I have recently been watching movies with Allison Janney in them. I have already seen many of her movies, yet, when I first started watching The West Wing, I had no idea who she was. Never heard of her. Despite the fact that I gleefully watched Drop Dead Gorgeous, in which she has a large (and hysterical) part that is quite memorable. I remembered the character, but not the actress. The website Fametracker (the same people who bring you Television Without Pity) refers to this phenomenon as, "Hey! It's that guy!" except for me, I hadn't even gotten around to saying, "Hey! Isn't that the girl who was in the thing?"
In my defense, most of the parts in movies prior to Drop Dead Gorgeous are pretty small. I also think that she looks a lot different in The West Wing than she has in most of her older movies.
Anyway, Allison Janney is my current girl-crush. My whole life, when I have been seduced by the allure of celebrity, it has never been by the men. Or the traditionally beautiful women. The walls of my teenage bedroom were plastered with pictures of Debbie Gibson and, later, Emma Thompson. The walls of my friends' bedrooms were covered with New Kids on the Block, Bon Jovi, Skid Row. Mostly New Kids on the Block, though.
I secretly hated NKOTB. All my friends loved them, so I played along to a certain extent, even attending one of their concerts. Debbie Gibson had captured my heart. Rather than being a slick, manufactured product of the record labels (the boy bands of the late 90's would repeat this trend), Debbie (or Deborah, as she goes by now) wrote her own songs!!!! In my mind, this is what made her so much more awesome than New Kids on the Block, or Tiffany, or whatever else was on the radio then. I realize now that her music was cheesy and hokey, but, hey, she was fourteen! What else is a fourteen year old supposed to write about when she doesn't know about love or loss? So I'll give her a pass.
I really appreciated the fact that she wrote her own songs, because I knew it was something I could never do. I had also had many years of classical piano training (another thing I liked about Debbie is that the girl had been trained properly in voice and piano), enough to know my own limits, talent-wise. I could not ever imagine putting together a tune. Maybe lyrics, but I have never understood the creative process fusing lyrics with melody. For all the beautiful music out there, no tunes ever sprung into my head. Even when I tried, I couldn't produce anything. That particular talent isn't there. It's like I can read and understand a language, but not speak it. Anyone who could write their own songs was so far above what I could imagine. How could I help but be filled with admiration? This theme would play out again and again in my music preferences, in buying CDs of people like Tori Amos and Simon and Garfunkel and Dolly Parton.
So back to girl-crushes. After Debbie Gibson came Emma Thompson, my first girl-crush of substantive adult value. I think the first movie that I saw her in was The Remains of the Day. Emma was not especially attractive in either Howards End (indeed, her character in the book is described as not that attractive) or in The Remains of the Day. In fact, I think her movies don't do her justice. But there was something about her that you could see was pretty when you would see her in the media. Her incredibly high cheekbones. The fact that she was so smart (she went to Cambridge)...and funny! I remember watching her hold her own with David Letterman. I usually don't watch Letterman, because I think he's mean to his guests, but Emma handled him beautifully.
For a brief time, I had a girl-crush on Nigella Lawson, who is so good looking it is not even funny, but her beauty is not in the traditional way of the skinny starlet. I abandoned her soon, though, because I found her recipes don't work. Also, she married a big-time weirdo (art-collecting rich-man recluse Charles Saatchi, who has made some naughty comments about her in public that I feel are inappropriate for a husband to make in public about his wife). I have no patience for style without substance.
For some reason, I never developed a girl-crush on Tori Amos. You could say that she's my "type," enormously talented, not conventionally pretty, but pretty in her own way. I read interviews about her, I buy her CDs immediately when they come out, but she is definitely not a girl-crush. I think this situation may be more complicated than most others. I like having girl-crushes on people that others might not think of. While my friends were worshipping at the altar of NKOTB, I loved Debbie Gibson. My peers certainly weren't into Emma Thompson in high school- I don't even remember who the popular stars were at the time. But Tori? Tori has the market cornered on girl-crushes. Every alterna-chick feminist was in love with Tori Amos. Especially if they liked girls to begin with, but not necessarily. She was possibly the first mass girl-crush of my generation. One particular friend of mine, with whom I had a complicated relationship in high school, was really into Tori Amos. I like to stake out new territory, so Tori was less attractive to me just by virtue of my friend's adoration.
I still carry a flame for Emma Thompson, and I will go see anything, no matter how horrible (Junior, anyone?) if she is in it, even if it's an uncredited cameo (like My Father The Hero), but in recent years, she seems to be less active in movies now that she is a mother.
As a result, the void has been filled by Allison Janney. I think I really have the girl-crush on C.J., her character on the West Wing. Allison Janney is similar to Emma Thompson in many ways- both are tall, not conventionally pretty but with an alluring quality about them, both are incredibly talented and versatile. Emma and Allison both seem equally at home in serious drama and in slapstick comedy. (Emma was truly the only good thing about Junior.) Both of them can also take utter crap and spin it into gold, just on the virtue of their talent. In addition, I have it on good authority that Allison is very kind to the baristas at the Starbucks that she frequents. Nice people get points in their favor, whether crushes or not.
In short, both of them have substance along with their style. Major substance.