Workin' 9 to 5 with Allison Janney

4.29.2009

By Tim Murphy

Allison Janney, who famously played dry-witted White House communications director C.J. Cregg on TV's The West Wing, sings out strong in Dolly Parton's megamusical version of Nine to Five, opening on Broadway tonight. Out checked in with the actress a week before the show opened and even though she was suffering a major stomach virus, she was still soldiering through previews and just as charming as ever.

Out: So Nine to Five is in previews and you open in a week. How's it going?
Allison Janney: I've got an awful stomach virus. But I did the show last night! I'm very much of a workhorse, and "the show must go on." I'd have my dresser hold the Pedialyte offstage and eat half a banana. For my big number, "One of the Boys," I thought, "How am I going to do this?" And then I thought, "Come on, Alison, it's two hours of your life, then you can get back in bed." A lot of the people in the cast and crew have been hit with this bug. We've got tons of Purell backstage.

Well, I hope you all get over it soon. So, where were you when the original Nine to Five movie came out in 1980?
It must've been near my freshman or sophomore year in college. I think I saw it in Dayton, Ohio, and I loved it. It was such a female empowerment movie and it empowers the work guys, the little guy. It can make you feel good about the people who work their asses off in this country.

You're playing the role Lily Tomlin made famous. Has she seen you in it?
Yeah, well, I worked with her on The West Wing and she and Dolly and Jane [Fonda, also in the movie] watched the musical together when it opened in L.A. before this. Lily did an interview in New York with me a couple weeks ago. I've stolen from Lily whatever I can steal that works!

Where do you think Nine to Five takes place? It's never really stated.
We kind of said Cincinnati, but also I'm from Ohio.

So you've done tons of straight plays and nabbed a 1998 Tony nom for A View from the Bridge, but this is your first musical, eh?
Yeah. It's not quite in my wheelhouse, my book of tricks. But musical theater is such a fun form, you get to do so many things..."Now I've go to sing and make it work!" There's even some scenes that are kind of vaudeville, some classic schtick that only musical theater will allow.

What's the hardest part?
Knowing that my voice is going to be out there, just doing my warm-up. I say, "Oh my God, can I do eight shows a week for a year?" I just take it day by day. I love being back in New York after years in L.A., and living on the Upper West Side. My favorite restaurant is Cafe Luxembourg. I've spent a couple of birthdays there.

what's coming up for you?
I''m doing a Sam Mendes film called Away We Go, which is coming out soon. It's about Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski as a young pregnant couple trying to find a town to live in. I play an old friend of Maya's, very loud and out-there and bawdy. And I also did Todd Solondz's untitled continuation of Happiness. And an Eddie Murphy movie called A Thousand Words.

A very tall friend of mine named Arianne Cohen who has a book coming out called The Tall Book asked me to ask you to blurb her book. Will you consider it, because you're six-feet tall, and Arianne says that tall actresses actually win more awards.
I've certainly never gotten to play the ingenue parts.

Well, thanks for the interview. Do you feel better since we started the call?
I think it's all because of you that I'm going to be able to go on and do the show tonight.

9 to 5 is playing on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre. For tickets and more info click here.

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