Allison Janney Plays ‘Progressive’ Mom in ‘Minions’
ALLISON JANNEY voices Madge Nelson, domestic villainess, in MINIONS. ©Universal Studios. CR: Suzanne Hanover.

ALLISON JANNEY voices Madge Nelson, domestic villainess, in MINIONS. ©Universal Studios. CR: Suzanne Hanover.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Allison Janney remembers going to a pre-Oscar party and running into Michael Keaton, who shouted out to her, “There’s my wife!”

The former Batman and “Birdman” hadn’t swigged too many pre-show cocktails. He actually was right. He and Janney play husband and wife in the new “Minions” movie. They voice the characters of Madge and Walter Nelson, who give a trio of minions—Stuart, Bob and Kevin—a ride to an unlikely convention, Villain-Con. As it turns out the trio have been sent on a mission by their community of small, industrious, lemming-like creatures to go out and find a villain they can follow. Madge and Walter pick them up along a road and take them along with their school-age kids to rob a few banks on their way to Orlando, the site of the convention.

Since all of the actors recorded their voices separately, Janney had no idea that Keaton was voicing her husband. Neither did she meet co-stars Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm until the animated feature’s Hollywood premiere.

“It’s a very funny process,” the veteran actress says of voiceover work.

But the Emmy winning star of the TV series “Mom,” said it was a lot of fun playing such an unconventional parent in “Minions.”

Dressed in a bright pink dress for an interview, the statuesque actress quips that she picked the color because she thought it would complement the Minions’ yellow.

Q: Your character is headed towards a Villian-Con when she meets the hero Minions of the movie. In your career have you attended any of the fan conventions?

Janney: I’ve always wanted to go to (San Diego’s) Comic-Con. I’ve never been. I’ve never had a reason to go. I was never invited or if I was, I was probably working so I’ve never actually attended one of these but I think it’s hysterical that in this film they’ve got a Villian-Con, as a take-off of those conventions. I don’t even know what happens at those conventions except that there are a lot of people that come dressed up as their heroes.

Q: Were you a fan of the “Despicable Me” films?

Janney: Yes. I’m a friend of Chris Meledandri, who runs Illumination Entertainment (the studio that) created “Despicable Me” and “Minions.” We went to high school together, so we had a sort of wonderful history together. Oddly enough, our entertainment career paths never crossed until now. I’m really excited that he asked me to be a part of the “Minions” movie, and playing Madge. I think she is a great character for me to play. I think she’s my first evil character. There’s nothing really evil about her, just like there’s nothing really evil about the Minions. They do evil things but they’re so lovely and you fall in love with them, and Madge is just a good mom. She just happens to rob banks. (She laughs.)

Q: What was the recording process like for you? Did you have an opportunity to work in the recording booth with the other actors?

Janney: No, that’s the one thing that’s sad about doing these animated films. I’ve done a few of them, and you’re never in the same room with the other actors. One of the things I love about acting is the other actors, and looking into their eyes, and working off of them, listening and responding to them. So it’s very different, this kind of work.

The thing that’s great about it is that I can show up without makeup. I go in my sweatpants. I’m a sweatpants and t-shirt type of girl. That’s what I’m usually wearing as all my friends know. I love to be in bare feet when I work so that’s how I am when I’m (in the recording booth). I just create all these sounds. I have to be willing to make a complete fool out of myself. I know they’re video-recording it.

I guess the animators get some inspiration out of watching the actors doing the voice so they can have the character reflect that. I don’t know, but it looks like a lot of Madge’s eye movements came from me, the sly little eye looks. So it’s a strange process. You go in now and then for over a year for these one or two hour sessions here and there, but you don’t have anybody to act with. You just do the lines. You can do the same line over and over again many different ways, and you try to get into the character and imagine it. It’s very creative work but it’s very solitary. It’s very strange.

Pierre Coffin, the director, was in Paris when he was directing this, so that was an added thing. But I love it. I love doing these animated films.

Q: Since you’ve worked on other animated films like “Finding Nemo,” “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” and “Phineas & Ferb,” do you feel a sort of detachment when you see the final version? Does it feel like you made it 100 years ago?

Janney: It’s weird accepting your voice coming out of an animated character. You don’t buy it at first because it’s your voice and none of us like our voices when we hear them recorded back. You think, “That’s what I sound like? Horrible!” But I feel like I’ve seen Madge enough in some of the trailer clips I’ve been watching over and over since it’s so funny, so I’ve gotten used hearing my voice coming out of her mouth now. So I think I’m going to enjoy it. I’ve got a lot of friends coming to the premiere with their kids, and I can’t wait to see it with a packed audience.

Q: This has a lot of ‘60s rock music and it’s set in 1968. Did you have a sense of that at all while you were recording?

Janney: I was told that. They showed me some of the drawings and the animation when (I was recording) in New York. That era was such a fun time. And the soundtrack, those songs are going to be great for the parents and grandparents taking kids to this movie. They’re going to get off on the music. It’s a good soundtrack and a fun time period. I just love the fashion and the colors.

Q: What do you think of the soundtrack?

Janney: We’re going to have a whole generation of kids who are going to have their eyes opened to ‘60s music. That would be fantastic.

Q: Most of us would like to have our own Minions, not necessarily for evil purposes but for general help. If you could have your own Minions, what would you have them do for you?

Janney: Oh my gosh! It would be so great to have Minions just to go get the dry cleaning and go grocery shopping and find a parking space at Whole Foods because I can never find one. Set up for parties and clean up after parties. I’d have them walk the dogs. Oh my gosh. If I could have my Minions walk the dogs, I’d just be in heaven. Everyone’s lives would run much smoother if they had Minions. (She laughs.) And just for love too. I’d love to have a little Bob in my pocket everywhere I go. I just love Bob so much. I’d just fall in love with him and take care of him.

Q: Are you on hiatus from “Mom” right now?

Janney: I am, but I’m doing a movie in New York. I never stop (working). I’m afraid to stop because I’m afraid it will all end, so I never say no. But I am working in New York with Ellen Page on this movie called “Tallulah,” which I love. I’m having a great time with her in New York. I have to go back after this press junket to finish that movie. But, yes, I’m supposed to be on hiatus. I am for “Mom.” I’m so glad we get a Season Three. We go back to work at the end of July to start shooting Season Three.

Q: What do you think of Jon Hamm’s performance as Herb Overkill in this?

Janney: Herb’s cool! He’s a hepcat. I love the Herb and Scarlet that Jon and Sandy (Bullock) play, and Michael Keaton and my character were very unconventional for couples in the ‘60s. Our power was equal. (My character) is teaching her kids equality. They all get the same machine guns to train with to rob banks. It’s all very progressive.