Allison Janney Talks ‘Mom,’ Why We Need Another ‘West Wing,’ And If She Can Still Do ‘The Jackal’

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As Mom ends its third season on Thursday following a year of loss, pain, growth, and maple syrup heists, it’s impossible not to call this sitcom one of broadcast television’s most important shows thanks to its willingness to tell hard stories and find humor along the road toward recovery. And while it takes a village, Allison Janney (Bonnie) and her co-stars deserve a lot of the credit for their role in putting a human and relatable face on addiction and recovery — elements of life that are mysterious and scary, and thus, largely ignored.

We spoke to Janney recently about the impact of the show, its focus on addiction, the show’s widening support structure for Bonnie and her daughter Christy (Anna Faris), why the world needs another West Wing, and where her “Jackal” skills are at this point.

Can you talk a little about Bonnie’s mindset as Christy moves toward accomplishing her goals on the show?

I think Bonnie has always been a wondrously selfish character, and I think she views Christy’s goals as something that are going to take Christy away from her. I think she feels a little bit threatened by Christy’s dreams, and it kicks into her fear of abandonment issues, so she’s not behaving… I don’t think she behaves in a very mom-like fashion. It’s very Bonnie-like, which I love, but ultimately she makes the right decision.

Are you eager to see Bonnie find something for herself — a relationship, a better job, etc. — or do you think the show needs to have that balance where one character is up while the other is down?

Chuck [Lorre] knows more than I do about the dynamic. I know there’s always going to be conflict. To make anything interesting, there’s always got to be some sort of essential conflict, and the relationship between mother and daughter is inherently filled with conflict. So, I think there will always be something there, whether we’re on the same side of it, fighting against someone together or with each other, or jealous of each other. It’s just so rich, that environment. That mother-daughter relationship and the recovery world is just rife with so many kinds of conflicts and issues, and I hope they keep throwing them at me.

I guess traditionally when you think about TV shows, if there’s any kind of happiness or profound peace, it’s like, “Why do we want to tune in anymore?” Everyone kinda wants to see… or laugh at other people’s problems or feel connected to them and be able to laugh at themselves through that.

We’ve seen a bigger role for the rehab group this season, and it’s allowed the show to become more of an ensemble than it had been. Can you tell me about the group dynamic?

I think it’s basically two families going on in this show. There’s the blood family (Bonnie, Christy, Roscoe, and Sadie, and Matt Jones) — that nucleus family, then there’s the family in the recovery world. I think it’s wonderful that Chuck and the writers have given us these new wonderful female characters to bond with, because I think, in the recovery world sometimes, that family is just as important in helping you get through life as an addict or a recovering alcoholic. And the women that they brought to us are so wonderfully different, and it’s a great thing about having a show about recovery because it’s a great equalizer. It allows for someone like Jaime Pressly’s character, Jill, who’s incredibly wealthy and spoiled, to be in the same room as Christy, who has no money and is downtrodden. And then Mimi Kennedy’s character and all the different women from all different walks of life, and the only thing that unifies us is that we are all in this struggle together, to be in recovery.

It’s been really rewarding to work with all these great actresses. We get some great males, too, but primarily the recovery community for these two women is mostly women. I love that the show has opened up like that, and brought in these great characters and these great actresses. It’s a lot of fun.

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