At 62, Allison Janney has seven Emmys (for The West Wing, Mom and Masters of Sex), an Oscar for playing Tonya Harding’s hard-bitten mama in I, Tonya (“I wish I had a mother that was like me instead of nice, because nice gets you nowhere!”), and a string of hit films (The Help, Juno, Hairspray, American Beauty, Primary Colors) to her credit. But she’s never played a hero like the ex-CIA agent in Lou (a big hit on Netflix), hunting a child abductor and showing off a very particular set of new skills. Janney told AARP what it’s like to get in touch with her inner Liam Neeson.
Did you ever expect to be playing a woman who battles crazy Green Berets and smashes bad guys’ heads with a coffeepot?
No, I never did. I always wanted to have an experience like this. I just didn’t think I’d get an invitation.
It's great for Liam Neeson to get a mid-career boost in action flicks – how about for you?
It’s unusual for a woman in her 60s to play this kind of badass character. I love showing a woman of my age up there on the screen, taking care of business and physically taking care of herself and going after justice.
Was it tough on your body?
I knew it was not going to be an easy shoot. At one point I had my face in a pile of mud with worms wiggling around my face. There was a worm wrangler to make sure not one worm was hurt. I was thinking a worm was going to find his way into my ear. But it was fun to push myself past my comfort zone. I reminded myself how great I will feel if I can get through this and accomplish this and show a woman of my age incredibly powerful and competent — not some useless over-the-hill woman. I did a lot of twisting, low bending to warm up for every fight scene. I couldn’t wait to do them. It was thrilling.
Will grownups feel inspired by the movie?
I like to think that seeing a woman of my age playing this kind of incredibly powerful woman might inspire someone to get out and learn martial arts or something, do something physical, and not give up. I would recommend all women taking some sort of martial arts — it does give you a sense of power that I like having. I hope I never have to really use it. But it’s nice feeling that I know I have some moves.