A classic California blond, Janel Moloney grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills and knew from a young age she wanted to be an actress. The youngest in a tight-knit family of four children, Moloney has a fraternal twin. She studied dance from the age of five to fifteen but has always said she knew she wanted to be an actress and a serious, professional one at that. As a child, Moloney would often put on perfomances for her family, mostly from the musical "Annie," her favorite musical at the time. She admits her gracious family put up with the fact that Moloney's strong suit was not her singing voice.
When she was a little older, Moloney would often watch the performances being put on at the local junior high. But she didn't get her own taste of the stage until high school, where her first part was Bianca in Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew." Moloney continued to act throughout high school and applied to go to college at the world-famous Julliard School in New York City. She didn't get accepted and instead went to the State University of New York at Purchase, a school also known for its arts programs.
Moloney spent one very unhappy year at Purchase and at one point penned a sorrowful letter to famed acting coach Roy London. London replied to her letter and told her to come back to Los Angeles and study with him. Moloney promptly took his advice and, in 1989, flew back to her native coast. She studied intensely with London and cites his teachings as having a profound influence on her career.
Success did not come quickly or easily to Moloney. She went on auditions constantly and managed to land a few bit parts here and there. She waitressed during this time to support herself and relied on the support of her family to keep her going. It was not until 1998, when Moloney got a guest appearance on ABC's "Sports Night," that Moloney would find fortune on her side. Writer/creator Aaron Sorkin and executive producer Tommy Shlamme took a shine to Moloney and gave her a bit part in their upcoming pilot for NBC, "The West Wing." She was cast in a small role as a White House staffer in the pilot. Sorkin and Schlamme felt she did such a good job that she needed a larger part. Her role was changed to Donatella Moss, assistant to Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman. By the end of the first season, she was made a regular cast member. The romantic tension between Moloney's character and her boss, Josh Lyman (played by Brad Whitford), became a constant focal point in the show and a huge topic of speculation for "West Wing" fans.
Moloney has appeared in several features, such as "'Till There Was You" (1997) and the critically accliamed independent "The Souler Opposite" (1998). She also appears in the Showtime movie "Bang, Bang, You're Dead," inspired by the one-act play of the same title by award-winning writer William Mastrosimone, about the social challenges and physical violence in high schools today.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Left California to study acting at SUNY Purchase, in New York
Dropped out after one year and returned to Los Angeles to study under Roy London
Had several small television and film roles
Got first part in the TV Movie "To Save a Child"
Had guest appearance on "ER"
Had guest role on "Sports Night"; met writer producers Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Shlamme
Cast in pilot of Sorkin and Shlamme's show "The West Wing"; taken on as frequent guest star
Cast as Donna Moss, assistant to Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (played by Bradley Whitford) in the NBC political drama, "The West Wing"; earned Emmy nominations in 2002 and 2004 for Best Supporting Actress
Appeared in Showtime movie "Bang, Bang, You're Dead"
Joined the cast of the Showtime drama "Brotherhood," playing a woman who has an affair with local politician Tommy Caffee