According to Allison Janney, it only took one line of dialogue to convince her to return to series television after a four-year absence.
"'Have you seen a small white pill with some Spanish written on it?'" she said, quoting her Mr. Sunshine character. "I read the first line that Crystal said and I knew I was going to play it."
After playing White House press secretary (and later Chief of Staff) C.J. Cregg on The West Wing for six seasons, the 51-year-old actress says she was looking for a role as far from the morally upright C.J. as possible. Crystal is the pill-popping, narcissistic owner of an arena and the boss of Ben (Matthew Perry), who seems to be going through something of a mid-life crisis when the show starts.
"Crystal Cohen is a woman that should not exist in the real world," Janney told reporters Monday. "She's a woman who is unapologetically selfish and doesn't have a filter system, she's very un-politically correct."
"She's just wrong on so many levels."
After The West Wing ended in 2006, Janney kept busy in TV (In Plain Sight, Lost), films (Juno) and Broadway (9 to 5). She tried to develop some series on her own, but ultimately decided writing wasn't her thing.
Enter Perry. "Matthew Perry wrote the part with me in mind and I guess he didn't think I would be interested in playing a part like this," Janney said. "He was very wrong."
Janney was eager to do comedy for a wide audience, and added that a number of her fans know her best from the cult film Drop Dead Gorgeous.
"[Most] people know me as C.J. so they're not aware that I can do comedy," Janney said. " I hope some people won't even know who I am or recognize me."
"It's frustrating if I can't find the right thing that makes the crew laugh. If I don't make them laugh, I get very disappointed in myself," she continued. "You don't have a live audience so you depend on the crew to let you know if you're doing something funny."
In upcoming episodes, her character will ice-skate alongside a Smurf (a nod to Crystal's youth as a professional figure skater) and sing with James Taylor.
Yes, the real James Taylor. "It was amazing and surreal. I think if the show [succeeds], we'll have a lot more opportunities to have our idols come on the show and make them play with us," Janney said. "I'm not fenced in at all in this character. I get to just go and be inventive and explore and be as big as I can be."
"I've only been reined in a couple times."
Mr. Sunshine premieres Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 9:30/8:30c on ABC.