With 13 episodes of Matthew Perry’s Feb. 9-debuting ABC “Mr.Sunshine” series already in the can, it’s a waiting game for the “Sunshine” troupe. That includes Allison Janney, who’s been having a ball playing Crystal, Perry’s mercurial, self-aggrandizing boss — the owner of the lower-tier sports arena where the action is centered.
“She definitely has redeemable qualities. You hate to love her,” finds the one-time “West Wing” actress. Crystal not only gives Janney the chance to show off her comedic skills, but lots of other skills as well.
“I had done ‘9 to 5’ on Broadway in 2009, but I hadn’t sung for a year. Suddenly they told me James Taylor is playing my ex-husband on the show and I’m going to be singing a duet with him. I said, ‘Are you guys kidding me?!’ It’s the kind of thing you’d never have dreamed for yourself — I’m going to sing a duet with James Taylor on a TV show when I’m 50.”
Janney, a promising ice skater as a girl — until an accident in which she fell through a glass door ended her dreams — also skated for “Mr. Sunshine.” “They knew I used to be a figure skater, but I haven’t been since I was 17 years old. They saw me skating around when we were shooting on an ice rink and they said, ‘Oh, my God. We have to have Crystal skating somehow!’ I was terrified before we shot it, but it was a nice chance to get back on the ice,” she says.
Week to week, Janney says, she began to wonder, “‘What are they making me do this time?’ Every episode there’s something — using a child as a shield was another one. There’s a stripper’s pole in Crystal’s back office. At least they saved me from that.'” For now, anyway.
Of course Janney is hoping “Mr. Sunshine” will do well and get an order for more shows. The actress notes that she now has three dogs — two of which she adopted as rescues while shooting the upcoming big screen “The Help” in Mississippi last year — and would like to stay in one place to work for awhile. There’s also the fact that she’s finding her new series team a pleasure, starting with Perry, who created the series, cowrites and coproduces it in addition to starring.
He’s handling multiple jobs with aplomb, to hear Janney tell it. “I met him for the first time when he came in to do a ‘West Wing’ character with us. He’s a genuinely funny, quick-witted human being. I love to be around people like that,” she says. “I tried to get him to do a play with me — ‘The Front Page’ — I thought it would be so much fun to act with him. But that didn’t work out. Now I get to do those kinds of scenes with him in this show,” she adds, referring to their fast-paced dialogue and physical humor. “He works so quickly on his feet. We’ll be working on something and he’ll say, ‘I don’t like it any more. This isn’t working. Let’s do this instead.’ He’s been working 24/7 on his job, but he’s been juggling it all pretty well.”