Television
3:18 am
Fri July 13, 2012

Sigourney Weaver: No Damsel In Distress

Originally published on Fri July 13, 2012 11:04 am

There's no culture more distinct than the political circles of Washington, D.C., and Sigourney Weaver is taking it on in Political Animals, a new television series where she plays a former first lady and current secretary of state.

Over the course of a distinguished acting career, Weaver has battled intergalactic aliens and befriended gorillas in the mist. In Political Animals, Weaver's character, Elaine Barrish, finds her biggest adversary in a hyperambitious political reporter by the name of Susan Berg.

Throw in a philandering former president, who's now her ex-husband, and Barrish's own failed bid for the presidency and one thinks: Hillary Clinton?

The actress says not so. She tells NPR's Renee Montagne that the shooting script had a disclaimer saying Political Animals isn't based on any one real-life mover and shaker.


Interview Highlights

On the show's real life influences

"I think the show is inspired by a lot of the families that have been in the White House. It kind of puts forth the idea that a family who's in the White House pays a price for being in the White House, and part of that price is that they then always have the desire to get back in the White House. So it's inspired not just by the Clintons but also by the Bushes and the Kennedys — all these political families, these dynasties, who Greg Berlanti, our creator, would say are the closest we have to royalty."

On the role of family in Political Animals

"One of the fascinating lures for me of the show was this going back and forth between public life and private life — being in the halls of power, but then being in the living rooms of these people. Elaine Barrish is so at the top of her game in the world, but, like [for] all of us, real life, family life, home life is much more difficult to navigate."

On the similarities between Hollywood and D.C.

"I think in my industry — and I'm sure your industry is the same — the people who keep getting the jobs, first of all, are very professional people, they're stable people and they're people who are very creative. I consider myself very much a team player. To me I'm just one element in that group.

"[Washington] probably is another culture, and I don't realize it. One of the reasons I was attracted to playing Elaine was that she comes in with a different spirit in Washington. She's going to make things better for people, and she's not going to get bogged down with party politics and all these other games that the men who are in power are still playing."

On the strong female characters she predominantly plays

"When I look around the world, I don't see too many damsels in distress. If they're a damsel in distress, they're manipulating some guy to help them. I feel that we're incredibly resourceful and strong and keep our heads. So all I'm doing is reflecting women to me as they are because the women I know are strong. My god, they hold this world together. So it's not that I'm avoiding playing damsels in distress. I don't really buy them."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. Let's take on a contemporary culture. The political subculture of Washington, D.C. Sigourney Weaver is in the middle of it in a new television series where she plays a secretary of state who's also a former first lady.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is an actress, of course, known for battling intergalactic aliens, busting ghosts and befriending gorillas in the mist. In the new show, "Political Animals," Sigourney Weaver's character, Elaine Barrish, finds her biggest adversary is a hyper-ambitious political reporter by the name of Susan Berg, someone Weaver's character describes with a pretty offensive word. So, be warned, that is coming up. Throw into this mix an ex-husband who was president and Elaine Barrish's own failed bid for the presidency, and one thinks, hmm, Hillary Clinton. Sigourney Weaver says, not so.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: In fact, there's a disclaimer at the beginning of the script that it's not based on anyone real. And I actually think that's true. But I think the show is actually inspired by a lot of the families that have been in the White House. It kind of puts forth the idea that a family who's in the White House pays a price for being in the White House, and part of that price is that they have then always the desire to get back in the White House.

And so it's inspired not just by the Clintons but also by the Bushes and the Kennedys - all these political families, these dynasties, who Greg Berlanti, our creator, would say the closest we have to royalty are these families.

MONTAGNE: And this program is as much about the family, her family, as it is about her position. Tell us about the relationship that she's navigating with her ex-husband and also two grown sons.

WEAVER: Right. Well, I think one of the fascinating lures for me of the show was this going back and forth between public life and private life, being in the halls of power, but then being in the living rooms of these people. And Elaine Barrish Hammond is so at the top of her game in the world, but like all of us, you know, real life, family life, home life is much more difficult to navigate.

And my two sons, one of whom is played by Jimmy Wolk, who works with me, and then Sebastian Stan is my, what I would call, the ne'er do well son, who's perhaps Elaine's favorite because he's always been in trouble. And I also have a divine mother, a very salty speaker, played by Ellen Burstyn, who steals the whole show she's so wonderful in it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POLITICAL ANIMALS")

WEAVER: (as Elaine Barrish) Are you two really drinking already?

ELLEN BURSTYN: (as Margaret Barrish) T.J. started it. He said that you can't make margaritas with Jack Daniels.

SEBASTIAN STAN: (as T.J.) Turns out you can. And it's good.

BURSTYN: (as Margaret Barrish) Hey, I saw the attendee list. Why is that bitch Susan Berg coming?

WEAVER: (as Elaine Barrish) Because that bitch is covering me this week. Please do me the favor of not talking to her, or if you must, try not saying things like the country didn't elect me because they didn't want to sleep with me.

BURSTYN: (as Margaret Barrish) It's true.

MONTAGNE: As we just heard, Secretary of State Elaine Barrish is pretty hostile to the reporter Susan Berg. Not surprising, actually, since she is threatening to reveal a dark secret about Elaine's black sheep son, unless Elaine agrees to give Berg an interview.

WEAVER: And what's behind it all also, is that Susan Berg won a Pulitzer in her 20s for covering my ex-husband's terrible affairs and went after me in column after column for not divorcing him and for putting up with his philandering. And so it's only through blackmail that she can get in anywhere near me.

MONTAGNE: There is a tension between these two women, at least, and one exchange really brings it out. It's where your character, Elaine Barrish, critiques this reporter...

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: ...at the time her nemesis, Susan Berg.

WEAVER: Right.

MONTAGNE: Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "POLITICAL ANIMALS")

WEAVER: (as Elaine Barrish) I did read your book about the impending fourth wave of feminism. Not bad.

CARLA GUGINO: (as Susan Berg) No one read my book.

WEAVER: (as Elaine Barrish) Well, maybe it was the title, "When Bitches Rule."

GUGINO: (as Susan Berg) I was trying to reclaim the word.

WEAVER: (as Elaine Barrish) It might have impacted your sales. After all, never call a bitch a bitch. Us bitches hate that.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Touche.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: What do you think? You function in a very high-powered, very, very competitive world.

WEAVER: That's what I hear.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Has that not being your experience?

WEAVER: Oh, I don't think that's, I don't think that's my experience at all. I think that in my industry, and I'm sure that your industry is the same, the people who keep getting the jobs, I think first of all, are very professional people, they're stable people, they're people who are very creative. I consider myself a very much a team player. To me I'm just one element in that group.

MONTAGNE: Does anything ring true to your personally about this world that Elaine Barrish inhabits? Or is it all like, whoa, that's really another culture?

WEAVER: Well, it probably is another culture, which I - and I don't realize it. But I think one of the reasons I was attracted to playing Elaine was that she comes in with a different spirit in Washington. She's going to make things better for people and she's not going to get bogged down with party politics and all these other games that the men who are in power are still playing.

MONTAGNE: I want to turn just for a moment to you and your story. Unless I've missed something, you really have never played what might be called a damsel in distress. Your reputation for playing strong women is pretty well earned.

WEAVER: Well, I guess I always feel that, you know, when I look around the world I don't see too many damsels in distress. If they are a damsel in distress they are manipulating some guy to help them.

(LAUGHTER)

WEAVER: I feel that we are incredibly resourceful and strong and, you know, keep our heads. And so all I'm doing is reflecting women to me as they are because the women I know are strong. My god, they hold this world together. And so it's not that I'm avoiding playing damsels in distress. I don't really buy them.

MONTAGNE: Sigourney Weaver's latest turn as a powerful woman can be seen in the new show "Political Animals," which premieres this Sunday on the USA Network.

Thank you very much for joining us.

WEAVER: Oh, it's such a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.