July 9th, 2012 by thetvchick
It’s basically Political Animals week here at The TV Chick. It premieres on Sunday, July 15th and let me tell you, it lives up to all the hype. It has a phenomenal cast, an amazing story and a candid look into a former first family. Political Animals stars Sigourney Weaver as Elaine Barrish — smart, politically savvy, and devoted to both family and country. She’s a onetime first lady and unsuccessful presidential candidate who has found new purpose and popularity since divorcing her philandering husband and taking on the job of Secretary of State. Sounds a bit familiar right? Determined to pull back the curtain on Elaine’s crazy family is Susan Berg (played by Carla Gugino). Berg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who made her name publishing scathing columns about the Hammond family, and what the future holds for her and the former first family looks to be very interesting. I recently had the chance to attend a press junket with the entire cast of Political Animals. Carla Gugino had a lot to say about her character, the Elaine/Susan relationship and how this role has changed her view of politics and journalism.
What sort of research did you do to prepare for your role?
I talked to several different journalists and definitely watched a lot of interviews. I kind of felt like her mentor, her idol, would’ve been Bob Woodward, and so I watched a bunch of interview with him and various pieces that Maureen Dowd did. I then started just getting really good books on journalism, and I found this really great book that I don’t know if you guys know. It’s called “The New, New Journalism” and it’s basically a book of interviews with 18 different, mostly long-form non-fiction writers and journalists. And they’re interviews with them about, really things that would be for you guys very normal. One of the things that you realize as an actor when you’re gonna play someone, in any profession, like I played a neurosurgeon or a lawyer, it’s the practical things that come second-nature to you if you’re doing it that you need to know. Like for example, I was intrigued as to who like to write long-form, who likes to write, who likes to record, when do you generally do that. All those things that are generally part of your profession, and that book is very interesting for it because they’re actually asking those kind of practical questions. How long does it take to formulate a certain kind of story, and there are a couple of really interesting political writers in there and since this is politically specific, I was curious about that as well.
So how are you seeing the Elaine/Susan relationship develop? In the pilot they are so similar, but they also hate each other so much, so how are we going to see that play out?
It’s interesting because one of the first things that Greg Berlanti said to me was, ‘I’m so intrigued as to why these women who are smart, successful, ambitious, career-orientated, all of these things. Women. Why are they so often on the opposite sides of the fence when they actually probably understood what it took to get there better than anybody else?’ I thought that was a really interesting question to pose, and kind of keep posing throughout the show. But, what’s interesting is that I don’t think Susan has ever been as interested in tearing her down, so to speak, as much as, Susan seems tough but I think as a young woman she was definitely a romantic and I think that she felt that this woman, Elaine, epitomized everything that she wanted to be. So when Elaine ended up staying with her ex-husband through these repeated affairs and I think that it was almost like a personal insult, so this is definitely a personal quest. Most of you have seen the pilot? Yeah. So I don’t think she would have ever used this information that she has to sit down for a week with anybody else, but because this is such a personal thing for her, she needs to understand Elaine, and by the nature of their professions they are on the opposite sides very often and they can’t get too close, but it is true that they start to realize they’re a little bit more birds of a feather than they would like to admit and that line definitely starts to get blurred in a hopefully, very interesting, dramatic way.
I loved her using the bitch line…
Yeah. It’s funny though, the power of words, you know. Why is a guy who is ambitious, successful, smart, considered an ambitious, smart, successful guy? And a woman is a bitch. You’re like, wait a minute. This is interesting.
When you were a kid, do you remember when politics entered your life?
I would say that politics probably has entered my life more extremely doing this show than ever in my life because I wasn’t really raised by extremely political people and I moved a lot. I lived in a teepee in Northern California and then I lived and travelled in Europe with my dad, so I was very much about, the world has always seemed very small to me in a good way, and it’s always felt like what we basically need to be doing at the most rudimentary level is just making the world a good place for everybody because we’re all in it together. But in terms of actual politics, I didn’t go to a university because I started acting. I was a total academic and I was valedictorian and all that, and I intended to go and that was always my plan to go to university, but I didn’t end up doing that because I started acting professionally so young. In the midst of that, I’ve never been very political. It’s kind of a great things for me with this show because I’ve just been much more engaged and all of that than I usually am.
So how did you view of politics change after doing all of this?
I don’t even know that it’s changed as much as, I think that I, you know, I vote and I do all those things, but I guess for me, I think that what it is and I think it was Gore who said in his documentary, ‘there are some people who go from denial to despair really quickly and skips a lot of steps in between’ and I think I tend to be that kind of person politically. It feels so overwhelming to me, as to how you can actually make a difference and actually affect change that I’ve ended up sort of removing myself from it to some extent. So I think, what’s been really refreshing about this whole process, you know the truth is being in politics is the fastest way to affect any kind of change in the world. It really is, you just have to go through a lot of bureaucracy to do that, and so it’s oddly made me feel slightly more hopefully about it, which is interesting.
At the end of the pilot episode, there was sort of that moment where it looked now like Susan had sort of opened the door to the family. Are we going to see them interact, is that going to start to happen more often?
You’ll definitely see the slightly incestuous nature of just, it’s so easy to, they say that the fate of the well-known is to be misunderstood, and I think it’s very easy to do that when you’re going ‘that person is a _____’, and then all of a sudden when you’re in their in their home, eating their food, it becomes a much different perspective and also the other way around. I think the family also starts to be like, ‘oh, maybe she’s not the evil reporter woman that we thought she was’.
And they might have used her in the pilot and now she’s your inside source.
For sure, there’s definitely this slippery slope of both of us realizing that we’re beneficial to each other in certain ways, but also actually starting to like each other. What I really love about many things in Greg’s writing, but one of the things I really love is that he never simplifies things. He always, I mean it’s specific, but he always makes it, he’s like ‘how can we make it more complex? How can this person have ever more going on as opposed to less?’ That’s kind of what I feel like we’re like as people. We’re got a lot going on and we believe certain things and behave totally differently half the time.
Will we see any of Susan’s personal life?
Yeah, you will. You will definitely see a little bit more of what she’s got going on.
Can you expand on that at all?
No, but I guess I suppose I could say that breaking up is hard to do. It’s tough, it’s not always the clean break that you want it to be, especially when they’re your boss for God’s sake. So you’ll see a little bit more of her.
That was a really fascinating dynamic that her boss is her boyfriend. What do you like best about Susan?
I really love this woman. I don’t know, I guess I love that she really is passionate about what she does and that she’s also in a moment in her life where the shit is kind of hitting the fan. I don’t know how else to put that. She’s coming to these realizations that are uncomfortable and yet important, and she’s growing up in a way, even though she’s a grown woman, she’s kind of coming into her own. I don’t really like that she’s funny and sexy and can kind of go toe to toe with anybody. That’s really fun to play, but it’s not only limited to let’s make her this strong witty woman, we also get to see kind of the soft underbelly of what everyone has.
Is Susan going to stay at the Post or is she leaving?
I don’t know if I should be saying anything. What I will say is that that’s her home for now.
Will she at least get more one-on-one time with Georgia?
Yes. Yes definitely, there’s some good stuff. And she’s wonderful. Megan, who plays Georgia, she’s great and there’s some really, really great stuff there. And there’s actually some really interesting conversations between the two characters about journalism and about the state of journalism right now and how it’s a very, it’s a tricky time with the fact that you can get information out so quickly and therefore where is the room for more real reporting in terms of these kind of longer stories. There’s a lot of cool conversations in that regard that are really topical right now.
Has this role changed the way you think about press? About the responsibility the journalist has to the public versus the people they’re covering?
I don’t know that it’s changed it, but it’s certainly, I’ve been focused much more on it. I think it’s a really interesting topic and I don’t think there’s a simple solution. I think it always comes down to an individual, moral conundrum. I think there’s a reason it’s called a Fourth Estate. I think it has to be separate and yet, yes for sure, it’s a very interesting question and I don’t know that any of us have an answer for it. The responsibility that lays in those hands is pretty significant.
Be sure to tune in Sunday, July 15th at 10 PM to USA Network.Tweet