Maybe I saw The Object of My Affection before I saw 10 Things I Hate About You; I think I saw it in the theatre at a time when I was living alone in a city where I didn’t know anyone and saw several movies simply to not be alone for a couple of hours. Possibly I saw Primary Colors on VHS, but leaving aside all these maybes, I remember her from the role she’d apparently herself forgotten about. And I mean, I’m not saying I would’ve wanted Miss Perky as a guidance counselor, but she couldn’t have been worse than some of the ones at my actual high school.
When she was a struggling actress, she was told that, because of her height—she’s six feet tall—she could only play lesbians and aliens. Which I suppose makes it funny that the first role where she earned serious money, she spent sitting behind a desk. It doesn’t matter how tall she is in that movie. And in Primary Colors, they played on the fact that she was tall and convincing at looking awkward. Though her character is definitely sexually attracted to men in that.
It is, though, true that a lot of the roles she’s played—leaving aside ones such as Charlene Doofenshmirtz—have required dealing with the fact that she’s a very tall woman who is not conventionally attractive. She and, say, Catherine Zeta-Jones have never been in the running for the same role so far as I know, let’s say. One hopes that her success will convince a few casting directors to give women who look more like her more choices, but I’m not holding my breath on it. I suspect she isn’t, either. She’s got to know how lucky she is—for one thing, it’s not everyone who can say they were discovered by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
It’s also true that, beyond her scene-stealing performance as Miss Perky, she’s done some great performances. Miss Perky’s great, too; Janney first came to a lot of people’s notice by stealing scenes from Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and that’s not nothing. But while American Beauty has its issues, Janney is so good in it that you don’t remember how tall she is. Possibly even notice. She’s done comedy and drama, and she’s equally proficient in both. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her sing, but for all I know she’s great at that, too.
Of course, people who slept on 10 Things I Hate About You probably know her from The West Wing. And there’s nothing wrong with that. She’s extremely skilled at that particular type of Sorkin walk-and-talk. And honestly, knowing her role in I, Tonya was written for her makes me even more determined to get around to it when I can, though I still hold out hope of watching it with someone unfamiliar with Tonya Harding. Not even a Janney performance can beat the entertainment value in that, though it does give it a run for its money.