A monstrous stage mom who gets to vamp directly to camera and somehow win a horrified audience to her side? This is the part that Allison Janney was probably born to play. Few actresses are better at delivering verbal daggers than Janney, and she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar on Tuesday morning for her spitfire LaVona Golden, the somewhat estranged mother of Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding in Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya. The film, which is shot like a mockumentary and features on-camera “interviews” with all the players, is overcrowded with big, colorful performances, but Janney cuts the most memorable image of all as LaVona, with her bowl cut, saucer glasses, fur coat, chain-smoking, oxygen tank, and utter contempt for everyone—and most unforgettable of all, her pet tropical bird on her shoulder, interrupting constantly. Here, in a new interview with W editor at large Lynn Hirschberg, Janney reveals her devotion to her new fowl costar, how I, Tonya‘s screenwriter fought for her to get the part, and how she can make any role, no matter how monstrous, empathetic to an audience—even if the actress, who was for years the beloved press secretary on The West Wing, were to play Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
What was the first professional job you auditioned for? Well, the first job where I actually made money was on Guiding Light, the soap opera. And I played a maid. My name was Ginger, and I had a Brooklyn accent—a really bad one, if I remember correctly. But I was thrilled that I had gotten a job where I could pay my rent in New York City. It was the first time I made money as an actor, and I was really excited. And I always thought, “Well, now it’s going to start,” and in this career you find out quickly that just because you get one job doesn’t mean it’s going to keep, you know, climbing in a steady fashion. Then you drop off and you don’t get anything for years. It’s such a rollercoaster ride.
And how did I, Tonya come to you? Oh, in the best way! I went to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City back in the 80’s, and one of my classmates was Steven Rogers. And Steven Rogers has written many movies with roles for me, but I never got to play them because they were always given to another actress. And we always used to joke that, “And the part written for Allison Janney will be played by…,” insert actor’s name.
And this one finally went to me because Steven said, “Allison Janney is attached to this movie,” so whoever was interested in producing it or directing it, he was like, “You have to be okay with Allison Janney.” Like, he was in my corner and long before I was ever in my corner, you know. He’s been there for me, so it makes it so much better going through all this positive attention knowing that this was a gift given to me by a dear friend. And, you know, it’s not like it’s a flattering role…
Yeah, I was going to say, it’s interesting that your friend thought no one but you could play this woman who’s— A horrible, nasty woman!
Yeah… My friend wrote the worst, most horrible, atrocious mother on the planet and then thought of me to play her. But I think he knew that I would have fun—not that she’s fun, but that I would be able to embrace her and give her some humanity, because she’s really a monster. That was the challenge for me playing this part is seeing these scenes and going, “Who does this?” And then Stephen would say, well, he had interviewed Tonya Harding, and this is how she described her mother. She stands by [her claim that] her mother threw a knife at her. Her mother, you know, abused her physically and verbally, and these are stories that she gave us, and we didn’t have the luxury of talking to LaVona Harding, because we couldn’t find her anywhere.
Oh, really? Yeah, Steven looked everywhere, and Tonya didn’t know. Well, as far as she knew, her mother was living in a trailer behind a porn shop is what I think she said, and we couldn’t find her. And in some ways that was freeing for me. I have two schools of thought on it, because it would have been nice to meet her and actually ask her, you know, her side of the story. And there’s a little bit of existing interview with her in a documentary about Tonya Harding’s life. So I did have those snippets of interview to go on when I created her. But to be able to have talked to her in person I think it would have helped me. But since I didn’t, I let go. I was like, “Well, this is the character that is part Tonya Harding’s version of other mother, part Steven Rogers’s artistic license, and part me jumping in and giving her what I wanted to give her.” And so I felt a little freedom there. But she did exist, and now she’s actually surfaced, funnily enough.
Oscar Nominations 2018: See Photos of Mary J. Blige, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, and More Actors
Frances McDormand, Best Actress, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Octavia Spencer, Best Supporting Actress, The Shape of Water
Gary Oldman, Best Actor, Darkest Hour
Christopher Plummer, Best Supporting Actor, All the Money in the World
Denzel Washington, Best Actor, Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Meryl Streep, Best Actress, The Post
Richard Jenkins, Best Supporting Actor, The Shape of Water
Sally Hawkins, Best Actress, The Shape of Water
Mary J. Blige, Best Supporting Actress, Mudbound
Margot Robbie, Best Actress, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Best Actress, Lady Bird
Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Actor, Phantom Thread
Timothée Chalamet, Best Actor, Call Me By Your Name
Willem Dafoe, Best Supporting Actor, The Florida Project
Jordan Peele, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture, Get Out
Allison Janney, Best Supporting Actress, I, Tonya
Daniel Kaluuya, Best Actor, Get Out
Greta Gerwig, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, Lady Bird
Of course. Tell me a little about the bird on your shoulder as LaVona. How did you meet the bird? Little Man! My little bird, Little Man.
Yeah, she calls him her little man. Little Man, my fifth and final husband, I think I referred to him as. I met this little bird the day before I shot; there were three other birds I got to choose from, and I picked this one because he seemed the most comfortable on my shoulder. When I put him there, he just sat there, and the other ones were crawling all over my head and getting in my hair, and I was like, “Oh, no, no, no! I like this little guy here.” And so then cut to the next day, and, you know, my character smokes like a chimney in this, and the bird handler said, “You can’t smoke around the bird.”
And I went, “Uh-oh! What are we going to do?” Craig [Gillespie, the director] was like, “Well, yeah, we got to figure out something.” I looked at the prop guy, and I said, “Do you have one of those oxygen tank things?” Because, you know, I’ve known people who have emphysema have to. And he did! And like two minutes later, we put that thing in my nose and the oxygen tank and put the bird there, and we shot that scene. So it was kind of a wonderful, last-minute thing. This is the way this movie had to happen because we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot 170 scenes or something in 30 days. It was crazy!
But you work in television. Yeah, but this is faster than anything I’ve ever done before.
Really? Oh yeah, yeah. This was unbelievable. Craig was the only man for the job, too. He just kept things moving at such great energy, and everyone was just ready to come in, you know. “Put me in, coach! Put me in!” And everyone just did their job, and once I started talking, I decided that I would never look at the bird, because that’s how I’ll make it look like I’d been with him forever. He’s my friend, and I never look at him.
And it was as if he knew that I said that, like, “Yeah, you try not to look at me, Janney.” He sat there and poked at the oxygen thing in my nose. He poked in my ear. He crawled down my fur coat and jumped on the rim of my glass to drink out of it. He did everything he could, and it was my game and my goal to never look at him. No matter what he did, I would take him and throw him back up on my shoulder. Occasionally, I’d say, “Stop it! Stop it!” and look at him.
I love when you say, “Stop it,” actually. Because it does sound the way your character talks to people in your life. Exactly. I love that they use it [in the finished film] because it’s kind of an outtake, but it was perfect.
And you never lost focus. You’re doing your whole speech, you’re mid-diatribe: “Stop it!” It was a lot of fun to do that section of it for me: the monologue to the camera, direct address, I enjoyed it because I felt like I was testifying for LaVona and telling her side of the story. I really wanted to get my point across. It was really important. I kept feeling like it was Judgment Day, and I was talking to god or somebody, like saying, you know, “You got to understand that everything I did was for that girl, and she didn’t appreciate it.” I loved doing that part of it with the bird, the whole thing. I don’t think I’ll ever act without a bird again. I’ll just kind of take him with me everywhere. I’m in love with that bird.
This is an age-old question, but did you end up liking the character you were playing? Or do you have to like her? When you play a character as awful as LaVona, I always have to find something about her that I relate to or that I can empathize with. I think it was that she actually was trying to give her daughter a better life. I also had empathy for her because I feel quite certain that she came from an abusive family, and I know she was abused. In my mind, I thought, “This woman had to have had a hard life.” She’s had four husbands. I think she kept trying to find the one that was going to, you know, get her and her daughter out of their life, their circumstances, and take them someplace better. And everyone failed. She just cannot catch a break. So I kind of tried to relate to her that way. And I think the monologue Steven gives her in the diner at the end is important and empowers her and shows her underbelly.
__Okay, now some fun questions for you. What was your favorite birthday ever? Oh, my gosh. Birthdays are getting harder as I get older. But I think a birthday that I remember that I really loved was my 21st birthday, because one of my best friends growing up with was this guy, Rob Kerr, who’s still around; he lives in Charleston, South Carolina. And we threw a joint 21st birthday party, and we got dressed up in black tie. I just remember it being a really, really beautiful evening with everyone dressed up. And it was before I had to do it a lot doing this business. Now I get dressed up. but then it was so special! I bought this special black, you know, poofy skirt with a white silk blouse, and I felt so glamorous, I felt like an adult. I loved it. I loved that birthday.
How old were you when you moved to L.A.? When I started doing The West Wing, which was 1999. I actually didn’t move here until it got picked up, so it was 2000. Oh god, am I really going to have to do the math here?
No, no. Since you were the best Press Secretary ever, do you feel any kind of empathy for Sarah Huckabee Sanders? I don’t. I just have a hard time with this administration, and if I had to play her, I would find something to empathize, you know, about her. But right now, I don’t. I don’t enjoy—I can’t watch those press briefings. They fill me with rage. They despise the media so much there’s nothing veiled about it, and I just find her very unpleasant. And yet, if I ever get to play her, I will make you like her.
Gal Gadot, Emma Stone, Margot Robbie, and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
“This year on Halloween, my daughter and I went trick-or-treating, and I had on this huge mask so I could see everyone but they couldn’t see me. Whenever I saw a Wonder Woman costume on a girl or a boy, it was so exciting. My daughter, who was dressed as a unicorn zombie, would run up to me and say, “Did you see that Wonder Woman?” They were everywhere!”
Gal Gadot wears Moschino Couture dress; Fabergé ring; Off-White c/o Jimmy Choo shoes.
“[Jennifer Lawrence] came to see Cabaret and both of my contacts popped out of my eyes at the same time and my prescription is -900, which, if you know what that means, is like…I cannot see. So, they had to drag me off the stage in the dark and she came backstage afterwards and I was like, ‘I couldn’t see anything! It was garbage! It was a disaster!’ And she was like, ‘Enough, enough. I’m your dance mom. You need to calm down.’”
Emma Stone wears a Louis Vuitton dress; Cartier earrings.
“I am Vietnamese, and we don’t celebrate birthdays. My parents don’t actually know their birth dates—they just go by their signs. When somebody asks you how old you are, you say, ‘I’m born this month in the Year of the…’ I was born in the Year of the Sheep. Sheep don’t like to be the center of attention, and they don’t like being told what to do. That pretty much sums me up.”
Hong Chau wears an Etro dress; Chanel Fine Jewelry earrings; Tiffany & Co. ring.
“I’ve had a flirtation with Winston Churchill for years; there’s been a book of famous Churchill quotes on my bookshelf since childhood. To me, he was the man who won the war. And yet, when I was first asked to play the part, I thought, Don’t be ridiculous, and turned it down. But they came back, and it felt right. My wife said, ‘Look, you get to stand in Parliament and say these great words. What have you got to lose?’”
Gary Oldman wears a Canali suit; Boss shirt and tie.
“I always joke that Jason Dixon, the character I play in Three Billboards, is Barney Fife meets Travis Bickle. I spent a lot of time trying to perfect his southern Missouri accent. I did ride-alongs with a cop down there—he had a great twang. Accents should be practiced as if you’re drunk. Actors get a little tense when they have to do an accent. Drunkenness relaxes everything.”
Sam Rockwell wears a Marni trench; Editions M.R shirt; Simon Miller T-shirt; Huntsman pants; Rolex watch; Church’s shoes.
“My character in The Meyerowitz Stories is a sweet family girl, but when she sends films she makes in school to her family, you see her wild side. I’m naked in most of those films. I sat next to my dad at the premiere, and that was probably the most uncomfortable thing in my life. To see myself 75 feet tall and naked was not easy. I sank into my chair and heard my dad kind of laugh nervously. We pretended those scenes never happened.”
Grace Van Patten wears an Alberta Ferretti dress; her own jewelry.
“Being an actress, for me, is about my own transition. It’s about looking for answers. It’s about trying to survive in my life and also for the lives of others who face similar challenges. Life is scary, but art is not scary.”
Daniela Vega wears a Max Mara dress; David Webb earrings; Piaget necklace; Chanel Fine Jewelry ring (right hand); Tiffany & Co. bracelet and ring (left hand); Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“My husband is an artist, but he still has a hard time watching me sometimes. During The Killing of a Sacred Deer at the Cannes Film Festival, he was both hypnotized and shattered. When he hears me scream or cry from a certain place in my soul, it’s almost like it goes straight into him. His brain and heart don’t discern between acting and real life.”
Nicole Kidman wears a Prada top and skirt; Chanel Fine Jewelry ring; Jimmy Choo pumps.
Where was your first kiss? This is going to sound like a murder story, but it was in the woods, outside of a baseball park. I had lost my turtle. Curtis, the guy I kissed, found it.
Was that your first pet? No, it was a schnauzer named Ozzie. He hated us so much. He never wanted to be in the same room with us.
So what’s your porno name—first pet plus first street name? Ozzie Ormond.
What was your favorite Halloween costume? A picnic table. My mom wouldn’t let me be a witch or a ghost or anything demonic, so I cut a hole in a plastic cloth and went as a picnic table. The problem was I had a crush on this guy named John, and I was so pumped for Halloween because it was our chance to interact. And then I put my face in the tablecloth and was like, “Hi, John. Are you my boyfriend?”
Jennifer Lawrence wears a Dior dress; Dior Fine Jewelry earrings and ring.
“When I first read the script for Get Out, I thought, Are you allowed to do this? Are they really going to let this black guy kill all these white people? I think the most fascinating art pieces come at a price to the person making them. And this movie took a risk. On opening night, I went to see it in a theater in the hood in Atlanta. The crowd clapped, they cheered, they yelled, ‘Get out, man! Yo—get out!’ It was all the stuff that we hoped the audience would say.”
Daniel Kaluuya wears a Gosha Rubchinskiy x Adidas Football sweatshirt and sweatpants; ’47 hat; Gucci socks; Kaluuya’s own sneakers.
“I booked The Florida Project when I was 6. I’m 7 now. It was really fun because during shooting I got to eat ice cream! I want to start my own YouTube channel, and the name of it will be I Am Crazy for Ice Cream because I am crazy for ice cream. I’m also so into fashion. I wear shorts in the movie, and they were so short. It was a struggle getting them on. Now, I’m like, ‘Mom! Where are my skirts? No more shorts!’”
Brooklynn Prince wears a Baby Dior dress; La Coqueta shoes.
“I’m naked quite a lot in Beach Rats, and it’s a little strange to act when you’re naked. When the boom operator is standing over you, and you’re not wearing anything, it’s awkward. But, in the end, I didn’t find it difficult. I’m pretty comfortable with my body. Not in an ‘I’m happy to flaunt it for £5’ kind of way, but it does go deep into the psychology of someone trying to figure out their own sexuality, and their identity.”
Harris Dickinson wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC shirt, pants, and boots.
“As an actor, people put you in categories. It’s ‘Oh, she has an accent,’ or ‘She doesn’t have an accent,’ or ‘She can do this accent,’ or ‘No, she can’t.’ They’ll say, ‘She’s a pretty blonde, so I don’t know if we can see her in a comedy.’ So I know that for Fatih Akin to pick me was a big risk because he’s very well known in Germany as a director who casts unknowns or people he discovers who are not actors at all. In the beginning, he got a lot of backlash for it. And, in truth, I don’t think I could have played this character five years ago. Now I’m ready to shed any beauty look. I want to be stripped of any pretense, of any glamour.”
Diane Kruger wears a Rosamosario romper; Christian Louboutin shoes.
“When I was 14, I auditioned for an Off Broadway play. The scene was about a bris, the Jewish tradition of a child having the tip of his penis snipped off. Being the nice Jewish kid that I was, I did not know what a bris was, and I decided to pronounce it brie. Bris as brie. So I did the monologue, and, at the end, the director said, ‘Thank you very much, and it’s pronounced bris.’ I did not get the part.”
Ben Stiller wears a Gucci coat; Olatz pajamas.
“When I was 6, my favorite film was Robin Hood: Men in Tights. It’s got a lot of adult jokes, and it was really inappropriate for a child to see. In school, they asked us, ‘If you were to make a potion, what would you put in it?’ Even then, I could recall lines of movies, and I said, ‘The testicles of a newt!’ I got called up to the front of the class and was asked why I put testicles in my potion. I had no idea what testicles were—I just loved the film.”
Margot Robbie wears a Dolce & Gabbana top, shorts, and shoes.
“I was late to the game on The Room, which is considered by many to be the worst movie of all time. For years, I would see this billboard in L.A. that Tommy Wiseau, the actor and star of the movie, had paid to have up on Highland Avenue. It was a picture of him, sort of glaring down at you, with the words THE ROOM and a phone number. I was like, ‘What is this? Do you call the number and this crazy, weird, vampirelike guy can be in your movie?’ But then I started reading The Disaster Artist, which was written by one of the other actors in the movie, and before I was halfway through, I just knew it was such an incredible, bizarre story, unlike any other in Hollywood, about outsider artists trying to achieve their dreams. I was instantly drawn to Tommy. It’s almost like we were made for each other.”
James Franco wears a Balenciaga shirt; his own pants.
“To play Molly Bloom, I thought about what women have to become in order to find power in a society where men are making all of the rules. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh—the Kardashians are an incredible example of women who have their own sense of entrepreneurial power.’ And in real life, Molly looked a lot like them. For research, I actually watched Kim’s tutorial on face shading and contouring. As the movie goes on, Molly transforms into this idea of what a woman has to be in order to be heard: The heels get higher, the necklines are lower, the hair is longer. It was quite a departure for me, physically. And the strange thing is, I don’t look like myself at all in this film, and so many people have said to me that I’ve never looked better.”
Jessica Chastain wears an Oscar de la Renta dress; Sophie Buhai earrings.
“Until I read the script for Lady Bird, I had never encountered a female heroine who very much sees herself as a female heroine. In films, you rarely see young girls who love themselves. Lady Bird takes the self-confidence thing to a new level. She knows she’s going to be someone. And she has something to say, even if she doesn’t quite know what it is yet.”
Saoirse Ronan wears a Chanel dress.
Did you have an audition outfit back when you were starting out? I had multiple outfits. Much like a costume box. I would change between auditions. I remember changing in the car on the freeway. I’m still a fast changer. And discreet. I have a talent for taking my clothes off quickly.
What was your first favorite film? The Sound of Music. It was very influential. And I got to meet Captain von Trapp while filming All the Money in the World [Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey after Spacey was pulled from the project]. We were about to be in this movie together, and I thought, How soon is too soon to ask Christopher Plummer to sing “Edelweiss” into my phone for my daughter?
Michelle Williams wears a Louis Vuitton dress.
“I play real people a lot. And it is a huge responsibility. Anytime you are playing somebody who was alive, for good or for bad, that performance becomes a version of an official record of what happened: what motivated them, what obstacles they faced, and how they got through their particular struggle. There’s a degree of leeway that you can allow yourself as long as you’re not turning good guys into bad guys, or knowledge into ignorance. Having said that, it’s a little easier playing someone who’s no longer living. Because then you don’t have to meet them.”
Tom Hanks wears a Tom Ford suit, vest, and shoes; Boss shirt; Rolex watch.
“I had a successful soap opera career in Mexico, but I left my fame and my comfort and I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to make films. I was very, very famous in Mexico, and in the States I was working as an extra. People thought maybe I was running from the police. Why else would I leave everything I had to play a maid? I told them, ‘This industry is going to change. We are too strong of an economic force to be ignored forever.’”
Salma Hayek wears a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress; Cartier earrings.
“I was loosely attached to Call Me by Your Name for four years. It never seemed like it was coming together, and then it did. Now I’ve spent nearly two years promoting it. So, in many ways, it will be the project of my youth. When I’m older, I’ll look at this film and remember what it was like to not be jaded, old, and washed up. I’ll look back and say, ‘Oh, when I was young…’”
Timothée Chalamet wears a Sandro jacket and pants; Schiesser tank top; Sermoneta Gloves gloves; Calvin Klein 205W39NYC boots.
“My first kiss was at a party, when I was 12 or 13, during my first term at a coed school, so, you know, hormones were raging. A girl named Dora had this party when her parents were out of town, and it was literally a bacchanalia for 13-year-olds. No one was having sex, but it was just like, ‘Oh, we all get to kiss each other.’ And there were around 200 people there. It was about five hours of everyone going, ‘Have we made out yet? No? Let’s go!’ To this day, my friends and I will be in a pub or at dinner and say, ‘Remember Dora’s party?’ and sigh. It was an awakening.”
Andrew Garfield wears a Shrimps coat; Michael Kors sweater; Sunspel sweatpants.
That’s a great answer. What was your favorite Halloween costume? There are many of them, but one in particular… we’ve stopped doing it, but there are like a group of friends of mine, like six or seven of us depending on who’s in town, and we do a group costume. The last time that I was thrilled with what we did—and I can’t believe I had so much time on my hands—we went as the Partridge Family, and I spent I think a whole weekend making the Partridge Family bus that we all would get in, so each of us would have our own window. I made the Partridge Family bus, and we walked into that party, and we ruled that party. It was pretty great.
Which Partridge were you? I was Laurie Partridge.
Oh, that’s the good one. And I wanted to be Mrs. Partridge, but my friend Cam wanted to be her in drag. So he did that. But when I, Tonya had its screening in Toronto, I said on stage, “If nothing else, you know, LaVona is going to be a great Halloween costume.” And sure enough, there were people who dressed up as LaVona for Halloween. I mean, it’s a great: the fur coat, the bird, the glasses, the haircut—and people tweeted it. I was very flattered that a character that I played might be a Halloween costume.
Do you have a secret skill we would be surprised to know that you have? Margot Robbie, just so you know, she can open a bottle with another bottle. Well, she never shared that with me. My secret hidden talents are… well, I can do a little bit of everything. I can sit down at the piano and make you think I know how to play the piano, because I know, like, the beginnings of four songs. So I can start and then go, “Oh, and then there’s this one,” and then, “Oh, let’s go do something else.” And I can knit. I’ve never finished anything, but I know how to knit. I started making a stained glass window and breaking and cutting glass, but I never finished that. I can make a Partridge Family bus out of cardboard. I love arts and crafts. It is my dream someday to have a creativity barn, and in that barn would be pottery wheels and every kind of paint you could possibly want, and every kind of instrument, so you could go in there and just create, make music, make cards. I just think that would be amazing to have something like that to go just create something.
So I think you’re the second-most Emmys of any person ever? I have seven Emmy’s.
And I have to say even before I loved you as an actress, I loved your speeches. What do you think the key is to a great acceptance speech, because I think you’re going to have to make a few more in the near future? I wish I knew. Everyone who knows me knows how much stress I go through when I have to think about the possibility of saying a speech.
But you’ve had a lot of practice. I know. I’ve had some interesting ones that didn’t go so well. I’ve had all different kinds, but I think that the one key to all of them is I’ve never been able to write out something beforehand. I usually have a general idea of what I want to say, and then I just let it happen—whatever comes out happens, and be open to going in the moment.
I remember one time I knew I had a list of names to say, and I was afraid it was getting boring, and they were saying, “Wrap it up,” so I decided just to start singing people’s names. I just started singing to make people, you know, laugh at least. If I was going to be boring with a list of names –
I remember that one. That was a good one. That was kind of fun. It’s risky to get up there and not know exactly what you’re going to say.
All right, so these are some “first” questions: What was your first job? Uh, a bus girl at the Holland House Restaurant in Dayton, Ohio.
That sounds glamorous. Oh, I did not like that job. But it was my first job.
Where did you go on your first date? I never dated. I never dated because I went to a school that was like first through 12th grades, under 300 kids, and everyone just sort of hung out in groups. We didn’t date. So I’ve never really went out on a date.
What was your first album? I think probably the Monkees. I loved the Monkees.
Monkees and the Partridge Family. I detect a theme here. What’s the first red carpet outfit you ever wore? I think it was this Pamela Dennis gold sequined dress when I won an Emmy for West Wing. It was the first Emmy that I won, and it was the most beautiful dress with the gold sequins. I still feel the pain of them digging into my flesh under my arms. It was painful, but it was gorgeous. I would rather do a bird on my shoulder than sequins under my arm.
What was your first pet’s name? My first dog’s name was Duffy, and he was a golden retriever, and I loved him. One of my favorite pictures ever taken of me was by my uncle, who’s a photographer, and he took a picture of me kissing Duffy’s head, and I’m in diapers. It’s one of my favorite pictures that’s ever been taken of me, hands down.
Where was your first kiss? At a dinner party with a bunch of those friends that I used to hang out with. Someone decided that everyone should kiss each other by passing an ice cube from one mouth to the other. So it wasn’t even with somebody that I was dating. It was just the guy sitting next to me.
Were you nervous? I was excited. It was pretty cool. I called them “ice cube kisses,” and now I still kind of like it.
What was your first favorite film when you were young? I remember Bambi was the first movie I saw, and that was pretty devastating. And then I think The Wizard of Oz was definitely one of my favorites. That was a yearly event in our family when that would come on.
What was your first “I’ve made it” moment as an actor? There are a few moments, but one special one that started a relationship with someone that I wish had gone further than it did, not for lack of trying. I did this play called Fat Men in Skirts in New York back in the 80’s, and it was with Stanley Tucci and Marisa Tomei and Matt McGrath, and Joe Mantello directed it. And there was one night in the audience was Jackie O, John Kennedy, Mike Nichols, Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, a handful of other. It was an amazing night, and afterwards I got the most beautiful letter from Mike Nichols, who then put me in his movie, Wolf, and then in Primary Colors, which got me in West Wing. I’m sure of it because Aaron Sorkin loved Mike Nichols and loved that movie. And Mike just was a champion of mine, and I have some other letters of his that I’ve framed in my office at home. I just loved him so much; he was just a good friend to me and believed in me, and that made me feel pretty special.