Emmy Watch: Sigourney Weaver on getting Presidential on 'Political Animals'

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Image Credit: Andrew Eccles/USA

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.

Last summer, the brilliant Sigourney Weaver made her series TV debut on USA’s Political Animals as Elaine Barrish, the current Secretary of State. Barrish not only had to deal with DC politics but an ex-husband who was also the former President (Ciaran Hinds), two troubled sons (James Wolk and Sebastian Stan), a snooping reporter (Carla Gugino) and a boozy mother (Ellen Burstyn). Weaver gave an award-worthy performance as a woman trying to balance her own ambition with the needs of her family.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This was your first time doing a lead role on an hour-long drama. What was that like?
SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I thought it was really exciting. Very challenging. I loved the role. I loved the ensemble. I loved working with Greg Berlanti. I had never done this kind of thing before and it was very exciting material. Of course somedays one wished one had more time but I think everyone was so good and on the ball that we really tried to go in there and squeeze everything out of it. I have even more respect for people, for instance Breaking Bad. I read about their schedule because I think Bryan Cranston is in everything!

I’m not usually offered that kind of lovely, powerful but feminine role. It was unlike anything I’ve been offered before and I really enjoyed it. I loved Elaine and I admired her. I thought she had been through a hell of a lot. But I loved how the scripts were done so that you would always see her at her best in the Oval Office or something knocking men’s heads together but then she’d go home and be like just the rest of us and overwhelmed by her family and various personal problems and dilemmas and her inability to kind of get over her husband and all this really juicy, human stuff.

When the show aired, everyone compared Elaine to Hillary Clinton. Is that who you based her on?
You know actually I didn’t. I based her on people I know and admire in the non-profit world. People who run environmental groups and things like that who have to listen to all kinds of nonsense and keep their tempers are very diplomatic and very inclusive.

It’s just such a breath of fresh air to play someone like Elaine who spoke from her heart and had a true moral compass of what was right and wrong, at leats politically and morally. I was sad that it was not continued. On the other hand, it was such a complete experience for us. And I know I wouldn’t have been able to do this wonderful play [Weaver is currently on stage in the Tony-winning Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike]. I must tell you I don’t know Mrs. Clinton. I’m a great admirer of hers. She was of course traveling the globe and solving all kinds of crises. I remember every time I’d think “Gosh I’m so tired.” I’d think, “No but Hillary is more tired!” [laughs] I felt by the end, not that we were doing Hillary, but that Bud was really like Johnson. But I did feel oddly like I had gotten closer to Hillary in some way by immersing myself in that world and kind of going through what all women in politics go through but especially someone like Hillary.

I love the scene with you and Bud in the finale where you’re sitting outside Doug’s wedding. Do you think Elaine would have run for President in season 2?
I think I felt that she couldn’t run. She had both sons sort of spiraling out of control. And it’s hard for her because she is ambitious in a good way. It’s hard for her to turn her back on these offers but I thought she would have to turn down the offer to be Vice President and concentrate on her family. I don’t really know and I actually never discussed with Greg what we would have done. I’m sure he had a bunch of ideas for several seasons.

You said your favorite scene is with Susan and Elaine in front of the elephants at the zoo. That relationship is so interesting and complex.
There’s so much distrust between the two worlds. I think Elaine goes to the elephants by herself because it’s just a place she can be still and hear herself and just in the presence of these wonderful animals who seem so much wiser than humans and just be still and ground herself somehow and draw strength from them. I thought the friendship with Susan was tricky. It was a tricky thing because I think Elaine needs friends. I think they both need each other but it’s very difficult in the worlds that they’re in and yet somehow with the elephants everything dropped away and we can talk honestly with each other as women. When I read the pilot I thought: “Wow, I love the story but this is what makes it transcend any other political drama, this relationship.”

The cast you guys had for this show was just extraordinary, too, especially since it was just six episodes. What was it like working with all those actors?
Amazing. Ellen just came to the show a couple weeks ago and I just think she’s one of the most amazing actors. I love that scene in the morning and she comes out all bleary-eyed and I’m trying to whip everyone into shape and she just won’t go for it. All my fights with her I felt one could really channel one’s own parents. I loved working with her and I loved working with Carla. She’s so amazing and so versatile. And my sons too. One of the scenes I loved was when I kinda had that meltdown where I’m so sick of these men. Our whole working relationship and then the relationship with Sebastian who was sort of her baby. But Ciaran too! He was just a rock. He was commuting back and forth from England, learning the accent from Skype. I just loved that relationship. It made perfect sense to me.

It really would have become such a family for us. It just makes me sad [that it's over].

Read more:
Emmy Watch: James Wolk on ‘Political Animals’
Emmy Watch: Adam Scott on Ben and Leslie’s wedding
‘Nashville’ star Hayden Panettiere on Emmy-worthy finale

Follow Tim on Twitter: @EWTimStack

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