Allison Janney on The West Wing, bonding with Miranda and wanting to be in Downton Abbey

The actress who found fame as the White House's no-nonsense press secretary CJ plays an alcoholic's mom in her current sitcom

You’re best known for playing the shrewd press secretary CJ in The West Wing. Have you finally outgrown her?


CJ was such a great character: such a smart woman, quick on her feet, politically savvy. And I am just not. So I fear a lot of people meet me and I’m just a disappointment. She’s hard to live up to. 

What do you make of The West Wing’s successor – Netflix’s political thriller House of Cards?

Let’s just say I don’t really enjoy politics and I watched House of Cards in one weekend. It’s Shakespearean: a modern-day Macbeth. What’s also exciting is that because of Netflix there’s a whole generation of people watching West Wing for the first time and coming up to me saying I’m on season two! 

In your sitcom Mom you play the mother of a recovering alcoholic. How did you research for that?
I have lived it with friends and family. I’ve been in open AA meetings and Al-Anon [a support group for relatives of problem drinkers], and been through trying to help someone recover. It’s very painful to want something for someone more than they want it for themselves. So I felt very comfortable portraying that world. 

A serious subject for a sitcom?

The best way to deal with anything serious is by having a sense of humour and laughing. The nicest compliments I get are from people who are trying to lead sober lives and are grateful for Mom because it feels real to them. We’re not making fun. 

Who was your first TV crush?

I’m going to have to date myself and say Richard Chamberlain in the 60s series Dr Kildare. I was also wildly in love with Davy Jones of the Monkees – not a good match for me, height-wise!

Has being 6ft impeded your career? 

I’ve gone into the character realm, but that makes for longevity in this business. I was a late bloomer anyway: things didn’t start clicking until I was 38, so that was a long time doing off-off-off Broadway theatre in New York. My parents were like: “You might want to think about getting a job…”

Have you embraced Twitter?

I have a Twitter account, but I’m a little shy. It’s great for comedians – not for people who are afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Are there any British sitcoms that make you laugh?

Friday Night Dinner. I was cast as the mum in the American remake, which never got beyond the pilot, so I watched all the UK episodes and fell in love with it.

Your favourite British comic?

I’m planning to watch Miranda Hart’s shows and Call the Midwife because I filmed a movie with her, Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law [the upcoming Spy]. We bonded over our height. She’s hysterical.

Is there a British show you’d like a cameo in?

Downton Abbey! The acting is just delicious to watch – the melodrama of it all. I’d be Shirley MacLaine’s sister or Maggie Smith’s illegitimate daughter.

Mom airs on ITV2 on Mondays at 9.00pm and 9.30pm