In new TV series Political Animals, US Secretary of State Elaine Barrish Hammond, who has just lost a presidential bid, laments that the country just doesn’t adore her as much as her womanising husband and former president.
If that sounds like present Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, actress Sigourney Weaver, who portrays Elaine, disagrees.
The similarities between the real-life politician and the TV one are clear in the frothy series premiering tomorrow on the USA Network, yet Weaver swears she did not have Clinton in mind. She points to other women she has met, mostly those in non-profit work, upon which she based the character.
“I admire Mrs Clinton immensely, [but] I don’t know anything about her except the little bit we are allowed to know. I never think of her when I am playing this part,” Weaver said.
The 62-year-old actress said Political Animals, a soapy dramatisation of greed and politics in the White House, is based on many families who have lived there — not just on the Clintons. She noted that while Elaine’s ex-husband, Bud Hammond, “had been a successful president, not unlike Bill Clinton”, her character “was first lady, then became a governor, then ran for president, failed, then became secretary of state”.
“Some of the details are similar to the Clintons, but in fact, if you talk to the creator, he has been a real political junkie for most of his life, and he is fascinated by all these families who have been in the White House,” she said.
Creator Greg Berlanti gives the show’s pilot a light tone, setting it apart from more serious, recent political TV dramas such as Game Change about Sarah Palin.
In the pilot episode, Elaine divorces her husband, tries to help her son with finances while he battles drug addiction, and chastises a Russian foreign minister during a press conference.
Elaine offers a steely image in public, but lets her guard down in private, showing disappointment that she wasn’t popular enough to secure the presidential nomination.
“The country loves you, Bud. They will always love you, but it’s me they have mixed feelings about,” she tells her husband at the start of the first episode. Two years later, however, she has earned a measure of popularity as a hardworking secretary of state — much like Hillary Clinton.
Weaver, who has a history of playing strong women, most notably as Ripley in the four Alien space films, said that to prepare for the role she read former secretary of state Albright’s 2009 memoir, Read My Pins, about global politics.
She also leant heavily on her views of women she met in the non-profit sector more than any real-life political figures.
The miniseries reaches audiences following other political shows centred on female characters during the present US presidential election year, including HBO comedy series Veep, featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as a US vice-president and HBO movie Game Change, which starred Julianne Moore as conservative firebrand Sarah Palin.
“It’s more enticing to watch fake politics on television than real politics, because real politics is difficult to watch. Everything is even more dysfunctional than my own family,” Weaver said.
Elaine is the type of fearless female that real-life Washington needs more of, said Weaver, who believes women are more likely to cross the political aisle and “get down to work”.
“Women naturally roll up their sleeves,” she said. “They support each other on both sides of the aisle. It’s a much more collaborative, team-building kind of inclusiveness about their work, and I feel like we need that kind of energy in the Washington politics-as-usual.”
A Democrat with a businessman father she described as “a Nelson Rockefeller Republican”, the actress is worried about the present trend of partisanship and what she sees as the common person being left behind in today’s economics policies.
“What politicians have to be talking about is the needs of real people. To me, as long as the Republicans are the champions of big business, that can’t happen. Because the common man is being left out of all of this. And this trickle-down idea is fallacy,” she said.