July 14th, 2012 by thetvchick
I adore James Wolk and Sebastian Stan. I love their work and when I heard they were cast as brothers on Political Animals, I was incredibly excited. As characters, Doug (Wolk) and T.J. (Stan) are almost polar opposites. Doug is politically motivated and works with his mom. He’s the golden child. But behind the cameras, he’s more flawed than one would think. T.J. was the first kid to come out in the White House, and he has struggled with drug addiction and depression. Both characters are complex and fascinating. I had the chance to talk to both James Wolk and Sebastian Stan about their characters, political families and how T.J. and Doug might be more similar than we think.
What attracted you to your roles?
James Wolk: I think that for me, the attraction was the script in and of itself and certainly the character. I don’t have political ambitions, so it’s not as though I came to it from that realm but I think that politics is always in our conversation in one way or another, and it’s in the air, it’s in the ethos, especially it’s a very timely thing right now. And I think this show does a really great job of pulling back the curtain on what happens when people step outside of the microphone and they step away from the video camera. What’s happening to these families behind closed doors. And to me, that was a really exciting and attractive world to venture into.
Sebastian Stan: The characters were really rich and complex and I really had no idea what was going to happen. I was interested myself having read the script to know what was going to happen to these guys. And obviously then the addition of these great seasoned actors, once they came on, was just a wonderful company that I personally would have been grateful to be a part of. And sometimes with multiple episodes, you really have a chance to explore the characters and kind of better ways than sometimes you get with just one movie. And so I was just curious to see where it was going to go, where he was going to take these characters next on the page and I was right, because this is just the beginning.
T.J. and Doug are such fascinating and complex and flawed characters. Are we going to learn how they grew up and what lead them to where we are in the premiere?
SS: I just think it’s so great that you said that about both of them, because the question’s always been that “well T.J. is sort of like the guy..” and they all have their problems (laughs) he’s just much more on the surface.
JW: But yeah, that’s something we’ve seen as these scripts come out. All of us have been blown away by where these characters are going and what they’re dealing with and they all have their huge achilles heel. They’re all kind of struggling to find their place in the world and do right by their family, but it’s like they’re all in this pressure cooker and they’re all supposed to be perfect, but none of them are. So that ends up providing some pretty interesting scenarios that every single one of them gets into.
What was your first experience with politics?
SS: Well, I grew up in communism.
[The room erupts in laughter including Jimmy Wolk.]
SS: I was a very little kid, and we just had like one hour of news. I left when I was eight, I guess that was my earliest experience with politics, I suppose.
Do you think this generation is more apathetic towards politics?
JW: What I think is interesting about Douglas and TJ is that it’s a generation of the media watching you 24 hours. When you think of William and Harry and how they’ve grown up in that spotlight. That’s a totally different spotlight than the Kennedy brothers grew up in. And I think TJ and Douglas are dealing with that and figuring that out and they’re both being revealed to the public in these different ways that I think wear on them and tear on them and the audience is going to get to go home with them and see how they survive.
SS: It’s also the media nowadays. I find a lot of my friends that are my age and so on, I find that they are just overwhelmed by the amount of media that’s out there. They literally go okay if I turn to Fox News, I’ll get this and if I go to CNN, I’ll get this. The truth of the matter is in order to get the actual honest situation of what you’re going to be discussing or talking about, you have to spend so much time to go out there [to] multiple media outlets because every single one’s got a very specific perspective and I find that a lot of my friends at least get overwhelmed. They just feel like I’m not even going to deal with any of it. And that’s unfortunately why a lot of people are not that involved.
You mentioned William and Harry and the Kennedy brothers. Was there a certain family that you looked at when preparing for your roles?
SS: Because I was researching drug addiction and alcoholism and so on, I was stumbling on certain people that unfortunately didn’t turn out okay. It really ended up being the son of Paul Newman. His life is so similar to my character, that it was just a goldmine for me to get there. It was just a constant need of trying to find a way to communicate and not being able to and wanting love and to be heard. And that pressure of that umbrella. And it’s just so funny because you think that Paul Newman — he went out and did all these charity things and all these movies, and that’s the other side that you don’t know as much or it’s not what comes to mind, and that’s very similar to this show.
JW: We both look at the Kennedys a lot but one of the reasons I particularly focused on Bobby Kennedy was from a standpoint of just looking at him visually and the way that they were projected to be was these perfect icons and when I read the script, Douglas came across as very perfect. I said, well someone who is supposed to be perfect, there has to be a dark side to that light side. There has to be a yin to that yang. So I started to research Bobby and he was actually a very tumultuous, dark individual, very cerebral and he became like the family protector. And he became so ruthlessly ambitious that it took him down many interesting roads. And so for me, that was okay I really want to go in that direction and look at what Bobby was like and base Douglas off that.
One thing that struck me is how much sex was in the pilot. Sex for political gain, sex with motives. What do you think about that?
JW: Well, I think the show is called, without sounding trite, the show is called Political Animals for a reason. These people all come at things trying to get something done, trying to accomplish a goal. And I don’t know that sex all the time in the series is going to be used like that, I think there are lovely, real, intimate moments that exist, but I certainly think sex isn’t off limits for these political animals. I mean, they’re very motivated people.
SS: It’s just one other of the many themes this show explores in terms of manipulation of power and kind of escapism for different characters in different ways. And ultimately, everyone’s just struggling so much for control in their own various ways and that’s again the problems that Ann’s got, when she goes to the bathroom and so on, so the fact that it’s in there and the way it is, is just a testament of how great the show is that Greg wanted to put together and how lucky we’re able to feel that he was able to embrace that.
What do you love about your characters?
SS: I think we both try not to judge our characters but I think that there’s great potential in TJ. There’s real potential. And I really like that about him. I like that he won’t stop at anything until he gets what he wants. And the problem with that is that he hasn’t applied that in the right way. But he’s capable of it. Both of these characters have many of the qualities that Elaine and Bud have actually. And the funny thing is, with Greg, we always found my character to be very similar to Bud, in a lot of ways, even though they actually don’t get along. But they just know. As you’ll see throughout the series, they know how to get what they want. Where I feel like you’re much more book smart…
JW: You were saying they’re so different and TJ will do anything to get what he wants, and Douglas, we found is the same way. They are both ruthless in their own ways.
SS: Yeah, absolutely. I just think TJ’s a little louder.
JW: His wheels are a little more squeaky.
SS: But the potential’s got to be there and honestly, they’re operating from a place where they want love, they just don’t realize how they’re doing it, half the time.
Be sure to tune in Sunday night at 10 PM to USA for the premiere of Political Animals.Tweet