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A Spirited Q & A With “Life During Wartime” Actress Allison Janney

A Spirited Q & A With “Life During Wartime” Actress Allison Janney (photo)

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As a way of celebrating this year’s nominees for the Spirit Awards in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we reached out to as many as we could in an effort to better understand what went into their films, what they’ve gotten out of the experience, and where they’ve found their inspiration, both in regards to their work and other works of art that might’ve inspired them from the past year. Their answers will be published on a daily basis throughout February.

“You know what I like about you? You’re so normal!” Allison Janney exclaims in her first line in “Life During Wartime.” It’s a funny line on many levels, first because it appears in a Todd Solondz film where questioning what normal is merely is par for the course — after all, if things were normal, there wouldn’t be much of a film — and then as uttered by Janney’s Trish in front of her soon-to-be-husband (Michael Lerner) for lunch, it takes on that breezy, yet clearly exasperated tone that makes you instantly empathize with her, even if it suggests she’s clearly in over her head.

With that rare ability for toeing the line between drama and comedy, it’s a wonder why it took so long for Janney and Solondz to work together, but it’s clear that Solondz relished the opportunity to work with her since he expands the same role occupied by Cynthia Stevenson in “Happiness” to arguably serve as the film’s central character. If you were to argue otherwise, you could simply say Janney pulls everyone else into her orbit as Trish, the harried housewife whose husband turned out to be a pedophile and projects a sunny disposition for her son to avoid confusion on his part but ultimately brings it upon herself.

It’s a considerably tricky role, even if it didn’t involve unbridled and unwieldy scene of simulated lovemaking or another scene in which she’s forced to confront her young son when he calls her a “bitch” after he discovers his father isn’t dead as Trish has told him. And Janney rises to the challenge with one of her finest performances to date, which is saying something, that is every bit as emotionally complex as Solondz’s largely ambiguous work demands. Indeed, “Life During Wartime” can indeed be hell, but watching Janney’s beatific expressions as Trish wrestles with the possibility of hope after years of dissatisfaction and disappointment is pure heaven.

Why did you want to make this film?

I have always admired Todd Solondz’s work and I’ve tried to work with him for many years. Finally for “Life During Wartime,” the timing was right and I jumped at the chance. I am a huge fan of the film “Happiness” and thought the idea of continuing the story with different actors was an interesting challenge; one that I was gladly up for.

What was the toughest thing to overcome, whether it applies to a particular scene or the film as a whole?

Hmm….negotiating the choreography of the sex scene.

What’s been the most gratifying thing to come out of this film for you personally?

It certainly feels great to be recognized by festivals and groups around the world including Film Independent for this film. It is gratifying to be received so kindly…to know that you’ve put in the hard work, the emotional effort and that someone appreciates that effort.

Your favorite film, book or album from the past year?

My favorite books have been “The Millennium Trilogy” – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest” As for films, there were some terrific performances in “The Fighter” and “The King’s Speech” that I am excited about right now.

“Life During Wartime” is currently unavailable on DVD, but airing on Showtime and The Movie Channel. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…


A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.