Fans of The West Wing, rejoice: Political Animals has come to your TV. This limited series event on USA Network, created by Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek, Brothers & Sisters, Everwood), explores what’s behind the polished facade of a former first family. The series revolves around Elaine Hammond (Sigourney Weaver), current Secretary of State and former First Lady, Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds), Elaine’s ex-husband and former president, and their two children, T.J. (Sebastian Stan) and Douglas (James Wolk), and ace political reporter Susan Berg (Carla Gugino).
We recently spoke with Sebastian Stan about his new show and the character he plays — the first openly gay child to grow up in the White House, who has been to rehab for cocaine addiction and has attempted suicide.
DIRECTV: What makes this show special to you?
Sebastian Stan: For me it was the group of people, absolutely. Being able to work with all those actors. I felt like it was going to be a big learning [experience] and I did learn a lot. And also there was a sense of curiosity after reading each episode. I kept wondering what would happen next and it was exciting for me.
DTV: What was it like working with big names like Sigourney Weaver and Ellen Burstyn?
SS: Well, it’s everything you expect it to be. It’s scary at times; it’s wonderful and incredibly fulfilling at the end. I’ve always admired them. At the end of the day it was actually very easy because they show up to work, have the discipline, the commitment that they bring, it just made my job easier. Everything about it was very positive.
DTV: What big things are coming up for T.J.? Does he pull himself together?
SS: He’s going to continue this quest to find something that he can ultimately feel happy about. The guy is trying very hard to be heard, to get attention and love, to make his parents proud in a world where every little thing could either make or break him. What he’s going to get into is going to be really on the verge of either succeeding at something or falling off the edge.
DTV: Do you think your performance as Prince Jack Benjamin in Kings affected your being hired to play T.J. in Political Animals? I notice both are gay sons of political figures. Is that a coincidence?
SS: I think it is. I had met Greg Berlanti a little bit before that show and then one other time during that show. I always saw those two characters as being very different. Because there’s a political factor and they’re both gay, people sort of love to pair things together. But they have such different intentions and such different passions. That other character was very strong, he always knew what he wanted. He had a very strong sense of identity. T.J. is just so unstable. He’s not trying to be different from what he really is. In the show I’m trying to be heard. I might not know what I want. Both families have very different dynamics.
DTV: Along those lines, you’ve already played a gay son of a political figure. Why did you do it again? Any concern about being typecast?
SS: No. It doesn’t matter. There are so many things different about these roles. Working opposite of Ian McShane and working opposite of Ciarán Hinds. That’s what drew me so much. There are similarities in maybe certain characters and whatnot, but ultimately, no. I’m always going to choose what is a great learning experience.
DTV: Can you tell us about a funny or memorable moment on the set?
SS: Let’s see. [Laughs]. Working opposite of James Wolk was a lot of fun and very easy. There were probably a tremendous amount of moments when I could just not keep a straight face. There’s this one scene, coming on the third episode, I don’t know what it was and James is going to kill me for saying this, but he was suffering from this sneezing allergy attack. We’re taping this very complex scene regarding a serious matter and he’s sneezing! Every time he looked at me, he couldn’t keep a straight face and at one point our faces became instantly red. And you don’t want to stop the tape, especially when you’re working with these actors. You want to be professional. Then to top it all off, we’re trying to survive this scene and he has to walk over and help me pick up a bag, he slips on a banana peel. We’re like Oh My God, we can’t even get one thing right.
DTV: You’ve had a lot of different roles in TV and in film. Are there any particular roles that you feel most connected with?
SS: I would say yes and no. Sometimes it could be specific things, or little things and sometimes not at all. One of the great things about doing this, it offers the possibility to be somebody you’re not. It’s fun. I don’t think so much if the character is like me or not. I just try to understand where these people are coming from and be able to portray that. So I really don’t know.
DTV: On Political Animals you’re exciting, sexual, musical, depressed, sad, happy, temperamental. You’re an addict who is quite disturbed. Is it hard to play such a diversified range of emotions?
SS: It was certainly very difficult. I had done extensive research on people who, unfortunately, have dealt with drugs and addictions, and there is just that manic-depressive attitude about them, you don’t know what they’re going to do next. On paper, as you discover on later episodes, this was more and more apparent about the character. There’s such a fine line of instability. It was very hard. I mean, we were working close to 14 hours a day. But that was part of the challenge and it was exciting. You dive into what you signed up for.
DTV: Without getting political, do you follow politics at all?
SS: You know, unfortunately I was never into politics or followed it very closely. But this show affected my view on it. It got me wondering about the truth out there, what we hear, what we see. I wonder about these people’s lives, the trials and tribulations they go through and the problems we don’t see on TV. Who knows what the truth really is? Now I’m really interested about watching it closely and wonder how much of this is real. These people are actors too. No matter what happens in their days, they’re acting as well, they’re protecting something. Who knows what happens in their minds. This is one of the things this show is exploring and focusing on. Hopefully it will make people think about politics as well.
Watch Sebastian and the rest of the Political Animals cast on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET, on USA Network.