As an Oscar and seven-time Emmy winner as well as being a longtime staple on TV, it’s hard to imagine Allison Janney getting rattled on set. But the actress tells ET the she was terrified when she had to shoot her first scene of the HBO film Bad Education with co-star Hugh Jackman.
“I’m such a huge Hugh Jackman fan and I’ve never worked with him before. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, sh*t,’” Janney says of their first interaction as co-stars, when Janney had to feed a sandwich to the former X-Men.
“He was incredibly playful and there in the moment with me, which gave me the confidence to be playful and insert a kind of intimacy between them, you know, teasing him with the sandwich,” the actress continues. “Sometimes I would really try to shove the sandwich in his mouth. He was open to me doing whatever I wanted to do.” (Watch the moment in the video above.)
In Janney’s defense, the scene sets up the relationship between real-life superintendents Pam Gluckin and Frank Tassone, who had a complicated personal and professional relationship thanks to their ongoing multi-million dollar embezzlement scheme they pulled over on their Long Island, New York, school district.
Written by Mike Makowsky, Bad Education recounts the scandal that rocked the picturesque town of Roslyn where Tassone and Gluckin’s siphoning of school funds was eventually uncovered by student reporters for the high school newspaper, The Beacon. The darkly funny movie examines how someone like Tassone, a beloved school official with champagne tastes, managed to lead a double life bolstered by the millions he stole.
Once their scheme started to fall apart, it was revealed that Tassone, who purported a life as widower, was living with a longtime partner in Manhattan and dated another man living in Las Vegas. He indulged in a lavish lifestyle that included first-class flights, gambling trips, plastic surgery and expensive suits.
Meanwhile, Gluckin used school funds to pad her bank account while paying off credit card bills and remodeling her Hamptons summer house. She also used the money to buy jet skis and artwork. In total, she and Tassone were accused of stealing over $11 million from school district funds.
Unaware of the real-life events until she was sent Makowsky’s script, Janney was blown away by everything that unfolded. “I was just shocked that this had actually happened,” she says, wondering how these Tassone and Gluckin could be so brazen.
“As an actress, I love characters like this that are so morally conflicted,” Janney says, becoming fascinated with trying to understand the why and how of everything that motivated them to steal as much as they did. On top of that, Janney also tried to make sense of Gluckin and Tassone’s relationship. “I think they thought they were friends. I think Pam probably had a crush on him like every other woman in there,” she muses.
But when the cracks in their scheme are exposed, Tassone throws Gluckin under the bus in order to protect himself. “She was overwhelmed, feeling betrayed, but then hoping against hope that he is going to fix it and make it OK,” Janney says of the scene when Gluckin gets caught and Tassone forces her to step down from the school board. It’s a moment when she realizes they’re not friends; they’re not in this together.
That confrontation, which takes place halfway through the film, mirrors their opening scene together. This time, instead of Gluckin feeding Tassone something he doesn’t want, Tassone’s now feeding her a bunch of B.S. to save himself. “It was a chilling moment for me to play with him,” Janney says of acting with Jackman.
It’s also a chilling moment to watch since Janney and Jackman are so good at playing off each other. “We had good chemistry,” she says, before praising his generous attitude that extended from their first day together on set. “He was right there with me. It was a great moment in my career to get to work with him.”