Joan Allen | Interview
Joan Allen has a mom, is a mom-and doesn't want to play one.
Not making the high-school cheerleading squad led Joan Allen to audition for a play. Although the would-be cheerleader—“in these little towns it’s actually a way of being a performer,” the Rochelle native says—has been a Steppenwolf ensemble member since 1977, she hasn’t stepped onto its stage since 1990. On Tuesday 23, she comes home as the inaugural honoree for the fund-raiser Steppenwolf Salutes Women in the Arts, where artistic director Martha Lavey will interview her. The 56-year-old three-time Oscar nominee called from her home in New York.
What are you working on now?
[Laughs] Yes, it is nice actually. I can be with my family. My mother is going through some health issues in Illinois. I feel deeply grateful that I can go and help my siblings and help my mom. If I was shooting The Bourne Supremacy in Berlin, I wouldn’t be there.
What’s going on with your mom?
Well, she’s 92 and she’s basically facing, you know—facing challenges that all the elderly do. She’s been living independently in my little hometown of Rochelle, which is west of Chicago, like, 70 miles. She’s quite a powerhouse.
Rochelle—where you were voted most likely to succeed.
I was of the girls, yeah. It was me and Tim Koritz.
What’s Tim up to, do you know?
Tim is in Rockford and he’s an anesthesiologist and he’s amazing. I touched based with him recently because my mother was needing to undergo surgery, and one of our big concerns was, you know, anesthesia of a 92-year-old. So I Googled Tim.
You once said of playing Pat Nixon: “There are many women like Pat Nixon in the Midwest: restrained, uncomplaining, tough.” Is that also a self-description?
I have some of that. My closest girlfriends are mostly from the Midwest: Rockford, Ohio, Indiana. We share a sense of humor, we have healthy egos, we’re self-sufficient, we take responsibility, we like to be fair. Those are qualities I was raised around.
Last year you returned to the stage after two decades away. What kept you out of the theater for so long?
The birth of my daughter. She was born in ’94, and I was pretty sure I was only going to have one child, so I didn’t want to miss it. [And] I was finding stage work not as gratifying and pretty exhausting. I wasn’t quite as interested in doing the same thing night after night after night.
That play, Impressionism, didn’t get the warmest critical reception on Broadway. Will that experience inform your next stage choice?
I don’t think so. I don’t read reviews. I kind of gleaned that it was not received very well, the writing in particular. And I don’t really care. I still would do that play again.
The last play you did before that was at Steppenwolf. What would it take to get you back on that stage?
I really wouldn’t mind doing something there. It’d be kind of cool. But I’m gonna have to wait till my daughter is in college. She’ll be 16 on the 21st. Maybe if she’s away and there would be the right play at Steppenwolf…
Given the occasion for your appearance here, any thoughts on women in the arts today?
I hope it gets to the point where we’re not talking about women in the arts, where we’re just talking about people in the arts. As long as it’s a women-in-the-arts situation, it keeps us separate.
Until then, the obligatory women-in-the-arts question for film actresses over 40: How has Hollywood treated you as you’ve aged?
I’ve done pretty well. I feel fortunate.
So you’re not finding all the good parts going to Meryl Streep first?
She gets probably the top choice, and she’s so wonderful I can see why. There isn’t a lot out there. My agent knows at this point that if you can describe the character they’d be interested in me for as the wife or the mother, I’m gonna say no—the mother of the kid who’s having the adventure, the wife of the husband who’s having the affair—and I’m in a position where I can do that.
A related issue: the pressure on older film actresses to have plastic surgery.
[Laughs] Um, I have not had plastic surgery. I haven’t gone that route.
So how do you look so damn good?
[Laughs] I do go to the gym a fair amount. My mom’s 92 and they’re like, “You’re 92? Are you kidding?” I don’t know. Good genes maybe.
Allen appears at Steppenwolf Salutes Women in the Arts Tuesday 23 at noon at the Chicago Cultural Center.