Allison Brooks Janney (born November 19, 1959) is an American actress. She played White House Press Secretary (later Chief of Staff) C. J. Cregg on the television series The West Wing (1999–2006), a role for which she won four Primetime Emmy Awards, a Satellite Award and four Screen Actors Guild Awards and was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, an AFI Award and a further two Primetime Emmy Awards, one Satellite Award and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Her films include Big Night (1996), Primary Colors (1998), Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), American Beauty (1999), The Hours (2003), Finding Nemo (2003), Hairspray (2007), Juno (2007), The Help (2011), and The Way Way Back (2013). Currently she stars in the CBS sitcom Mom as Bonnie Plunkett and has a recurring role on the Showtime series Masters of Sex as Margaret Scully.
Early Life and Education
Janney was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up in Dayton, Ohio. She is the daughter of Macy Brooks (née Putnam), a former actress and homemaker, and Jervis Spencer Janney, Jr., a real estate developer and jazz musician. She has an older brother, Jay, and a younger brother, Hal.
Janney attended The Miami Valley School in Dayton, where she was named a distinguished alumna in 2004, and the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut. She then attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. At Kenyon, she studied with Paul Newman, an alumnus of Kenyon. He directed her in a play as the inaugural event of the school’s newly dedicated Bolton Theater. Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward encouraged Janney to continue acting. She then went on to study drama at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She attended The Neighborhood Playhouse the same years as actor Dylan McDermott.
Janney’s first roles on television were as comedic began on soap operas: she first played Vi Kaminski for a short time on As the World Turns, following up with a two-year role as one of the Spaulding maids, Ginger on Guiding Light. In the spring of 1994, she appeared in the season finale of Law & Order, as a reluctant witness against a member of the Russian mob.
She has appeared in numerous films, including the 1990s films American Beauty, The Object of My Affection, Big Night, The Impostors, Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Ice Storm, Primary Colors, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Private Parts, and the 2000s films Nurse Betty, The Hours, The Chumscrubber, How to Deal, Winter Solstice and a considerable role in the animated movie, Finding Nemo, voicing Peach, the starfish. In 2006, she had roles in the feature films Margaret and Over the Hedge.
In 1999, she was cast in the role of presidential press secretary C.J. Cregg on the television drama The West Wing, for which she eventually won four Emmy Awards. Two of the Emmys were for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress – Drama Series in 2000 and 2001, and two were for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Drama Series in the years 2002 and 2004. She was also nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in the 2003 and 2006 Primetime Emmys.
Janney won two Screen Actors Guild awards for Best Actress in a dramatic series, in 2001 and 2002. The cast of The West Wing won the Screen Actor’s Guild award for Best Ensemble in a dramatic series the same two years. Additional accolades for Janney’s work in The West Wing include four Golden Globe award nominations, and a nomination in 2002 for American Film Institute’s Actor of the Year. Many outdoor scenes on The West Wing were filmed in Washington, D.C. The West Wing ended in January 2006, and the last episode aired four months later. In January 2006, West Wing’s cast was also nominated by the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble Cast. Janney, Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, Janel Moloney, and other members of the cast appeared at the SAG Awards to honor their late castmate and friend, John Spencer.
In 2006, Janney was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her performance in the film Our Very Own. Many of Janney’s long time friends were involved with Our Very Own, including producer Shannon McMahon Lichte and cast member Allison Mackie. Writer/director Cameron Watson, also a longtime friend, wrote the role of Joan for her.
In 2007, Janney appeared in the Academy-Award-nominated film, Juno, playing the part of Bren MacGuff, the title character’s gruff but caring stepmother, for which she won Best Supporting Actress in the Austin Film Critics Association Awards 2007. In the same year, Janney appeared in the Golden-Globe-nominated film, Hairspray, as Prudy Pingleton, Penny’s (Amanda Bynes) strict and religious mother. She appeared in the short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in a guest appearance as herself (episode: “The Disaster Show”).
Janney has remained active in theater. In 1998, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge. Her first Broadway role was in Present Laughter, opposite Frank Langella. In 2007, she participated in a workshop for a new musical of the film 9 to 5.
In late 2008, Janney joined Broadway stars Stephanie J. Block, Megan Hilty and Marc Kudisch in the new musical, 9 to 5. Based on the film of the same name, Janney is starring as Violet Newstead, the super efficient office manager played by Lily Tomlin in the original film. Janney has signed on for a one-year contract with the 9 to 5 production. She was also nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her work in 9 to 5. In May 2009, she won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical for the role of Violet Newstead. She also appeared alongside Jack Black and John C. Reilly in Prop 8 (The Musical), a satirical musical protesting the passing of California Proposition 8.
In 2004, Janney began lending her voice to television and radio spots created by Kaiser Permanente in the health maintenance organization’s broad “Thrive” media campaign, and in a radio campaign for the American Institute of Architects. In 2010, she appeared as Allison Pearson in In Plain Sight. In May 2010, Janney appeared in the antepenultimate episode of the ABC television series Lost as the adoptive mother of the show’s two mythological opponents, Jacob and the Man in Black.
She starred in the ABC network comedy Mr. Sunshine. The series, which was created by Matthew Perry, was a midseason replacement for the 2010–11 television season.
In September 2010, it was announced that Janney would be the voice of the Aly San San spokesdroid in the Disney attraction, Star Tours: The Adventure Continues. The attraction later opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland. She played the protagonist’s mother in the 2011 film The Help, and appeared in the 2012 feature films, Struck By Lightning and Liberal Arts.