As an actor of stage and screen, Allison Janney has received numerous nominations and brought home multiple awards for her work in both movies and TV shows, including an Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe, six Critics’ Choice Awards, seven SAG Awards and seven Emmys. Along the way, she’s also received two Tony nominations.

After numerous years of minor supporting roles in film and television, the theater-trained Ohio native with the husky voice and sharp timing has built quite an impressive resume.

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Allison Janney celebrated for her accomplishments in movies and TV shows, 2018Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Allison Janney celebrated for her accomplishments in movies and TV shows, 2018Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images A360

However, it was her role on The West Wing that catapulted her career. “My God, that was a big life-changer for me, being on that show,” she told People. Prior to The West Wing, the award-winning actress had earned a solid reputation in stage productions and in many supporting roles on screen.

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The West Wing cast, 1999Paul Drinkwater NBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved/Getty Images
The West Wing cast, 1999Paul Drinkwater NBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved/Getty Images A360

Standing an impressive 6 feet tall, Janney recalls casting agents putting her in a box because of her stature. Undeterred, she began her career on the soap operas Guiding Light and then As the World Turns.

Allison Janney before the movies and TV shows

Born Allison Brooks Janney on November 19, 1959 in Boston, Massachusetts, as a teenager growing up in Dayton, Janney had dreams of being a figure skater. Unfortunately, an injury put that dream to rest and instead, put her on the thespian track following in her mom, Macy’s, footsteps.

Allison Janney, 2000Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images
Allison Janney, 2000Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images Jeff Kravitz FilmMagic, Inc

While attending Kenyon College, she answered a casting call for an on-campus play being directed by Kenyon alumnus, Paul Newman — and she got the role! After graduating, Janney packed up and moved to New York City where she auditioned for numerous plays, but it was the Guiding Light audition that put her on the acting map.

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Janney on the big and small screens

Janney made her film debut with a small part in Who Shot Pat? (1989). This was followed by a series of minor roles in many films throughout the 1990s: Wolf (1994), Big Night (1996), Private Parts (1997), The Ice Storm (1997), The Impostors (1998), Primary Colors (1998), Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), 10 Things I hate About You (1999) and American Beauty (1999).

Allison Janney, 1998Steve Eichner/Getty Images
Allison Janney, 1998Steve Eichner/Getty Images A360

A busy decade for the statuesque actress, her role of C.J. Cregg in The West Wing was one she played throughout the series and received four Primetime Emmy Awards, four SAG Awards and four Golden Globe nominations for. Creator Aaron Sorkin had a good feeling about her when he personally reached out to Janney to audition for the role after seeing her in Primary Colors.

Moira Kelly, Dule Hill, Rob Lowe, Richard Schiff, Martin Sheen, John Spencer, Allison Janney and Bradley Whitford, The West Wing, 2000Getty Images
Moira Kelly, Dule Hill, Rob Lowe, Richard Schiff, Martin Sheen, John Spencer, Allison Janney and Bradley Whitford, The West Wing, 2000Getty Images A360

Janney took her talent and recognition to films such as The Hours (2002), Finding Nemo (2003), The Chumscrubber (2005), Winter Solstice (2004) and Our Very Own (2005). She also starred in Mr. Sunshine, a comedy series created by the late Matthew Perry.

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Allison Janney rakes in the accolades

In 2007, Janney starred in the comedy/drama Juno and the same year, she appeared in the hit musical Hairspray, bringing home awards for her role.

Alongside a stellar cast that included Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer and others, Janney appeared in the period drama The Help as Emma Stone’s steely-minded southern mother, who was battling cancer. That same year, she appeared in the drama Margaret.

Allison Janney, 2011Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images
Allison Janney, 2011Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images Steve Granitz WireImage

A second TV series made Janney an even bigger a household name. After taking a brief hiatus from television, she returned in the sitcom Mom, which ran from 2013 until 2021. Janney played Bonnie Plunkett, a selfish and cynical recovering addict who tries to regain the love and trust of her daughter. For her performance on the series, Janney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series — twice!

For two years, Janney portrayed a sexually repressed homemaker in the 1950s on Showtime’s Masters of Sex, the portrayal once again bringing critical acclaim and an Emmy and Critics’ Choice Award.

In 2017, Janney gave an unforgettable performance as LaVona Golden in I, Tonya, a role that was written specifically with her in mind, garnering Janney an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Allison Janney, I, Tonya, 2017michaella92/MoviestillsDB
Allison Janney, I, Tonya, 2017michaella92/MoviestillsDB A360

What’s on the horizon for Janney

From the beginning of her career, Janney has moved seamlessly between the small screen, the big screen and the stage. She has starred in various acclaimed films and television series, never being typecast, but proving she is a master of inhabiting roles by finding what’s underneath the women she portrays.

“I had so much experience under my belt before I did The West Wing that people knew I could do more than one thing. The theater actress in me loves constantly taking on different roles,” she told Parade.

Allison Janney, actress known for her movies and TV shows, 2022Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Allison Janney, actress known for her movies and TV shows, 2022Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images A360

Now co-starring along with Carol Burnett and Kristin Wiig in the Apple TV+ mini-series Palm Royale, Janney is loving the retro 1960s role. She also steps back into the Oval Office that made her famous in the next season of The Diplomat, guest starring as Vice President Grace Penn.


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This story was originally published March 25, 2024, 6:05 PM.

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