One of the most talented -- and often underappreciated -- character actresses of the late 1990s, Allison Janney first began courting critical attention with roles in such acclaimed films as Big Night (1996) and American Beauty (1998). Able to play characters ranging from a name-dropping Manhattan socialite to a withdrawn, abused wife, the 6'0" Janney infuses all of her portrayals with equal parts poignancy and unforced gusto.
A product of Dayton, Ohio, where she was born November 19, 1959, Janney was raised as the daughter of a homemaker and the president of a real estate firm. She aspired to be a champion figure skater from a young age, but any hopes of pursuing a skating career were halted by a freak accident that badly damaged Janney's leg when she was in her mid-teens. As a student at Kenyon College, she became interested in acting, and got her first break when she successfully auditioned for a play being directed by Kenyon alum Paul Newman. After impressing Newman, a racing enthusiast, with both her acting skills and her love of fast cars, Janney went on to impress his wife, Joanne Woodward, who directed her in a number of off-off-Broadway plays during the early 1980s.