July 15th, 2012 by thetvchick
If all these interviews have not convinced you to watch Political Animals, I’m not sure anything will! It’s fantastic. You should tune in. One of my favorite characters from the premiere episode is Margaret, played by the amazingly talented Ellen Burstyn. Former first Mother-in-Law Margaret Barrish is the tough, tell-it-like-it-is matriarch of the family, mother to Elaine and grandmother to T.J. and Douglas. A former Vegas showgirl who’s seen (and done) it all, Margaret appreciates a cocktail or two, doesn’t shy away from the limelight and never feels the need to conform to convention. I recently had the chance to chat with her at a media junket where she talked about her involvement in politics, Margaret’s interesting background and what she loves most about her.
What do you love most about your character?
She’s the truth teller, you know. She cuts through the bull, and as somebody described herself, I said to this woman, ‘you’re like the character I’m playing.’ She said, ‘Oh, flimsy filters, huh?’. I said, ‘Yeah, that’s it. Good description of her’. And she has a great sense of humor. It’s always fun to play somebody like that.
What is your opinion about the political climate today and how did that reflect in this character and this show?
Well, I’m appalled at the political climate. I think that the level has lowered to such a degree that people are out and out lying, and just trying to get away with it and not even caring if you know that they’re lying. Just to be able to say whatever it is the opposite of what the other character is saying. I think it’s horrendous. I don’t know if our show does anything to help that or not. But it certainly does expose some of the horse-trading that goes on behind the scenes. I don’t think politics is a particularly business filled with too much integrity. What’s been happening lately, it seems to me that a lot of the Congressmen and Senators that we have counted on for integrity are walking away from it because it’s gotten so nasty. So, if our show helps in any way, great, but I don’t know that it does. I don’t know what can help at this point. But certainly shining a light on the situation is always helpful in calling attention to it.
Did you look to any women in politics for your role? Did you study any of them or research any of them?
Well, my character’s not really in politics so much. She comes from, she was a Vegas showgirl, so I studied that. I read about, ‘cause she would have been there in the ‘50s and that’s when Vegas was being formed and I didn’t know that the crime families put money into building Vegas. From all over the country, Chicago, New York, Kansas. They all had front men, but that it was a crime family concept/city. She was there then. I was a chorus girl in the 1950s myself, but I wasn’t in Vegas. I was in Montreal and in New York. And that was a different atmosphere out there, so it was the time of the Rat Pack and all of those shenanigans. I read a lot about that period to know what her life would have been like, and what formed this kind of tough, survivor, humorous, truth-teller.
Would you mind telling us a little more about Margaret and her family? I don’t know if this is relevant to the show or not because we haven’t seen all the episodes, does Elaine have siblings? Are there other children? And what of Elaine’s father/Margaret’s husband?
Yes, you do. You learn about her father in episode 2, who was a trumpet player in Vegas in that period. I’m not gonna tell you any more about that.
Can you tell me if he’s living or not?
No, he’s not living. And then in another episode, I think in episode 3, you find out more about my second husband, who is the one who got Elaine interested in politics.
A step-father who may have been in politics?
No, he was a lawyer, who dealt with government contracts. He got Elaine interested in the Constitution and that kind of thing. I found him very boring, but he was very helpful to her. I don’t think it was a stellar marriage, but he was a good step-father.
There’s a great relationship between Margaret and TJ. For me it was the highlight of the show. I thought that was just so lovely to see. Are there any more great moment for you two coming up and also is Margaret sort of the only one that TJ feels really knows him or he could really open up to?
Yeah, their relationship is very close and that’s expanded in later episodes. There’s more about them. And she is the one in the family that he’s save with and open with. I don’t want to tell you too much about what develops, but TJ is a very important character in the plot, in what unfolds in the show, and I think Margaret is his safety.
What are the best and worst parts for you about doing a miniseries?
The worst part is the schedule. They’re working 14 hour days constantly. The best part is working with a bunch of wonderful actors and getting to know them and developing relationships. In this case, it’s a really good script and good writing, so to have the combination of wonderful actors and wonderful writing is what you hope for in life, but then you would wish for a more humane schedule.
When did you become really fascinated with politics?
Well, you know the famous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago? I was there. I was very involved in politics then, and in the peace movement. Remember it was during the Vietnam War, so that was kind of my initiation into politics.
How does playing Margaret compare to the other roles you’ve played?
It’s been very challenging to me to play somebody with such a foul mouth. I read the line sometimes, and I go, ‘oh my god. I say that?’ So, it’s been interesting to feel my own inner barriers and boundaries with language, which I wasn’t really aware of until I get the script and I read it and go, ‘What? I have to say that?’. That’s been a challenge.
Are you more inclined with it now that you’re getting more use?
Well, I’ve always had fun with her, it’s just that I’m always negotiating with Greg on the language. I trade him one bad word for another one. ‘I’ll say this, if you don’t make me say that’. He’s been very generous with it.
Be sure to tune in tonight at 10 PM to USA for the premiere of Political Animals.Tweet