Joan Allen Talks ABC's Riveting New Thriller 'The Family'

Allen appears on Popcorn with Peter Travers and talks about why she decided to take on a role in the new TV series.
16:54 | 03/16/16

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Transcript for Joan Allen Talks ABC's Riveting New Thriller 'The Family'
What is his and I know I know it sounds crazy and maybe it is that he is. Different OK that from the moment I saw only the hostile listen something awful about it. Are you drunk well. Now has listened because at a different fish because he's not nine years old anymore because each eats and it this six. In the bottles he doesn't remember that you have to collapse the masks that's all. It was all he cared about how could he forget that navy was a decade of rape and torture lucky yeah. Q how nice. I feel. Q and return home happy. And it's my fault for cleaning up after you. Just to track. Yeah Karen trunk and you are confused. It sucked and. Seeking any think. Like that. I can't for. Hi everybody I'm Peter Travers and welcome to popcorn where we tell you what is pop and in the culture and there is a new series on NBC called the family it's. Riddled with. O mystery. Murder kidnapping. Perversion. And it's all manifested in the character played by my guests. Alan they shop like if that's. All of that yes reversed. Murder is an area and Erie all of that and they say yes I have to have to announce later. Perfect fit she could wait for this but tell that world that doesn't know at that hasn't committed to the damages who it is that you. Well my character's name is Claire Warren and she is the matriarch of the family Rupert Graves plays my husband and we have three children. The story takes place in the present day and also ten years in the past in the present day I'm the mayor of medium smallest town in Maine and our youngest child had been kidnapped and presumed dead ten years ago. So when that. First episode starts you see this is settled disoriented young man. Running along a road and he goes into a police precinct and here's a picture of the kid from having been taken ten years doing goes that's me and so in the present is the reunification. Of this missing presumed dead child into this family. And then we also. About half of each episode. Is in the president and cuts back to ten years in the past and surrounding the time when he was actually abducted. When we senior character when we see. Her as the mayor there's a little bit more. All I wouldn't call it innocence but she's getting to know politics yet started City Council at the time it's in the present she's wanting to run for governor yes without my giving away too much or anything you know. They don't want us while it for people. But we see. A manipulative quality to her. Even though she really is missing this son and doesn't know what to do she still running for some yes and there's something in her head. As much as she loves her son. That says this could be beneficial to me. I think you know she started she's had ten years in the political arena you know she started out you see in the past as. Housewife that kinda starts dabbling into politics. And she's kind of nineties and you know running for City Council but it cut to ten years later and I think she's good at what she donned. And so you just sort of go I think she she would've had a lot of experiences. In in local government she's done the mayor she would have. A certain awareness it's it's like at you know actors who after awhile have done. More and more films they get used to the publicity part of it and they and and how you present when you're not. When you're not actually acting. And so I think she is wants to be good at what she does I think she's capable and I think she has learned how to. Handle the media she's been exposed to being in the public a lot. You know in these ten years and so some of it becomes natural. I don't know that she probably thinks of herself as manipulative. I think that it's interesting as an audience members like how much is she using her son's abduction from her own political gain. Often when I play it I don't play it that way. I'm I'm thinking I'm just sharing my platform with you. But people who have you know are unaware often of their own motivations. And they may think they have very good intentions and sometimes somebody from outside with Saturn goes button I'm not so sure about that. But you talked about that presenting yourself as an actor you have to do you're sitting here you're presenting. Is this. Something that you just learned what he said over time or is that still a difficult thing. Well I've been doing this a long time now so you know I'd have some sense of of more being more relaxed and more at ease with the whole process. This part business. And that feels good you know we think it would feel that any of us what you have is this extraordinary career. You know so I just want to go back a little to win. It you brought up where in the midwest. I was brought up in a small town in northern Illinois called Rochelle. It's about 75 miles directly west of Chicago do not suburbia now cornfields everywhere. A lot of friends who grew up on farm system. My dad owned a gas station my mother was a housewife about 8000 people just the simple girl with the jury and consumer. Now do you get corrupted by that Apple's system. Well I don't know if they had they get so lucky to you both slipping is Chicago is close enough for you to know what's happened office well I'm I can't remember that was not of that company. You know when I was it's I mean I think I knew from like six or seven I wanted to do this but I didn't really know what this was because. There was no opportunity there were no auditions there was nothing I would. Do the little fourth grade singing songs in the spring concert for or your parents and take ballet lessons. By the woman who taught ballet tap jazz everything on a cement floor and like that's crazy. But you know I did I did those things but it wasn't like out of high school when they started actually doing plays and Anderson for planets like. This is. This is the fifth. This is isn't this what were your parents and family saying about your dreams to do this Dave snow announced it done it in the thing and now I was the youngest of the youngest of four and I they would they would very supportive during high school they were a little. You know they let me be a theater major in college which was great. But they always said that midwestern thing have something to fall back on. You know they let me go I think they had certain concerns but they did let me they let me go and try and I went to Chicago percent of theater on one. I remember seeing you first time I saw you in anything it was on stage and burn this with John Malcolm Nance and this was like. Death it wasn't just like oh look at here's Joan it was like what he is Joan. And Tony. Everything happened in the act what does that do to your hand. It was. It wasn't a huge thing it was it was all pretty well. Yeah me I mean to me in terms of changing me in a significant yeah weighing in I that was late in my late. When I did her illness was around thirty I spent all my twenties doing. Ensemble theater at Steppenwolf in Chicago where you did three years. You know of the five shows in you clean the toilet and you watched it cost him and you starred in the next show and then you sold tickets. You know I had a really. Grounded. Sort of apprenticeship I would call it and I was able to learn a lot about the craft. And about the whole part of making apply. Not just what you doing on the stage of what. You clean the Thailand you take the passed to me how he you know. And it was it was very grounding to me so that when I I felt like I had this good foundation so that when things started taking off I wasn't. So you know. I wonder like do dance yeah I felt I felt like I. We are all actors have been true trying to telling that story and let's let's try to do that and I credit stepped wolf with that incredible. Cracks it sounds like you still have which is a great thing and act big to go on doing I remembered movies though I remember manhunt. Remember you as the blind girl and that doing these scenes with Tom Noonan. I mean this is your Hannibal Lecter movie before anything happens with this yes but this weakness of a scene between you and a seat if there are. If yeah yeah so movies became. Some kind of was in an equal passion as the. It turned into one I mean I was. I came to film quite late I think I did my first two Anita 29. In this day and age that's considered you know that you must be said. A your costar we are trumbull yet Jacob Jacob have when you are and what he has or ask Susan this happens in them. So it this if it was kind of nerve racking for me because. Excuse me I was used to Steppenwolf theater which was also very free Wheeling you know we would block. It's shows but he did. We would try to keep it fresh every night and and and and we are only thinking like you're only as good as or lash got to you know go out with a fresh attitude every night. Well in film acting as a Lotta precision you have to hit your mark and you have to polite and you have to. There's all this chaos going on around you in an apparent make people that are doing this right before your taken. I had no training in that regard and it was like. What is this. Process. I don't really and I'm used to the curtain going up I have control of the very end and so it was a big it was a quite an adjustment for me and I would say. I think it really took me about five years before I really felt like. I'll I. Well I get it I get how you jump into an emotion. I'm at a split second and how you protect yourself. If you have to get into an emotional state and you block out. All that other necessary work that has to be done out there and ordered to do to actually shoot I did I bring up room because there's such a symbol Larry. That you have on the family yeah lost this son who comes back and in this movie this is your grants. Yes come back from being locked I know this room at your scenes with brie Larson in room or read the bigger scenes with take the tablet are kind of breezy. Amazing because it's the time in the movie than we realize that it's of the mother. Who can't adjust this halving the tough time to do that. What's it like acting with a child well he was so. So season and so good. And they shot the film sequentially so the first 45 weeks of the issue was just the two of them shooting in the room so I came in halfway so. He'd had experience working on the film already but. He's had some other films you know he's like I have that at least. Far more sophisticated. I. He's. Incredible I asked telling me he could introduce me to. Actors who were at this award show. And then he said. When he accepted his award he said was one of the most wonderful acceptance speeches that the mind inside my head right now is completely blown. There. Yes the mind inside my head so when you see the finished product like that is to make a movie indecent that you never know until now did this. Really startling you that it was well I would hope. Well I mean you that you there is an unknown factor always but I was really hopeful because Lenny Abramson was such incredible director. Brees devotion and dedication and what she was doing with the role that I could see as an actor watching another actor Workman. And the relationship that she had with Jacob and worked at Jacob was doing you know you're like okay I think the odds might be a little better. You know it's always a little mysterious weathered some things you think of going to be great don't turn out that way and some things vice Versa and saw I was. This was one bright spot I'm pretty sure and then it to it. So when it gets a like so many awards and so much attention like that that this is something that you accustomed to. You've nominated for an Oscar three times. Now I would've given you that Oscar when you were pat makes. Immediately to do that but when you look back at year. On screen one of those. Three or four of movies or plays that you did that make you think I learned something from doing this this was. Maybe learn from everything. I guess Nixon was kind of a seminal one for me I I felt like I learned a lot by working with Anthony Hopkins. Who was masterful. And Oliver Stone really helped me in a lot of ways kind of craft that character. A did this small film called yes that's Sally Potter directed and that was an incredibly special experience we rehearsed for a month. And it was all written and I am that contaminant her. So it was a smallish movie so having that extremes we don't usually reverse that period of time and often do you don't maybe want to rehearsed to that degree. It was. It was a very unique. Experience and I I I really. Really enjoyed that and. The crew some. And of the nomination there be yeah and exits Arthur Miller. And the plays being revived I know right now no search around and another person and via the conversation this year's yes you. Well that was an incredible. Experience I mean we actually. They built Salem. Village on Reid took a boat to work every day it was kind of a government reserved. Island and they agreed to let us build Salem village and so was really. Marvelous to go away from civilization and you really work to make it really easy for you actors to become schizophrenic in. You know I love and I am just yet I am dispersant and with. In that year with Daniel Day-Lewis deaths and who does get into character and that is that do you take me for yourself where you are. On camera and off the same person. I don't. I don't but I certainly respect actors that do there everybody you know kind of comes added at a different. Slightly different way way that works for them away at that gets them where they ultimately. Wanna be and and so I don't Emerson that. That degree. Aren't will be show's first and ends. Will be the first to me but we and in the snippet of song. Which we always do that you talked about your fourth grade musicals I don't know but I don't know what's in your I don't even know what music you listen to sing along with the all night guys. Way. You would now I know you know it's you maybe somewhere over the rainbow hats selves we didn't give them. So. Further rain. Where a and so. Land. And ones in. Songs we. He beat me because it may be clean air on the show can stock to saint. And we see another sign of her yes that I just on the right and yet I'll call which it until I need an it's. Joseph Dunn received we're done for the things that were hoping for season after walk across to forgive John thank you don't thank you thank so much what a pleasure great but.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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