If laughter is truly the best medicine, Allison Janney is hoping to fill her prescription by starring in the new CBS comedy Mom. “I think laughter is the best way to deal with anything,” says the Boston-born actress, 53.
Janney is best known for her role as C.J. Cregg on The West Wing, but shifting from drama to comedy isn’t the only major change she’s made. In recent years, she overhauled her lifestyle in the name of health. And losing a friend to breast cancer last year has only made her more passionate about prevention.
“It’s important for all women to be on top of that because breast cancer doesn’t have to be a life sentence. It can be treated,” she says.
Spry: What initially drew you to work on breast cancer charity fundraisers?
Allison: My good friend Peri Gilpin [of Frasier fame] was one of the producers of Les Girls [an annual breast cancer benefit]. At the time, no one in my life had suffered from breast cancer, but it is a cause that affects a lot of women, and I thought, “Absolutely.”
But since then, I’ve lost a dear friend, who decided to not treat it with radiation but only holistically. It worked for a long time, but she finally passed away last year. It was tragic. I just can’t say it enough—do everything you can to catch it early.
Spry: What kind of healthy lifestyle changes have you made?
Allison: I am a pasta addict and my portions were too big. When you are over a certain age, too many carbs is not your friend. So, I started doing Pilates three times a week and cut out pasta and bread. I was juicing and eating mostly fresh vegetables. I lost about 20 pounds. Now I feel like I’ve earned the right to enjoy pasta every once in a while, but I am never going back to the way I used to eat it.
Spry: Your mom had a quadruple bypass. Is that why you quit smoking?
Allison: It’s been a battle for me with smoking, but my grandmother died of a heart attack and she was a heavy smoker. My mom wasn’t—I think it was more diet for her. I have had a full heart work-up and I have very low cholesterol and exercising helps. I definitely have to be aware because of my family history.
Spry: Why do a comedy now?
Allison: For my whole life, I’ve thought about it. I grew up in New York doing theater, and it’s so great to combine those two styles in one format—to do comedy in front of a live audience and hear that instant response, which is just like a drug. It is so exciting.
Spry: On Mom, you play a recovering alcoholic. Are you concerned about how audiences will react?
Allison: I hope people embrace the show. Addiction and sobriety are so common now. It’s ripe for believable, relatable stories. It’s a serious subject matter, and we are not laughing at it—it’s definitely people laughing with us and recognizing their own scenarios.
Spry: Is there anything you still want to do or accomplish?
Allison: I wouldn’t mind trying to produce or direct—or learning Spanish. I would love to master the piano—my father is a jazz pianist and he is so amazing.
Spry: What do you do to relax?
Allison: I like to have friends around. We play card games, or cook and hang out by the pool. Or, I’ll take my three dogs on a two- hour walk and just listen to music. But if am stressed out, if I am upset, a hot bath is my salvation. I feel like it is my pause button.