"Political Animals" revolves around a fictional Secretary of State, her political and family life
Sigourney Weaver on her lead role: "We need more women in politics"
"Political Animals" premieres July 15 at 10 p.m. ET on USA
Elaine Barrish Hammond has a schedule that rivals none.
In the morning she has an interview with a journalist who seems to have a vendetta against her to be followed by her son’s engagement dinner, where she’ll meet her ex-husband’s buxom girlfriend. Oh, and she has to handle a diplomatic crisis involving three innocent American journalists who are about to be executed by a foreign dictator.
All in a day’s work for the secretary of state in the fictional world of USA Network’s “Political Animals.”
The six-hour miniseries, which will premiere at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, stars Sigourney Weaver as Elaine, a former first lady who becomes the secretary of state after losing the presidential nomination. With “Political Animals,” viewers will get watch as Weaver’s character deals with her challenging political role and tumultuous family life.
Fans may recall that Weaver once played the first lady in “Dave,” a 1993 romantic comedy about a presidential switcheroo. However, her new role as Elaine places the actress in a more powerful leading role.
In an interview with CNN, Weaver said her new character is a no-nonsense, powerful politician who is also the head of the household.
“It’s one of the richest roles I’ve ever played,” she said. “She is kind, such a passionate politician for the right reason and her moral compass is so strong. She is sure-footed.”
The Hammond family and their collective storylines are also central to the series. “Political Animals” creator, executive producer and writer Greg Berlanti said that while the show has a political theme, viewers will see more scenes featuring the Hammonds sitting around more dining tables than conference tables.
“I was intrigued by writing about a former first family,” Berlanti said. “There’s this wistful quality of ‘Weren’t we great when … ’ “
Berlanti, who was also one of the creative forces behind the TV series “Brothers & Sisters,” said that the human side of those in politics is often forgotten by the general public and he wanted to capture that in this project.
“One of the things about the show is the duality about our public life, about our noble goals, dedicating our life to something,” he said. “But it comes as a sacrifice. There are things that are engaging to them. There are darker elements to each of their characters.
The flawed characters are indeed aplenty in “Political Animals.” Elaine’s youngest son T.J. Hammond (Sebastian Stan, “Kings”) is the first openly gay son of an American president and is secretly a drug addict. Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds, “Munich”) is the charismatic ex-husband of Elaine whose popularity sinks after his affairs are revealed.
The miniseries as with other political dramas like “The West Wing,” draws some parallels to the present. Elaine as the secretary of state in some ways embodies the years of the only three women to occupy the position; Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and currently Hillary Clinton. And Bud’s unfaithfulness and Elaine’s run for president before becoming the secretary of state might remind viewers of events surrounding a certain real-life political family.
Berlanti said the Hammonds certainly seem to mirror the Clintons, however Elaine’s character has other influences.
“I don’t want to be coy of Hillary and Bill comparisons.” he said. “Their resume is sort of the same and I liked the dynamic of a power couple. But it comes more from Madeleine Albright’s book. We were trying to draw (on) what it means to be the first female secretary of state.”
Berlanti said that he was also interested in presenting how different personalities clash in politics, even when they are playing for the same team.
“Politically speaking, it’s not us versus them, or Democrat versus Republican.” he said. “It’s Democrat versus Democrat.”
For example, there is Elaine’s relationship with President Paul Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar, “Heroes”) who went from being her opponent in the presidential race to her boss. They clash over foreign policy among other things.
“They pick the best rowers, they all realize that they are the on the same boat,” Pasdar said. “They had to do what they did to get to the White House. They realize that politically they enhance each other’s political power, but personally they diminish it. There is a respect, begrudgingly, that is fun to play with.”
A similar tension exists initially between Elaine and Susan Berg (Carla Gugino, “Sin City”), the Pultizer Prize-winning journalist who has made her career by following and criticizing the Hammonds. Gugino said her character of Susan grew up idealizing Elaine but was disappointed when Elaine stayed with the philandering Bud for as long as she did.
“They are more birds of the feather,” Gugino said. “What their professions are also keeps them at a certain distance. There is something that is connecting them. It is very tricky.”
Gugino said that Susan becomes closer to the family in the process of an exclusive interview and the two women slowly form an unspoken alliance in a political world dominated by men.
Weaver said that the idea of a woman taking the political helm attracted her to “Political Animals” in the first place and she said that the format of the series will give the concept some substance.
“I hope it will encourage more women in politics,” she said. “We need more women in politics. We don’t stand on ceremony and are not about hierarchy. We are much more practical because we are mothers. … I am hoping the show will reach women. Women are needed in Washington.”