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Allison Janney talks controversial role, 'West Wing' reunion

By JD Cargill, CNN
October 30, 2012 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
 Allison Janney attends the Samsung Galaxy Note II Beverly Hills launch party on October 25, 2012, in Los Angeles, California.
Allison Janney attends the Samsung Galaxy Note II Beverly Hills launch party on October 25, 2012, in Los Angeles, California.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Allison Janney is co-staring in a YouTube original production
  • She plays a pro-choice doctor opposite Dakota Fanning
  • Janney says she has "always hated reality television"

(CNN) -- From "The West Wing" to "The Help," Allison Janney has been part of some of the most acclaimed ensemble casts of the big and small screens.

But for her latest role, the award-winning actress finds yet another medium to share her talents and this time with just one other performer, 18-year-old starlet Dakota Fanning. In a production shown exclusively on the YouTube original content channel, "WIGS," Janney has the title role in "Celia."

As has often been the case for Janney, the role happens to line up with her personal political views. In the eight-minute short, she plays a pro-choice doctor who both counsels women about abortions and performs them. However, her latest patient, "Hannah" (Fanning), is a bit different. Hannah is the teenage daughter of Celia's dear friend, and Celia's friend has no idea her daughter is pregnant.

Like the political themes of "West Wing" or issues of class and racism in "The Help," Janney was immediately drawn to the script and hungry to portray a character that might get people talking. In an interview with CNN, Janney had some choice words for anyone going head-to-head with women's rights, pointed a finger at a certain reality TV show she blames for killing "The West Wing," and offered up a few pearls of wisdom to fellow "5-foot-12" beauties like herself.

'West Wing' cast reunites for one last 'walk and talk'

CNN: What drew you to "Celia?"

Allison Janney: It's very thought provoking. I read it and I believed in a woman's right to choose, and this is how I'm political in doing projects like this. I think this opens up a dialogue with people who watch, and even those people who are pro-life can watch it and appreciate it.

CNN: You can't help but ask yourself, "What would I do in this situation?"

Janney: Yeah, I totally did. I have friends with daughters Dakota's age and I think it would be very tricky for me. I thought it was wonderful in that you're not sure what the outcome is. I don't believe in answers. Everyone gets to talk about whether or not they think she did it. Did she go to a new doctor or did she end up having the baby? I definitely feel that it is between a woman and her doctor and her loved ones. That's where those decisions should be made --not legislated by the government.

CNN: Does it surprise you, 40 years after Roe vs. Wade, that this is still such a heated and debated topic?

Janney: It's extraordinary to me! It makes me so angry in a country where we are all suppose to be, "Freedom rings...Freedom!...Freedom!" And then women are the ones constantly being cut down and having information and education kept away from them as if we can't be trusted to make our own choices. It's infuriating.

CNN: A lot of attention has been focused on women's issue this election cycle, from abortion and contraception to funding for Planned Parenthood.

Janney: The fact that anyone is trying to defund Planned Parenthood...my mother use to work for Planned Parenthood and I was always aware of their existence. (Those against Planned Parenthood) want to keep women in the dark. They want to take away their right to have access to health care and education about how to take care of their own bodies. It's evil.

CNN: Your "Celia" co-star Dakota Fanning turned 18 this year and will be able to vote for the first time.

Janney: What a beautiful young actress. I met her sister Elle the other night at an event where she was being honored. They're both so wonderfully self-possessed, mature and very smart.

Dakota was a little intimidating! At her age! I still feel like a teenager and she's so professional and talented and just extraordinary. I would credit that to her parents. I also wanted to do ("Celia") because I knew I'd be working with her. I love everything she's been in and thought she'd be that caliber of an actress who could take on this issue and do it the right way.

CNN: There was a time not too long ago when movie stars wouldn't do TV. Now there's the Internet. What does it take for someone with your resume to go online?

Janney: (Laughter) This is two-fold. This is my way of being political. I did "Prop 8: The Musical" and recently this PSA (public-service announcement) with the "West Wing" group for Bridget Mary McCormack, who is running for (Michigan) state Supreme Court. It brings me so much joy do projects about subject matters that I believe in.

I'm not an activist in the sense that I can't go out and speak in front of people. I'm so terrified to speak in public and I can't believe I'm an actress! And it's also economics. People can't afford to be snobs about any medium.

CNN: A lot of people blame the Kardashians for sucking up all the TV time.

Janney: (laughter) Exactly. "The West Wing" was hit hard by reality television. I've always had a chip on my shoulder about it. I can't believe we had the same viewers as "The Bachelor," but when that first hit in 2001 or 2002, slowly our ratings started to go because we were opposite. I was, like, "what is going on? Why do people that like to watch "The West Wing" like to watch "The Bachelor"?!

I've always hated reality television. Networks love to back those shows because it doesn't cost them anything. Scripted television and well-paid actors have taken a hit -- it's it has changed the landscape of television.

CNN: The "West Wing" PSA you mention was a cruel tease for many to see the whole gang back together. Fans are demanding a reunion.

Janney: I wish. I had so much fun. I realized how much I missed all those people when we got to spend the whole Saturday together. I miss being with those people. They're extraordinary, funny, smart actors and they were my family for so long. It was a tease for me, too!

CNN: If a full show is too much, what about a movie?

Janney: I know. I know. I'm afraid that's all in Aaron's (Sorkin) hands. I have no say in that matter, but I would love it! I love that character, one of my favorites I've ever gotten to play.

CNN: You're 6 feet tall, is that right?

Janney: I am. I like to say 5-foot-12!

CNN: Do you have any advice for kids, especially tall girls who might be facing bullies or are struggling to feel comfortable in their bodies?

Janney: I always encourage girls to take ballet or modern dance, and have an appreciation for their beauty and their body and lines. That gave me a lot of confidence. It's not easy being the tallest person in class and feeling so gangly and huge. I think dance is a way to give women, especially tall women, control over their body and an appreciation of it.

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