Allison Janney: ‘Not Every Woman Needs To Be A Mother’ — BUST Interview

by Erika W. Smith

In the new dramedy Tallulah — out today on Netflix — the incredibly talented Allison Janney departs from her Mom character Bonnie to explore motherhood in a new way. Janney plays Margo, a woman who is struggling with her divorce from her husband, who left her for a man, and her estrangement with her young son, when her son’s girlfriend Tallulah (Ellen Page), shows up with a baby she claims is hers — but that she actually kidnapped from a wealthy, drunk, irresponsible mother (Tammy Blanchard). The film focuses on the lives of all three women and is a welcome and thoughtful exploration of motherhood.

BUST called Janney to talk about Tallulah, reuniting with Ellen Page, the joys of a women-dominated set, and more.

Could you tell me why you decided to get involved with Tallulah?

As with any project, it was the script. I loved that it was a movie about these women and their lives and how they converge, and I loved the themes running through it, dealing with motherhood. I loved how [director] Sian [Heder] told the story of these women without judging them. I liked the arc for my character, Margo, starting out in a place of anger and sadness and being stuck and not being able to move forward. I liked her journey through the movie.

I really responded to the writing, and then I met with Sian and sat down with her. She could direct me in anything — I trust her implicitly. This was originally a short film she did, “Mother,” and she got a lot of critical acclaim for it, and she decided to expand it into this full-length film. I’m actually going to see her tonight, and I want her to send it to me so I can watch it. I didn’t want to watch it before I did the movie because I didn’t want anything else to influence me.

Tallulah Unit 02833RNicole Rivelli/Netflix

What you just said about how Sian focuses on these three women without judging them, that’s exactly what I have written in my notes.

You know, Sian actually experienced this. She was a nanny for high-end hotels in Los Angeles and had an experience with a hotel guest who, I don’t know if she was drunk, but she was inappropriate with her child, and Sian felt that the child was in danger. She wanted to take the child, but didn’t, as most of us wouldn’t. But she thought, “Who would? What kind of person would take that child?” and she created the character of Tallulah, someone who is living hand-to-mouth and is very instinctual and is also subconsciously searching for that love and nurturing that she never got as a child. She just reaches out and grabs the baby in a split second, and the movie is about her wrestling with this decision and how it affects all the other women’s lives.

I think Sian at the beginning was judging Carolyn, the character played by Tammy Blanchard, judging her as a mother, thinking of her as unfit and terrible and having a really bad opinion about her. But then, in the beautiful scene in the kitchen with Tammy and my character, you see what’s underneath that. This is a woman who’s very fragile and lost, and she’s trying to belong and to make the men in her life happy.

She probably had a child for the wrong reasons; she probably shouldn’t have been a mother, so I think the movie speaks to that issue, too. Not every woman needs to be a mother, and some really shouldn’t be. But Sian didn’t do it with judgment, my gosh. She lets the audience comes to that conclusion, she doesn’t vilify people. And Tammy plays her so beautifully, you have mercy for her.

Tallulah Unit 04087RNicole Rivelli/Netflix

Having a movie with all the leads being women and the director being a woman, that’s something that’s pretty rare.

Yeah, and the EP [executive producer] was a woman and the producer was a woman, there were tons of women. I’ll tell you, it was a nice set to be on. There weren’t a lot of big egos busting out all over the place. It was a very quiet, nurturing set. I think that women get things done in a different way than men sometimes — men have a lot of bravado and booming voices. It was a really nice set to be on, other than working with the babies, which was challenging. The no air conditioning and fifteen-month-old babies, that was the most challenging about the shoot.

Was it twins playing the baby?

They had a pair of twins and then there were two others, so there were four different babies. It was cut together beautifully, but there were a lot of babies. And they did not always feel like acting — I don’t blame them! But ultimately they got it, thanks to Ellen Page, who was such an angel with them. You can’t just say “action” with babies, she had to put in a lot of time off-camera to get that bond. It was inspiring to watch her put in all that time with the kids to get the scenes.

What was it like reuniting with Ellen Page onscreen again? Juno was almost 10 years ago.

Yeah, and we also did [2013’s] Touchy Feely together. I always enjoy working with Ellen. She’s a delight to work with because she doesn’t take herself too seriously. We both have a great sense of play, and every take is different, she’s enormously talented. Off-camera, I just love her as a person. She’s so fascinating and interesting and she’s involved in so many other things. I love that I’ve gotten to work with her three times now in my career.

blunt21f 4 webJanney in “The Girl On The Train”/Universal Pictures

You have some very exciting movies coming up — Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children and The Girl On The Train.

Yeah, I get to work with Tim Burton on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, that was a fantastic experience. I always wanted to work with him and never go the opportunity to, so I was really excited that he asked me to come on board for this one. It’s a really cool part, and I can’t say any more about it because it would give away something. And in The Girl on the Train, I’m reunited with [director] Tate Taylor, who’s a dear friend. Way before the Help came out we had worked together on many projects, so I get to go on the train! I had read the book and had no idea Tate was going to be directing it, and he called me up, and he’s got a great Southern accent, so he was like [accent], “Okay, you’re going to be a detective!” I was like, “I am?” It was really fun.

130920 TV MomFarisJanney.jpg.CROP.promovar mediumlargeJanney and Anna Faris in “Mom”/ CBS

And is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming seasons of Mom or Masters of Sex?

I’m not in the next season of Masters of Sex, but hopefully I’ll be the season after that. I want to revisit Margaret Scully’s character, and I think they do too. And with Mom, we start filming Season 4 next Monday — we’re going back to work! I have no idea what’s coming up, and it’s a nice thing to not have to worry about that. They don’t allow us into the writers’ room, we just get the scripts the Friday before we go to rehearsal. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Bonnie and Christie.

Top photo: Coco Knudson/Netflix

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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