed adventure from director Anna Foerster that never lets up on the surprises. Janney was more than happy to jump into the physical role.
“I just really want people to be entertained by it and have a good time and watch these women kick ass,” she says. “And to be a lead in a movie at 62 and an action hero? Come on.”
When they first sent the script to you did they give a heads up on what kind of movie it was, or did you read it and realize you got to be an action hero?
When I read it, I thought: This is exactly what I’ve been looking to do – something completely different and with action. I love the character. I love how she’s a woman with few words and a lot of action. She’s pragmatic and enigmatic and something completely different for me. And then I met Anna who was like, “Are you ready to get down and dirty with me?” And I was. After getting the peart, there was a time where I was like, “How can I get out of this?” But I was glad I didn’t.
It came to me from Bad Robot, J.J. Abrams’ company. I love J.J. and have always wanted to do something with his company. And it was such a cool departure for me. Learning those fight sequences was like learning a dance. In some ways I felt more comfortable doing those because they were so rehearsed. It was enormously fun.
How did you prepare for the role physically? Do they send you to some kind of spy school and teach you to shoot and fight?
My grandfather shot skeet so I’ve held guns before. And I was an athlete. What I did learn for this film was to fight hand-to-hand combat. Our fight trainer was Daniel Bernhardt, who had just come off working with Bob Odenkirk on “Nobody.” I was doing it three hours a day and I came to love it. I’m ready to do more.
I’m glad because I would love to see you as a Marvel hero or the next James Bond.
I love the way you’re thinking! I would love to be an action hero. How great would it be to see a woman in her 60’s as a superhero? That’s what I loved about this movie — it shows someone that age also just being incredibly capable and strong and fierce. And that’s the story I want to tell more of — more women who can throw down and take care of themselves.
She also knows how to play on people’s expectations – there’s a great scene where she pretends to be weak and vulnerable.
You can definitely see this woman had to play many roles in her life. It was fun to shoot that scene and fun to know how to defend yourself in a scene like that. I felt like, “God, no one can fuck with me now! I know how to do things!”
There’s an old expression never work with animals or children. But you did both in this and they’re both awesome.
That’s true. And I loved them both so much – I felt proud to share the screen with both of them. The dog was the most beautiful dog ever and he hit his mark more times than I did. He should have a huge career after this.
Honestly, everyone was wonderful to work with. I watched “Lovecraft Country” and I knew Jurnee was no stranger to getting wet and muddy and throwing herself into stuff. She and Ridley were both game for everything – I couldn’t have had better partners to be running around the marsh with.
You’re so great at giving speeches – all the Emmy speeches and obviously your Oscar speech for “I, Tonya” is iconic. What’s the key to a good speech?
Having great friends who are smarter than you who give you great lines. My friend Nick Bakay gave me that line to say at the Oscars: “I did it all by myself.” I wasn’t sure if I should do it, I decided to wait until I got up there and I would know in the moment if I can pull it off. I am not very confident in my writing abilities. I hate writing. I can’t even write an email. I’m the person who likes to use all emojis because I can’t think of words. I’m a big fan of the face palm emoji.