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Paula Zahn Interviews Allison Janney on Emmy Nomination

Aired July 17, 2003 - 20:50   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: White House Press Secretary C.J. as portrayed by Allison Janney. Well this morning Janney was nominated best actress in a drama series again. She has, in fact, won three Emmys for her role in NBC's version of the White House "The West Wing". She joins me now in the studio.
Congratulations. You have to do a lot of math to keep up with all the nominations the show got and you've gotten over the years. Is it just old hat to you?

ALLISON JANNEY, ACTOR "THE WEST WING": Not at all. It's still incredibly thrilling and exciting and a great way to start the day hearing you've been nominated for an Emmy. It's just thrilling.

ZAHN: And I understand you heard from Ari Fleischer, who has recently left the White House to help you with this role along the way.

JANNEY: Ari called me the last time I won, actually, to congratulate me. It was so sweet and lovely. So, I wish him the best of luck in the private sector.

ZAHN: Folks watching the show may not realize how much homework you did to take on this role. So you studied Ari Fleischer. Who else? Dee Dee Myers? .

JANNEY: Glen Hurry (ph), Dee Dee Myers, you know, I've met a lot of press secretaries, more than I ever imagined a girl from Ohio, who is not interested in politics, would meet. You know, It's quite extraordinary how many politicians and political figures I've met.

It's kind of mind blowing. But I did. I just read a lot of books and spoke to the press secretaries. That was about as much research as I really needed to do and the rest of it was just a matter of getting the lines memorized, being able to get them down and spit them out and sound like I know what I'm saying.

ZAHN: I know when you got hired for the show you had to know that these scripts were unusual and very well written but did you think it would have the kind of run it has sustained?

JANNEY: Not at all. None of us did. We knew it was brilliant writing because Aaron Sorien is just a genius and Tommy Shlami (ph) is an amazing show runner and the pedigree of everyone involved is so high. We thought, my God, this is amazing, but none of thought that it would go on because we didn't think anyone would be interested in a show about politics. ZAHN: Now Aaron Sorkin is gone. Is that going to hurt you guys?

JANNEY: We are devastated that he left. We love him so much and wish him the best of luck, but we have to stay positive. We're excited to see what John Wells does with the show. I mean he's no slouch. He has a great reputation of wonderful shows and he's a wonderful writer. So I choose to be excited about the changes.

ZAHN: Oh, yes, you're definitely going to keep it going. I'm curious. You've done a lot, not only on film, but on stage as well. And I'm wondering when you pick up either an Emmy award, an Emmy nomination if it's vindication for you. People said pretty nasty stuff to you as you got started in the business. What's the worst thing an agent ever told you?

JANNEY: I think the most bizarre thing that I still don't understand to this day is someone said that I had no personal qualities. And I just don't know what that means. And, you know, someone else said I had no edge. And the famous story that I can't talk about another minute but I'm going to say it anyway because everyone has heard it, the story of an agent saying they didn't know what to do with me, I wouldn't be able to play any parts but lesbians and aliens.

ZAHN: What a creep!

JANNEY: I know. There are just people -- someone else said I wasn't attractive enough. People say those things, but those are the kinds of things that if you are strengthened and you're resolved to do what you want to do, they make you stronger somehow. You know, they just make you go on and wait for those moments when you can win an Emmy and think, ha, ha, ha.

ZAHN: Well you have a great new role that people are going to see in this new movie "How to Deal". And I want to quickly set up this scene because you play the role of a woman whose marriage has just broken up and dealing with adolescent issues with your daughter.


ZAHN: Let's watch it together.


JANNEY: Please stop worrying about me. I am fine. I'm fine. In a way, it sets me free. I feel strangely liberated. And he is still your father, after all, and if he wants to make a complete and utter fool of himself by trying in some pathetically cliche fashion to recreate his sorry state of manhood by hooking up with not even a very attractive woman. Well they, if that's what he wants, I'm fine with it. Someone toss, please.


ZAHN: Should we be thinking Lorena Bobbitt there or Martha Stewart? JANNEY: Oh, I don't know. I think Lorena Bobbitt definitely comes to mind there. But it's a healthy way to release your anger on a carrot as opposed to, you know (LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: It was a nice change of pace to play someone that vulnerable.

JANNEY: Absolutely, I mean, I love -- you know, I have played my share of vulnerable -- I mean, the only other mother I played was in American Beauty. and she was definitely a vulnerable mother but not as active as Lydia in how to deal. So it's definitely a lot of fun, and that kind of scene is exactly why I did the movie.

To have to play those two things of being so furious, and yet trying to show your children that everything is going to be fine and you're in control and you're fine about your husband leaving you and going on to marry someone 30 years younger. I'm fine.

ZAHN: I think it's a great role for you. "How to Deal" comes out in theaters in many places across the country this weekend, starting on Friday night. We wish you the best of luck

And again congratulations on your nomination. And show we just show people, tonight, how tall the two of us are? It's 12 feet corner today. How tall are you?

JANNEY: Six, 5'12".

ZAHN: 5'12" Six feet. Standing tall here in our high heels

JANNEY: Well 6'3" probably in my high heels, so.

ZAHN: Again, congratulations.

JANNEY: We'll have fun watching you in the days to come. We'll be right back.


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