Wildest part of 'Animals'? The relationships
Posted July 11, 2012
A rented beauty-supply warehouse is the unlikely stand-in for the corridors of power in Washington on Political Animals, USA's six-episode miniseries due Sunday (10 ET/PT).
Some of the trappings are here: an Oval Office set used by The West Wing, interiors of the fancy townhouse that's home to Secretary of State Elaine Barrish Hammond (Sigourney Weaver), and the newsroom of the fictional Washington Globe, the professional home of reporter Susan Berg (Carla Gugino).
On a steamy day last month, the action was centered on the tense relationship between Elaine and her ex-husband, former president Bud (Ciarán Hinds).
Their uneasy truce is borne of expediency: She needs him to intervene in a crisis involving the kidnapping of American journalists in Iran, and "he misses that fix of being in the limelight," says Hinds, an Irish actor who plays Bud and (with help from a vocal coach) approximates a Southern drawl.
As he learns of another crisis involving a sunken Chinese submarine, Bud offers further counsel, and a way to reignite his own career.
"She can trust him in this arena, she just can't trust him in the personal arena," Weaver says. And that extends to their troubled family: Son Douglas (James Wolk), her chief of staff, has his engagement plans threatened, while his drug addict brother, T.J. (Sebastian Stan), desperate to open a nightclub, isn't above scamming his grandmother (Ellen Burstyn).
That leaves Elaine, fiercely committed to her job with bigger ambitions, desperately dealing with personal calamities.
"She's very, very capable of fielding so many challenges that are political and important in the big picture, but where her family is concerned, she is much less adept and much more vulnerable," Weaver says.
Writer/producer Greg Berlanti has long been interested in politics. He studied history in college and co-created Jack and Bobby, a 2004 WB drama that also echoed a real political family, though it wasn't based on the Kennedys.
"I wanted to do a love story that started with a divorce," where the couple's "lives were linked professionally and personally for years," he says. "She wanted a fresh start, yet the shadow of that former life will always follow her."
Including Berg, the wunderkind reporter who made her career exposing Bud's infidelities and now parlays information about Elaine's family into journalistic access, even as she begins to question her own earlier motives.
"They are more birds of a feather than they ever realized, but they still are both incredibly ambitious women who have a very strong sense of their own needs," Gugino says. "And their own needs often supersede helping each other."
Weaver co-stars with Robert De Niro in the paranormal film Red Lights, out Friday, will jump to Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a Broadway play opening this fall, and has Avatar 2 on tap.
But her first continuing TV role is her most conventional, and a welcome treat. "A lot of the people I've played have been marginalized in some way, or have chosen to be," she says. Animals is "like getting a juicy steak after I've been eating salads for a long time."
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