Actress Allison Janney was honored with her first Golden Globe award over the weekend. The Boston native won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of LaVona Fay Golden, the mother of the notorious figure-skating legend, Tonya Harding, in the biographical black comedy I, Tonya.

Janney’s close friend, Steven Rogers penned the screenplay, and he told Allison he wrote the role for her–which she jokes didn’t strike her as much of a compliment. After all, the character of LaVona has a cruel streak and she partakes in a tumultuous, if not abusive, relationship with her ice-skating daughter.

While preparing for the part, Janney never had the chance to meet the real LaVona to inform her performance. The 58-year-old actress said it was a challenge to play the harsh personality, but she prepared by finding things to like about Tonya’s mother as a person. Backstage at the Golden Globes, Janney said of her process:

“I had to go about it like a detective putting together the pieces of a person’s life–a story. And I had to believe that [LaVona] came from an abusive family herself. I had to believe that life disappointed her at every turn; I had to believe that she saw an opportunity for her daughter to succeed and do well and, of course, by being with her would take her to a different place in life. And I think she loved her the only way that she knew how … and was not a way that I would condone for mothering a child … and I think she was a woman who suffered, and it made her angry, and resentful, and a monster.”

While aspiring to become an actress, Allison knew she had something special when she received praise from none other than the Hollywood couple, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Indeed, while attending Kenyon College in Ohio, Janney was cast in an on-campus play directed by Newman who was an alumnus of the school. Recognizing her talent, the couple encouraged the drama student to continue acting. Allison, in turn, went on to train at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

Still, Janney struggled to find roles. Towering at six feet tall, she was once told by a casting agent that the only parts she could play were “lesbians and aliens.” In turn, she often wondered if she should just abandon her acting dreams altogether. But she hung there, and her first break on Broadway came several years later–when she was 38 years old.

But once the work started, it just kept coming. Janney’s prolific body of work includes performances in television, film, theater, and voice work. She’s a seven-time Primetime Emmy Award winner for portraying presidential press secretary C.J. Cregg on the NBC drama The West Wing, a recurring role in the Showtime series Masters of Sex, and for playing Bonnie Plunkett in the CBS sitcom Mom. Her voice work includes Peach from Finding Nemo and she’s the voice of Kaiser Permanente’s “Thrive” media campaign.

 

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