Allison Janney On The Gift Of C.J. Cregg And Why She Wanted The West Wing Gig So Much

Credit: NBC

She inspired women around the world to go into communications, politics and public service. To take an active interest in what was going on in the world around them, and someone to aspire to. For Allison Janney, who for The West Wing’s seven seasons played White House press secretary and later President Bartlet’s Chief of Staff C. J. Cregg, the feeling is certainly mutual.

“She is my favorite character I’ve ever played because she’s someone that I aspire to,” Janney shared during the recent EW West Wing reunion. “I wish I could be C.J. People come up to me all the time and say they changed their majors in college, they went into public service because of C.J. — and I get it”. (I’m one of them.)

Janney continues, “She’s a wonderful character who is not afraid to speak truth to power, and is a woman in a traditionally male-populated arena in the White House, and she was given the president’s ear. It’s a great role to champion women. Whenever I’m asked, she’s the one I most want to be like and the most I’m not like.”

C.J. resonated with so many people, eager to work for something more, but this was also the case with all the other characters.”These characters, what is so beautiful about them is that they’re all flawed but they all have these unbelievable moral compasses… that’s why everyone wants to watch this show now because they’re people who actually care and are willing to listen to the other side,” Janney states. “It’s just heartbreaking and makes so much sense why people are gravitating towards it now, even for the first time, for the second time, for the third time, for the fourth time people are watching it. I get so many text messages saying, ‘I’m binging West Wing again! I’m starting at season 1.'”

While it’s hard now to imagine a TV schedule that doesn’t have a couple of politically based series running (everything from House of Cards to Homeland to Veep to Madame Secretary), The West Wing was pretty unique when it premiered in 1999. But Janney wasn’t deterred and knew from the get-go that this was something special – “it was a good thing” – admitting, “I was afraid to admit how much I wanted it.”

Unlike others in the cast and crew, Janney didn’t come from a political or activist background. However, she shared how much she loved that environment that was created on set. All the “great minds” on set would get together to debate issues and the state of the world.

One issue the cast has long been vocal on is on the importance of registering to vote, and of turning up and voting, of having your say in the running of your country. This continues in the upcoming West Wing special benefiting Michelle Obama’s nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to registering everyone to vote, When We All Vote. The special is set to air this fall on HBO Max. Until then, let’s start our binge again with Season 1, Episode 1 “Pilot”.

Clare Sidoti
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