Emmy Watch: James Wolk on being a Washington power player in 'Political Animals'

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Image Credit: USA Network

Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com will feature interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.

USA’s limited series Political Animals only had a six-episode run last summer, but it left quite an impact thanks to stellar writing and acting, including co-star James Wolk. The actor, most recently seen this season on Mad Men as Bob Benson, played Douglas Hammond, the chief of staff to his mother, Elaine Barrish, who decided to run for president. While Douglas seemed like the perfect son, he actually was attempting to sabotage his own mother’s campaign by feeding secret information to local journalist Susan Berg (Carla Gugino). EW talked to Wolk about playing opposite Weaver and his inspiration for this son of a political dynasty.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How was the experience of Political Animals for you?
JAMES WOLK: It’s wild how quickly things go. I guess we were filming now a year ago. That was a really great experience. It was six episodes, and I feel like there was so much packed into those six episodes. We were all down in Philadelphia, secluded from where we were all from. So it felt like we were just really down there to work.

We asked you to pick your favorite scene. You chose the scene between Douglas and mother Elaine where he reveals he leaked her intentions to run for president to the press. Why did you pick that scene?
I felt out of all the scenes the one that kinda popped outta my head was that scene. It was amazing to be inside Douglas’ skin and be able to say something to his mom that he always wanted to say. We see him in this pressure cooker throughout the whole series with huge expectations put upon him by his own mother, and he obviously goes through great lengths to try and prevent her from running again, and it all comes to a head in this scene. He’s able to be honest and straightforward. It was a great scene to play.

What was it like facing off against Sigourney Weaver?
That was great. She’s immense. She’s just such a powerful actress. To just kind of be opposite of her and be able to open up, acting with her felt very seamless. There was no wrong turn you could make. We were just ping-ponging it back and forth, and to do that with her was really a joy.

The cast of this show, from Ellen Burstyn to Ciaran Hinds to Vanessa Redgrave, was so phenomenal. It must have been great to come to work every day.
Yeah, it really was. Our guest stars were incredible. Our cast was incredible. Everyone was so well-versed from theater to film to television. We had such a stable of actors on the show, I just felt honored to be among them.

The show sort of mirrors the Clintons. Did you model Douglas on anyone? He’s very JFK Jr.
Yeah he was kind of modeled after Bobby Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy was definitely the bulldog brother. From what I read, he was very moody and very dark and felt a lot of pressure on his shoulders, and I felt like that’s how Douglas was as well. From a visual standpoint, Bobby Kennedy was kind of this all-American, affable guy but really was this cerebral and weighted figure, and I kind of wanted Douglas to echo that.

You also had one of the hottest sex scenes I’ve seen on TV recently on the floor of a plane with Carla Gugino. What was that like to film?
Carla is such a professional. She’s just such a great actress and a professional that it felt very comfortable in the way that you want it to, in that there’s enough respect there. Because those things can go the opposite way.

Political Animals only lasted six episodes. Do you know what would have happened in season two? Would Elaine have run for president?
You know, it was all percolating. We were kind of understanding of the fact that it could just be a miniseries, so we kind of allowed that to be. There’s so many ways it could have went. That final scene with Ciaran and Sigourney sitting up on the hill outside of Douglas and Anne’s wedding, what a great way to go out of the miniseries. I think we could have gone in so many directions, which is a testament to those writers.

What would you have liked to have seen for Douglas in season two? Would he still be married? Still working for his mom?
When we last left Douglas, he obviously had a lot of inner-turmoil, professionally and personally. It was all kind of coming undone for him. What I would have loved to see for him was some kind of resolution in his life. I would have loved for him to feel stable and secure, and I don’t know how that would have manifested, but certainly when we last saw him he was not stable and secure. He was kind of becoming this tragic figure. So I think it would have been fun to have him find his peace.

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