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Seth Meyers' 'Late Night' Challenge: What To Do With His Hands

Meyers is hosting the Emmys Monday. In April, he told Fresh Air why he left Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update to take over Late Night from Jimmy Fallon in February. Originally broadcast April 23.


Other segments from the episode on August 25, 2014

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 25, 2014: Interview with Seth Meyers; Interview with Allison Janney.


August 25th 2014

Guests: Seth Meyers and Allison Janney


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The Emmy Awards are tonight. The ceremony will be hosted by Seth Meyers. He reached another milestone in his career last February.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: From 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, it's "Late Night" with Seth Meyers.

GROSS: Meyers took over as the host of NBC's "Late Night" in after Jimmy Fallon moved to "The Tonight Show." Meyers and Fallon worked together on "Saturday Night Live." Seth Meyers joined the cast of SNL in 2001. He became head writer and anchored "Weekend Update," initially with Amy Poehler. SNL was his dream job, but Lorne Michaels, executive producer of "Saturday Night Live," "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night," encouraged Meyers to move on to the 12:30 show and make it his own. When I spoke with Meyers last April, we played back the opening of the first time he hosted "Late Night." It's an homage to a regular feature Jimmy Fallon used to do when he was the host, "Thank You Notes."


SETH MEYERS: Thank you, Jimmy Fallon, for taking over "The Tonight Show" at 11:30 so I could take over "Late Night" at 12:30. I promise to treat it with respect and dignity and to only use it to do completely original comedy pieces. Starting now.

GROSS: Seth Meyers, welcome to FRESH AIR. That was such a great way of kicking off the Seth Meyers' "Late Night."

MEYERS: Yes, it was a very nice idea by our head writer, Alex Bays(ph). I was very relieved that we came up with something like that.

GROSS: Now, I read in an interview with you that one of the reasons why you left SNL for "Late Night" is that you wanted a saner life. Having a daily hour-long show as offering a saner life struck me as one of the most delusional things I've ever heard in my life.


MEYERS: And I'm so happy to say that seven weeks in, I think I was right.

GROSS: Really?

MEYERS: I could have very possibly been delusional, but this new schedule, unlike SNL, every day at SNL is wildly different, like Mondays are so different than Wednesdays, and the whole week is sort of this teakettle boiling with the release coming, obviously Saturday at 11:30. And everyone who works there feels like they're, to some degree, inside this teakettle, and that pressure really gets to you and I think wears you down. And everybody who works at SNL looks, like, 10 years older than they are. The makeup hides that come Saturday, but trust me, if you see us at Tuesday night in the hallway, it's a bunch of ghosts and zombies. So this new job, because you get the release of doing a show every night, as well as the fact that, you know, we're not doing the show at 12:30, we're doing the show at 6:30, you finish the show, actually I'm getting home at like 8:30 or 9 o'clock, which is a fairly human time to walk in the door. And I've found the schedule, you know, a lot more amenable to having a healthier existence.

GROSS: So let's talk about figuring out what your version of "Late Night" would be. One of the things you actually had to figure out was how to walk out.


MEYERS: You can't believe how hard that is.

GROSS: No, I can believe it.

MEYERS: Yeah, the funny thing is, you know, they have to put a mark on the floor where you're supposed to end up every night, and just the stress of hitting that mark, I think the whole first week, I couldn't even bear to watch myself walk out, because I felt like I would look like an insane person, like, just like staring at the spot on the floor. Also the trickiest part of this job the first week was just figuring out what to do with my hands. I think one of the great discoveries I made at the show was the memory of pockets.


MEYERS: It was like OK, I can put one of these away. I as a person in conversation tend to use my hands a great deal, and I think my first couple of monologues I looked like someone on a desert island trying to signal for a plane.


MEYERS: A passing plane.

GROSS: So, you know, on "Weekend Update," you were sitting behind a desk. So you didn't really have to worry about, you know, walking out there or standing or using your hands. Those desks are really protective. So did you consider...

MEYERS: They're really protective.

GROSS: Yeah. Did you consider doing your opening monologue from a desk?

MEYERS: Well, I wanted to be different than "Weekend Update." I didn't want it to be just this straight transition, and because I do like standing and telling jokes as well, you know, I feel like I was really lucky to have done things like host the ESPYs on ESPN, and do the White House correspondents dinner, and do standup. And so I've had sort of - I've had a standing...

GROSS: But you had a podium for the White House dinner, didn't you?

MEYERS: I did have a podium for the White House - one that I imagine if you check, you'd still see my grip marks in the wood.


MEYERS: But, you know, I enjoy the idea, at least, of transitioning to standing and knowing that, you know, 85, 90 percent of the show is still going to be sitting behind a desk. So - but there is something nice about doing a monologue, and that was the thing, certainly when we were doing our hiring as well. We wanted the show to have a really strong monologue. We thought it was something people liked. We liked the idea of it, we thought we could get really good joke writers. And one of the nice developments, I think over the first seven weeks, was the idea that unlike "Weekend Update," when you tell a joke that doesn't get the reaction you thought it would get or were expecting it to get, you sort of move on to the next joke. There's not a lot of room to play around in "Weekend Update." You're in a much smaller box, just with the framing of the shot. And it's been nice to sort of understand and get to learn that. The monologue is - a lot of it is how good the jokes are, but a lot of it too is having fun with those jokes and sort of making it a bit of a performance piece instead of just a delivery of jokes.

GROSS: Well, you told one joke that I think it was about the Spice Girls and I forget which boy band reuniting.


GROSS: And the whole joke was about, like, who cares, they're so, they're so old.


GROSS: And the audience, you mentioned this reunion tour with the Spice Girls and whichever boy band it was, and people are, like, whooping like yeah, wow, that's so great. And you were really like oh, this is - you're not supposed to...

MEYERS: Yeah, when the setup gets a completely opposite reaction of the point of view that the punch line is about to deliver, it's a very interesting place. But, you know, it leaves this space on "Late Night" to be very honest with the audience as far as how you, as the host of the show, sort of did the miscalculation. I think if you're honest with the audience, they enjoy that part. And probably, you know, remember that more than the best joke in that monologue.

GROSS: So one of the regular things that you do is you tell a story after the opening monologue.


GROSS: And I'm going to play one of my favorites, and this is from, like, early in the show, like it was the first week, but I'll just play the story, and then we'll talk about it. So this is Seth Meyers from the first week of "Late Night."


MEYERS: One of my favorite things about getting to stay in this building and stay in New York is I love interactions with strangers in New York. I had a great one the other day. I was in a restaurant, and I had gone to the bathroom, and I walked out of the bathroom, and there was just a woman standing there. And she grabbed me by the arm, and she goes, it's my son's birthday, he's a huge fan, will you come take a picture with him.

And I said, of course I will. And so she's walking over - and I guess, shame on me, but I thought because of the way she was talking, we were talking like a 12 or 13-year-old kid.


MEYERS: And I get to the table, and he's 25. He's like a young man. And his - the look on his face, he was so bummed out. Like the look on his face was not, like, oh my God, Seth Meyers, it was like, oh my God, mom, what did you do? And it was my nightmare because he was in the center of a booth, and I was, like, well, I'll just slide in on the end, and you can take the pictures. She's like no, you have to be next to the birthday boy. He was not psyched to be called the birthday boy. So everybody had to get out of the booth, and I had to go sit next to him, and it was like he was mad at me. He was like, oh, hey, how are you. And I felt bad for him, but part of me wanted to be, like, so, what do you want to be when you grow up. And so then we're sitting there, and like everybody had to get out, everybody had to get back in, I'm sitting with them, and then the mom takes the pictures, and in like the history of, like, moms and cell phone cameras, like they never nail the first picture. Like she, like, took it and then looked at it, and was like I didn't get anyone, which I - like she definitely pointed it at us.

So finally they take it, and I got out, and he was so - he was never happy at any of it. And so I got up, and I left, and he said something to her under his breath, and I didn't hear what he said, but I did hear what she said because she said it very loudly for the whole restaurant to hear what she said, well, I am sorry, but I'm your mother. So I'd just like to say, to that guy, happy birthday, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry about that bummer of a moment.

GROSS: That's Seth Meyers hosting "Late Night." That's such a great story.

MEYERS: Thank you.

GROSS: Yeah, so how did you come up with the idea of, like, telling a personal story?

MEYERS: Well, you do these, like, test shows when you have one of these gigs, and it was the two weeks before we did our first show. We did two one week, three the following week, and you have actual guests, and you bring in an actual audience, and it just gives you a chance to work through the show, not just for the host but for everybody, from lighting to camera and sound. And I had a story that I ended up telling on the first night about fixing a flat tire, or I should say not fixing a flat tire.

And I told it just because I thought it would be a fun thing to tell at the desk during one of the test shows, and Lorne Michaels and my producer, Mike Schumacher(ph), both said that was really nice. Because that was a moment where you went from a monologue, which I think is slightly different than what people are accustomed from you, and then to be able to sit down and show people who you really are, which is so much part of this job, unlike being a "Weekend Update" anchor, where you're basically to some degree playing a character, to be able to share your personal life is, I think, a big advantage of doing a show like this.

And so Lorne said, you know, you should tell that story the first night. It'll be a nice thing. You'll go into the first night knowing it's a story that works, and it'll tell people a little about yourself. And then it became a thing where any day I had a story, it's a really nice place to tell it. And, you know, unlike a lot of the comedy on the show, you know, it's not on cue cards. I get to just address the camera. And it - I find it really settles me, and it settles the show, and I've enjoyed it a great deal.

GROSS: So getting back to the story itself, when somebody asks you to take a picture with them, whether it's a selfie with them or somebody else taking the picture, do you ever say no? And if you say no, are you afraid that people will tweet that you are a cold and selfish egomaniac?

MEYERS: It's an excellent question. I will say, if anyone's listening, I so prefer a selfie.


MEYERS: Once somebody hands their phone to a stranger, oftentimes I find too that people will hand the phone to the oldest person nearby.


MEYERS: Who has not come to terms with this new technological advancement. So I'd far - a selfie is fast, you can knock that out pretty quickly. My other pet peeve is when you're - there's a group of people who want a picture, and someone says just one more because - as if they're speaking for the group, because it's probably not the last one.


MEYERS: But there were two people at SNL that I always remember at times like that, Derek Jeter being one and Paul McCartney being the other, who more than anyone else, I felt like everybody at SNL, from the crew to the cast to guests of the show, had something they wanted to tell them, like some moment of their career that had so affected this person. And both Derek Jeter and Paul McCartney made so much time for everybody that had wanted it, and I always remember anytime I don't take a picture with someone, I'm saying I'm a bigger deal than Paul McCartney and Derek Jeter. So I try to take them every time.

GROSS: Do you miss "Saturday Night Live"?

MEYERS: I do. I miss it a little bit less every day, which is nice. The thing I was so worried about leaving SNL with just the family and the routine and all the wonderful people that I got to spend so much time with, and obviously as you build your - a new show, like we have, you find that there are other really lovely people that you get to sort of build a new family with. So that's been great.

I do miss the rush of SNL, and on Saturday at 1130 when I'm sitting at home, I feel like phantom limbs, if that's the right expression.


MEYERS: Just wanting to be out there. So that I certainly miss.

GROSS: Do you watch it, or is it too painful to watch?

MEYERS: I watch the first one live, which was a real - I felt the way I bet Jeff...

GROSS: You mean live like in the studio audience?

MEYERS: Live at home, no, live at home, I should say. And let me just say as a viewer, there are too many commercials.


GROSS: You never knew that.

MEYERS: Now that I'm on the other side. I never knew. Or I'd known as a child and then forgotten. But I felt like just this awful metamorphosis of no longer being on the show. And then in the following weeks, you know, a couple times I've been out of town, I've had to watch it Sunday morning, which is a lovely way to watch the show. The part you miss the most, not being on the show anymore, is Wednesday, which was the table read, where you basically get to watch 40 pieces, all with varying degrees of success. But I remember when people like Kristen Wiig left, or people like Andy Samberg left, the thing that I felt, you know, so lucky about was that I got to see everything they tried to do for a seven or eight-year period, like all their failures, all their successes. You got to see everything, like, in the incubator stage to the final product, and it's so - that part of the job is so wonderful.

GROSS: We're listening to an interview recorded earlier this year with Seth Meyers who hosts the Emmys tonight. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

The Emmy award ceremony is tonight, but some Emmys were already awarded earlier this month. At that ceremony, Allison Janney won the Emmy for outstanding guest actress in a drama series for her performance in Showtime's "Masters Of Sex." Tonight, she's up for another Emmy - outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series - for the CBS sitcom "Mom." She won four Emmys for "The West Wing," playing White House press secretary C.J. Craig. Janney's been in many movies, including "Primary Colors," "American Beauty," "Juno" and "The Help."

We spoke earlier this month and started with a scene from "Masters Of Sex," which is based on William Masters and Virginia Johnson and the research they conducted into human sexuality, starting in the late 1950s. Janney plays Margaret Scully, who's married to Barton Scully, the provost at Washington University Hospital, where, in season one, he supervised Masters' research.

Margaret was frustrated that her husband showed no sexual interest in her. In this scene, she's just learned that he's been seeing prostitutes. But she hasn't figured out that those prostitutes are men, and her husband is deep in the closet. Here they are at a drive-in movie. Her husband is played by Beau Bridges.


BEAU BRIDGES: (As Barton Scully) We didn't have drive-ins in our day.

ALLISON JANNEY: (As Margaret Scully) We didn't need them. We were married when we first slept together.

BRIDGES: (As Barton Scully) We were of our time.

JANNEY: (As Margaret Scully) That's not why we waited.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) I've come back to you. I couldn't stay away any longer.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) Oh, (unintelligible).

JANNEY: Barton, I have spent the day racking my brains, pacing, wondering - maybe I should light his clothes on fire. Maybe I should drive his car into the pool. Maybe I should tell them all about the man I've been seeing, who, by the way, wanted me in his bed...

BRIDGES: (As Barton Scully) Marg - Margaret...

JANNEY: (As Margaret Scully) ...Though he didn't love me. I don't say this to punish you, although God knows you deserve to be punished. I mean, prostitutes - that is so insulting to me and so far beneath you.

BRIDGES: (As Barton Scully) I will - I will never do it again - ever. I swear to you.

JANNEY: (As Margaret Scully) Even if you never laid a hand on a hooker again, that wouldn't change what is so impossible to understand. This morning, when you came into my room, I was practically naked, and you didn't look at my body once - not once. And yet, your face was filled with such love.

BRIDGES: (As Barton Scully) Because I love you. You know that.

JANNEY: (As Margaret Scully) We didn't sleep together before we were married because you weren't interested in sleeping with me. And I excused it away by saying, passion is for teenagers and nymphomaniacs. Passion is not what makes a good marriage. This is a perfect, beautiful man who loves me, who doesn't care that I'm tall and athletic, who doesn't - doesn't want me to act stupider than I am. This is a man who understands me.

BRIDGES: (As Barton Scully) And 30 years later, we're still the best of friends. How many people can say that?

JANNEY: (As Margaret Scully) That's not enough.

GROSS: Allison Janney, welcome to FRESH AIR. I feel so bad for your character and her marriage, which is unfulfilled because her husband is so deep in the closet. They're both victims of the repression of homosexuality. You must find this character so interesting.

JANNEY: She was incredibly fascinating to play. The closer she gets to the truth, more lies are flung at her, until she, you know, finally is faced with the real truth of why her marriage isn't working.

GROSS: She wants to participate in one of the Masters and Johnson's sex research studies. And then they're asking her all these questions about orgasm and what she experiences during sex, and what she experiences is pure tension, not, like, the release of...


JANNEY: No. (Laughing).

GROSS: The orgasmic release of tension, and...

JANNEY: (Laughing) She (laughing) - she gets asked - she just...

GROSS: She seems so clueless about it. Yeah.

JANNEY: I know. She gets asked, was - is there any release? And she said, oh, tremendous relief. You know, she miss - she mishears the words. She's so glad when it's over. She doesn't understand. You know, she can't understand what they're getting at. And she wants to say the right answers, of course, because she wants to be in the study. And then to realize in that moment, in front of her husband's, you know, coworker that she's - has never even had an orgasm before.

GROSS: Since there is so much frank sexual talk on the show itself, do people end up making sexual confessions to each other on the set...

JANNEY: (Laughing).

GROSS: ...While killing time before the next scene is shot, just to kind of get in the spirit?

JANNEY: Yeah, it does kind of make for - the situation is so awkward that you do have to become fast friends. Or you look for anything to be comfortable with - your scene partner. And maybe that's sharing some silly thing that happened with you in bed your first time or whatever - just anything to break the ice. And I was not afraid to ask for - I had to ask for just a - just a little shot of courage before I had my first sex scene with Teddy Sears, who's just the most gorgeous, wonderful, handsome specimen of man.

GROSS: This is - this is the younger man who you have an affair with...

JANNEY: The young man who I - yes.

GROSS: ...Because you're not getting anywhere with your husband? (Laughing).

JANNEY: I'm not anywhere with my husband, and I decide I'm going to - you know. And he falls into my lap, so to speak, and I sort of go there. And it's wonderful for the audience to see Margaret Scully have her first orgasm on, you know - not so much for my mother (laughing) - on television. But - oh, my God...

GROSS: So it did you need a shot of courage for the scene or a shot of liquor?

JANNEY: Well, that's what I mean when I say courage. (Laughing).

GROSS: OK - just checking.

JANNEY: When I say courage...

GROSS: (Laughing).

JANNEY: Just a little shot of bourbon or something. I don't even know what they had. I just asked, you know, for something, and...

GROSS: Whatever. (Laughing)

JANNEY: And I just wanted something to just take the edge off because I was beyond nervous. Who gets to do a sex scene when you're, you know, 50 - whatever? No one really gets to - not too many women get to do that.

So the worst part is, I think, doing the run-through for the crew when they come in, and you have a private rehearsal. And they're very great on "Masters Of Sex" to keep the set very private and respect everyone. And you sort of go through the numbers with the director. And then they invite the crew in 'cause they have to see it in order to, you know, boom it and light it and do everything. And that's the part that just feels so weird, you know.

I was like, can we just go by the numbers here, to show - and the directors like, no, you've got to show them what the action is so they know what, you know, it is. And I'm like, OK. All right, here we go. You know, you try to make fun of it and just dive in.

GROSS: You know, it's interesting that as you're doing "Masters Of Sex," which is based on the real work that Masters and Johnson did in sex research - and that's a drama. And you're also in a sitcom called "Mom," which deals a lot with sexuality, too, but it's a much more sitcom-ish approach.


GROSS: And it must be so hard to transfer from, like, one mindset to the other.

JANNEY: I was kind of grateful that they were so different from each other - the characters. Bonnie Plunkett is the exact opposite of Margaret Scully in every way. And so I think if they had been closer in character, it might've been a little trickier. But this - I was so grateful for it.

GROSS: Why don't we hear seen from "Mom." And this is the episode that earned you the Emmy nomination. It's a CBS series, produced by the team who did "Two And A Half Men." And you play Bonnie, the single mother of a now adult daughter, who's played by Anna Faris.

And you've done a lot of drinking and partying and sleeping around over the years. But you very recently got sober, and you're trying to improve your relationship with your daughter. Now, your daughter has also had alcohol and drug problems, and she only recently got sober. She is the mother of two children - both out of wedlock - and she gave birth to her oldest when she was a teenager. Now that daughter is pregnant herself. But in this scene...


GROSS: ...You call your daughter in the middle of the night with some upsetting news.


ANNA FARIS: (As Christy Plunkett) Hello.

JANNEY: (As Bonnie Plunkett) Are you awake?


FARIS: (As Christy Plunkett) At 2:30 in the morning? You betcha.

JANNEY: (As Bonnie Plunkett) I think I'm pregnant.


FARIS: (As Christy Plunkett) Oh, God. Can I not be awake?


FARIS: (As Christy Plunkett) How is that even possible?

JANNEY: (As Bonnie Plunkett) What kind of question is that? I happen to be in the bloom of my life.


FARIS: (As Christy Plunkett) Half the men in Napa Valley have been in the bloom of your life.


GROSS: So as we heard in that clip, there's a lot of laughter in this series. And in the scene that we heard, there was, like, laughter after every single line. (Laughing)

JANNEY: I know.

GROSS: And is that - is that all laughter from the audience? Is there a laugh track to you? Is the laughter sweetened?

JANNEY: Well, I know. Some people - it's amazing, but they're really - the live audience is there, and they were - they are laughing after every single line. And it's - and you have to hold like you do on the stage in live theater. You have to hold for the laugh. And when we don't get a laugh on a line, usually after the take, there'll be a big pause. And the writers will be furiously thinking up new lines, and they come up with floor pitches - is what they call them. And then they come in with notepads and tell us, now, say this this time. Now, say this this time. And then they do the take again, and if the audience laughs, we move on. If they don't, they keep writing. And it's kind of a crazy, crazy night - the tape night - with the audience there. But those are all real laughs. And as to whether or not they use - mix the laughs with other laugh tracks, I don't really know. But I know that I'm there, and I hear the audience laughing with us, so...

GROSS: What happens if you have to do a second take, and the audience has already heard the joke? Are they going to laugh again?

JANNEY: Well, that's kind of interesting. They do have a stand-up comedian who's in the audience, keeping them - the audience warmed up. But he always says, now, remember - this is the first time we're seeing the scenes, so, you know, forget what you saw before and pretend this is - so he's always sort of coaching them on how to be a good audience.

GROSS: My guest is Allison Janney. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview I recorded with Allison Janney. She won an Emmy earlier this month for "Masters Of Sex" and is up for another tonight for the sitcom "Mom." She won four Emmys for "The West Wing."


GROSS: I think a lot of people first got to know you as C.J., the...


GROSS: ...Press secretary on "The West Wing."


GROSS: Let's hear a scene from that. And this is a scene - President Bartlet had MS, but he was not telling people about it.

JANNEY: Right.

GROSS: In this scene, Oliver Platt, who plays the White House counsel, has learned that the president has MS and has been keeping it from the public. And he's trying to figure out who on the White House staff knew and has been helping in the cover-up and who didn't. So here he is questioning you about whether you participated in covering up that information.



OLIVER PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Have you ever lied about the president's health?

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Should I have my lawyer here?

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) I'm your lawyer.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) You're the president's lawyer.

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) I'm the White House counsel, C.J. Have you ever lied about the president's health?

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) When did he tell you?

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) I'm sorry?

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) When did the president tell you?

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Six days ago.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) And Josh?

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Two days after that.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Toby?

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Two days before he told me. C.J., have you ever lied about the president's health?

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) And Leo he told more than a year ago?

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Yeah.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) And I've had this for six hours now. So maybe giving me some room wouldn't be totally out of line. You know what I'm saying, Oliver?

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) C.J., I'm going to have to ask you some questions. The less you can be pissed at the world for no particular reason, the better, I think.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) I don't know you.

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) I'm sorry?

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) I was told to report to you. I don't know you. You've been here what...

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Three months.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Three months.

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Yeah.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) So why should I trust you?

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Well, I don't care if you trust me or not.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Imagine my shock.

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) I got better things to do with my imagination.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) I think this is going really well so far, Oliver. It's almost hard to believe that four different women have sued you for divorce.


PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Well, you can do that if you want, C.J. I've been through it a couple of times with Josh and Toby. But sooner or later, you're going to have to answer questions.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Either to you or...

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) A grand jury.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Compelled by...

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) A Justice Department subpoena.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Well, I have to tell you, it'll be the first time I've been asked out in quite a while. So...

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) It's entirely possible that the president has committed multiple counts of a federal crime, to which you were an accomplice.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) That much has sunk in in the last six hours.

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Has it?

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Yes.

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) So why don't you knock off the cutie-pie crap and answer the damn question?

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) What was the question?

PLATT: (As Oliver Babish) Have you ever lied about the president's health? What is your answer?

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Many, many times.

>>JANNEY Oh, C.J.'s in trouble.


GROSS: That's my guest, Allison Janney with Oliver Platt in a scene from "The West Wing." So I always wonder when you do that kind of snappy retort type of Aaron Sorkin dialogue, does it improve your ability to have witty retorts in real life and to have razor-sharp dialogue when you're speaking extemporaneously?

JANNEY: Oh Terry, Terry, would that that were true.


JANNEY: But no, I can't - I don't have that. I don't have that razor wit that C.J. had. Politics scared the crap out of me because I did not grow up in a family where we talked about anything really but, you know, pass the peas and do this. And, you know, we didn't really have political discussions at the dinner table. I didn't learn how to watch or, you know, listen to politics. I mean, and then have to step into this world and really be playing someone that had - I had no idea what I was talking about half the time. And I had to, you know, study my lines and read and I'm going - what the hell am I talking about? I learned a great deal doing that show and I loved it. But I felt just really a fish out of water when we'd go to Washington and be, you know, go out to dinner, I'd meet, you know, all the former press secretaries. And sitting around with Dee Dee Myers and Joe Lockhart and talking I would just get so nervous. I wouldn't know what to ask them. So I felt a real pretender to the throne.

GROSS: Allison Janney, recorded earlier this month. She's up for an Emmy tonight for her role on the sitcom "Mom." She already won an Emmy at a ceremony August 16th for her performance in "Masters Of Sex."

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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