tv Tavis Smiley PBS August 25, 2014 11:30pm-12:01am EDT
good evening from los angeles i'm travis smiley. tonight a conversation with four time emmy winner actress allison janney currently starring two very different serious. a cbs comedy "mom" and the masters of sex. the roles are light years apart. but the range of this actress who carried all the roles for her emmys in c.j. cregg on in work on "the west wing." conversation with allison janney coming up right now.
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you, thank you. >> we're in the act of playing very different characters. in one season. it must be both a challenge and reward. four time emmy winner allison janney is now doing just that. she stars in "mom" as the rather free wheeling less than proper bonny plunket. i'm being generous in that description. at the same time the showtime series "masters of sex" and does
a 180 playing margit scully a stayed and pressed wife. she's being considered for emmys for both roles. and we start our conversation with a scene from last season's masters of sex which returns to showtime come july. >> i have spent the day wracking my brains, pacing, wondering maybe i should light his clothe on fire. maybe i should drive his car into the pool. maybe tell him all about the man i've been seeing who by the way wanted me in his dining robedro. prostitutes? that is so insulting to me and so far beneath you. >> i will never do it again. ever. i swear to you. >> even if you never lay a hand on a hooker again that would change what is so impossible to understand. this morning when you came in my
room i was practically naked and you didn't look at my body once. not once. and yet your face was filled with it. love. >> so i'll start with a confession. when this thing masters of sex first came out, i didn't think i was feeling it. i tried the first episode and well, it was okay. and so i tuned in the next week. it got a little more interesting. and before i knew it i was hooked. but i didn't expect to be. i didn't think i was going to be. >> yeah. >> but the writing on this thing. >> yeah. >> so good. some of the issues being explored here in the '50s are just so titillating. >> yeah. and still relevant today. shocking but definitely that -- the storyline for me was margaret scully. they hadn't written it when they asked me to come on board and
michelle ash ford and sarah timberland talk to me where they wanted go with the character and i thought it sounded like an amazing story line to get to work on with bow bridges aeau b. and this thing comes out and her whole life unravels because she's not getting -- she's not having any orgasms. never had an orgasm before and not having sex and why does her husband love her. and for him han amazing time to be a gay man. not a accepting environment to be gay. and it was just the whole storyline has been, i think people are really connecting to it or feeling for these characters. both sort of repressed for different reasons. >> yeah. what do you -- if i heard you correctly, that sounds to me like a lot of trust that you put in these two women or a
production team to sign on to something that hadn't been fully developed. >> yeah. >> particularly at this stage of your career. you don't have to do this. >> i knew of masters and john n johnson. and i knew of michelle's writing. and i didn't have any -- i wasn't worried about -- i was more worried that i wouldn't be allowed to with doing "mom" on cbs. and fortunately they are run by the same mother ship. >> it helps. >> it does. >> they own everything these days. >> the thing i was most nervous was the fact they told me up front was that i would have to do -- there would be some nudity involved, some sex scenes. and that was -- that was a little bit scary. but they were so -- michelle and sarah on the phone were love by me. and said we won't -- nothing will be done that you are not
comfortable with. and i just trusted them. i loved the way they were talking with me. and when i certainly knew that any sex scenes would be completely integral to the story. as all the sex scenes are on the show. there is nothing gratuitous about the sex. my mother, when i told her she was just mortified by the title. and friends were saying oh what is your daughter up to? oh this lovely show for cbs called "mom." and then this other show that's called -- well it's with beau bridges. >> she couldn't say the name. >> of course now and in her circle of friends it's fine. >> let me me probe a bit. i've asked this a few times of different actors playing different sex scenes but i never asked you this question. >> yeah. >> so what is your process? when you told there are going to be some sex scenes?
you have been in this business for quite a while. how do you -- how do you process that? like what goes into your deciding whether or not -- >> sub text, you're fifty. >> no that's not where i was going. i wasn't thinking about the age thing. well you are a woman of a certain age it's better than being dead. my mom says it all the time. the only thing better --. you have earned the right to say no to that. so when you decide you are going to subject yourself to that what is your process for making that decision? >> well first off, fortunately i had no idea i was going to get offered this. i had changed my diet and not eaching as much pasta and working out and going to plat ease so my body was change iingd
so i felt better about my body. so i thought okay that can't be the reason i would say no. and i trusted them. i knew they would respect what i felt comfortable doing. and i wanted to -- i thought it was worth it for this story line. and as i got closer to it after reading the scripts, i just knew that it was a real integral part of margaret scully's journey and i needed to do it. and i felt -- and then from there it's day in, day out. meeting the director and then -- it is terrifying. but they were so respectful of everyone on the set. it's always a closed set and you go through it like paint by numbers. >> so it really ain't sex. >> no. there is nothing about it that's sexy.
and then the cameras roll and you feel free to play within the boundaries of what established. and then i just pray that the lighting. i looked at the lighting designer before and i was like you know i love you, right? >> you got me right? >> look great make this look -- you know. >> i can only assume that there obviously is an artistic value that i may never know that you feel when you get a chance to play a character like this. but what is the value to the audience of seeing you play a woman whose repressed and denied and etc., etc. what do you hope to take away for those of us like me who watch this every week? >> you know, i just i love the way audiences have fallen in love with margaret and her story. because i think there is still even i think women today who
aren't, maybe, haven't been fulfilled sexually or feel inadequate in some way. and i think that margaret feeling taking it all on herself that her husband doesn't want her because she's not good in bed or she's feeling inadequate. and it's heartbreaking especially when you know the whole truth. and she's been living a life that wasn't what you thought and then still having to find a way to accept it and move on. i feel like what woman doesn't have to go through all of those issues whether or not she's being pleased or not by her partner or whether her husband is really gay or whether she could have been so many things. could have done this with my life. i could have. and margaret just represents that and this show of the microcosm of one family's hope in the 1950s, an incredibly repressed time. and i think that is what it is.
you route for her. you want to see her, you know, be fulfilled in her life. >> let me do something i shouldn't do on television as a host which is answer the question i just asked. >> i didn't answer. >> no you answered beautifully. you answered anz actor. i want to answer from myself as a viewer. because what made me connect to her, your character. i mean the sex thing -- i can't connect to that obviously what it feels like for a woman to not be pleased by her partner. but what i can connect to is this feeling of the her very dignity and humanity being tested because she's been lied to and being deceived. and that ain't about sex or gender or race or anything else. none of us want to be lied to and deceived and denied. so that is the level to which i
connected. >> and they also put that in there. but they also want there to be a real love between the two of them. >> right. >> it is not that she finds out and secretly hated him but never knew what to do. she truly loves this man and he truly loves her too. but yes, she has been -- her -- you know, she's a great pride. and i think she's -- yeah, her dignity is -- she's -- what you said. [ laughter ] >> now it's like -- i should have my audio guy make a screeching sound. like rrrr. like a real screech. because now we're going to the other character. and there is never any danger of knees t these two characters being confused. but it speaks to your experience
that you could play both these characters at the same time. this "mom" thing, a lot of people are getting a quick out of this. >> i know. they are. i'm kuwa quite a bit more like margaret scully than like bonny. i'm not afraid to play her because i like to be big and bold, you know, and the comedy is large and i'm not afraid of that. and i attribute that to my theater training. growing up doing phaedo farce and noises off and all those kind of comedy of errors. and going back and forth in different styles and different styles. and i -- first because i was nervous about doing that. i was doing masters of sex and then had to go do the "mom" pilot. and i thought how am i going to do this friday and show up monday and be this character? and once i got on the set i was like okay i'm in a different world and this is a different
day andky exist in this world too and it's a lot of fun. and i officially love that chuck has given us storylines that allow us to be pretty ems a emotional in a half hour comedy with the issues we deal with. and i'm grateful for that because otherwise it tends to be that format usually exists on a very idle and not a lot of variance and deep lows. and i love that he's letting us do that with the different, you know, issues we're tackling. >> how do you do that? maybe -- might be a question i should ask chuck instead of but you'll ask you since you are here. how do you do that in a comedy? how do you have a comedy that allowios tow deal with that sort of emotion and make it work in that kind of sitcom. >> i just treat it as if for me it is my character. i don't think of myself as being in a comedy or being in a tragedy. i just try to live truthfully
under the imaginary circumstances. and i think in the back of my head, my actor head. i know if it's a comedy or a, you know, drama. but i think they all include every emotion that everything is about -- how am i saying this. i'm not saying this right. i think of it as -- i don't go for the laughs, in other words. and i don't try to make people laugh. because that is where i don't make people laugh. it is very hard to be on the set when chuck knows you will get a laugh here. and i go how do you know? and hey, i can't do that. if i do that i feel like i jinx myself and i won't get the laugh. but i just try to be truthful. and never try to make anybody laugh. so when i have to do these. when bonny had to talk about where she came from and growing up in foster homes and the deep pain that caused her to behave
the way she did and become an addict and drink and expose her daughter to terrible things. t sort of gave a window into her life what it was like for her growing up and i think people felt for bonny. she went through all that. it's not an excuse but she's a person wounded incredibly. and doing that monologue i remember just really feeling the sadness or what she had gone through. and feeling the tears come up and then being able to make a joke about it in the next sentence. like well i did steal the tv from -- you know, being able. it just felt very natural and real to do that. so i don't know if i answered your question. >> not only did you answer but you gave me something that i've got to marinate on beyond the conversation. every time you come on there is always one or two lines you just blurt out. and i'm like hold up. wait a minute. let me go back and unpack that.
i used to go to a church and the preacher was funny whenever he would say something that he thought was usually deep. and it usually was. he would back up and say i think i just said something. i think i just said something. and you just said something a moment ago. living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. that is a great line. >> well that was not a line. >> they say that the mediocre borrow. the great ones steal so whoever you got it from. >> stanford -- one of their mottos or mantras was living truthfully under the imaginary circumstances. >> that is a great line. >> yeah. >> is that just for actors? or is that applicable to those of us who are not thespians. >> i think it's a good way to
get over, if you are afraid of public speaking you imagine yourself, you know, whatever you need to do to make yourself comfortable. set up a situation where everyone in the audience is in their underwear, you know, whatever those tricks you do. >> but yeah. no matter what the imaginary circumstances, you just try to be honest. >> that line makes perfect sense for me for actors because if you can't make the audience believe it, whatever those imaginary circumstances are, if we can't truthfully buy that you are that character, so for acting it is perfect. >> my acting teachers said if you have to hide behind the lamp post, you really have to do that. and believe that you are hidden behind it. even though no one can hide, except for maybe, you know, audrey hepburn. so yeah, no matter how far, do
it. and i tend to go. i like to go big or go home. someone gives me a direction, i usually go too far. you have to reign me back in. >> i like that. there you go again. go big or go home. >> go big or go home. >> i love it. set your modesty aside for a second. at a this point in your career, what does it mean for you, how do you process, allison, that you are playing two different characters on two different hit shows at the same time? there are some people -- i mean this is an actors dream to have. >> yeah. >> and you are living it. >> yeah. >> how do you process this moment? >> i'm -- i'm i am so proud that i got to be a part of these. and i didn't know it was going turn out this way that they would both be on the air at the same time or that either one would be. i feel incredibly lucky and love
that it looks like a great party trick i'm doing. and i always remember back in new york when cynthia nixon was doing -- she was doing hurly burly and some other show. two shows on broadway at the same time. and i was like i want to do that. i remember hearing about that and i was like i could do that. i want to do that. and it's something that stuck with me. so i'm doing my version of cynthia nixon's trick. but not having to race in a cab across town. >> since you have done this for quite some time we all still love you in the "the west wing" reruns. not even reruns. what is your sense of television. one of the things you are on the paid cable. the other is network. but from your perspective, is tv getting better or worse? you have been on tv for a while. >> gosh, i feel like in some
ways so much about television that i hate. i really don't -- i'm not a fan of the reality shows and i think for me that started with "the west wing" and we start -- our ratings started going down when we were opposite the bachelor. and i was just incensed that how could people watch -- how is that the same audience. yeah i thought it was rubber necking it. i was embarrassed. i said surely that part with saturate and be gone. >> you couldn't have been more wrong. >> i could not have been more wrong. and i -- you know, there's room for everyone i suppose. but in some ways i feel like it takes away from the writers and actors and -- but that being said there is also some great wonderful shows on television. and the way we watch them now so
so different. and i watched breaking bad in one weekend and watch house of cards in one weekend. and watching game of thrones. i love -- there is some great television. so i don't know how -- i think there's been a great resurgence of new wonderful shows. so i hope that we still keep going if we have to live with reality tv we have to. but i don't know. i really -- >> so how long do you think you can manage doing both of these? >> i could for as long as they'll have me i'll do it. yeah. it's sort of where it works out. >> i'm just curious. another one of those inside the actor studio questions. but who runs your lines for you? when your trying to learn your scripts, how do you do that. >> whoever i can get. fortunately she loves to run the lines.
and in the half hour world you can't memorize them too quickly because they change all the time. we start monday and film on -- preshoot thursday and live on friday and anna and i will run them in each other's dressing room and do it. for master i have whoever is -- my assistant is with me sometimes. anybody. i'll have a friend come over and run them. because i always do them much better if i get them you have to page. i have three dogs and they do not like it when i -- i'll sit in bed and be doing my lines. and they go like this and then they run -- they go into the other room because they don't want to be hearing me talking like scully or bonny. and it upsets them. and worst possible case scenario i get to the studio and get one of the p.a.s to come and sit with me. i would make you run lines with me right now if i had any.
>> i would be honored. >> nobody's ever asked you do that? nobody's ever asked me. i would run lines with you and i would play act with you in certain scenes. >> really? okay. >> you read between those lines. yeah you call me any time. as a matter of fact there are certain scenes i'd be happy to show up and rehears with you. you got that? >> right. >> okay. there you go. that was political incorrect but my mom had the volume turned down so i'm okay. allison janney, is in a couple series right. i made you blush. i like that. >> yeah you did. >> allison janney. masters of sex coming back in july. i can't wait for that. i'll be running lines with her in june. getting ready for that return. and of course "mom" on cbs. all under one umbrella. and they are happy and we are happy about it. good to see you. thanks for watching and also
always keep the faith. >> all right. alvin lester boletnikov. >> whose that? >> your father. >> what? you always said you didn't know who he was. it could have been a dozen guys. >> i lied. i always knew it was alvin. >> oh my god. oh. >> that is a load off. all right your turn. >> for more information on today's show visit travis smiley as pbs.org. >> join me next time for a conversation first with emmy winner jenn parson and -- sandoval who will also perform.
>> rose: welcome to the program t is the end of summer and tonight we look back at so best moments on this program so far this year. tonight in our encore presentation we celebrate the art of cooking with five of the world's greatest culinary talent, ban yell boulud, ferran adria, tham as keller grant achatz and gabriele hamilton. >> i think the foundation of many cuisine are based on french cuisine, especially when you elevate the cuisine to a much more gastronomic experience. >> i'm just a neighborhood kid, didn't go to university, i give classes at harvard. and i have the good luck to be with marvelous employee, for example no. it wouldn't be logical. and the only thing i have done is learn, observe and ask the why of