Monday, September 22, 2014

Yahoo TV - Téa Leoni: Tim Daly and Madeleine Albright may be seeing each other

CBS's Madam Secretary debuted to huge numbers this week — 14.3 million viewers, to be exact — which is a great sign for anyone bemoaning the lack of strong female characters and strong female showrunners in TV. With Téa Leoni as the title character, Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, and Barbara Hall (who also created Judging Amy and Joan of Arcadia) at the helm, the series (Sundays at 8 p.m.) is an unapologetic look at women in power that never once condescends to that "I don't know how she does it!" level. She just does it.

With a stamp of approval from Madam Secretary herself Madeleine Albright, and executive producing guidance from Morgan Freeman, whom Leoni has dubbed "one of the greatest feminists alive," Leoni talked to Yahoo TV about her return to TV for this role which she took because she knew she'd forever regret it if she hadn't. 

I never ask this — ever — but I think you probably have a legitimately interesting answer: Why return to TV now?
I was sort of flirting with the idea… I think I was sort of also waiting for my kids to give me the final shove. They're 15 and 12, and the final shove was my son. I was considering a couple of other projects and we were having a hard time getting one of them to really commit to being in New York City. There was no way I was going to work outside of New York City. This script sort of got slipped to me in the 11th hour, and I was on board with something else… sometimes things just happen for a reason. I opened it up and I thought, "I will forever regret the decision not to do this." And sometimes with fear, that's the way that you choose.

But there's often also fear of committing to a show, knowing that you're signing up for, potentially, the next seven years of your life. I guess you just can't think of that though…
It is a commitment, but I think like a sobriety: You're just going to do it today. [Laughs.] I'm just going to wake up and do this show today. She would've been a very hard woman to leave behind. 

It's hard now, as a viewer, having seen the pilot, to imagine a lot of other actresses in this role. 
Oh, I don't know — I think, in a way, it's so beautifully written. I've always said, "I'd rather be lucky than good." I think I got very lucky that this came around the way that it did, and I was happy to have a connection to Morgan, because we had worked together on Deep Impact. Although I wouldn't say that we know each other that well — we know of each other very well. He is a wonderful mystery, but he is also one of the greatest feminists alive. I knew that, and that mattered to me. Not because I want to work without a bra, but because I feel that there's always misrepresentation along the way. We are, as women — in television, in our culture, in our world — we are on our way. I knew that Morgan would do everything to stick to strong truth. 

Because so many shows with strong female characters feel the need to balance that with some sort of moral or personal sacrifice — she can't be good at her job and a good wife and mother! But she is. 
I think it's also the idea that, for women, the battles and the losses seem to come with more severe consequences. Like our male politicians: Do we ask them about who's going to raise their children while they're in office? No. Do we ask them what they're wearing? When they say they feel something about something, do we accuse them of being emotional? So we've got some road to run yet.

Can we talk about Madeleine Albright's involvement? Madam Secretary was the title of her memoir, and she is involved with the show now, but you all are quick to point out that this isn't her story. 
She gave me the book, and the inscription was: "Your first script." Which was great. Tim Daly really is the connection, because Tim and Madeleine, I think they may be seeing each other. I don't want to start a rumor [laughs], but… they adore each other, and they find each other and sit with each other at every White House Correspondents' Dinner. Tim actually said he'd talked with her at the dinner this year and told her about the project, and she said, "Oh I'd love to be the technical advisor" or something like that [laughs], which was like, "What?!" She said that she would meet, and Tim said, "I don't know if you'd be in—" "If I'd be interested? Train leaves at 3!" So I ran down there as soon as she had a moment and it was really eye-opening to sit with somebody who's accomplished what she's accomplished, and who's not on her back, prostrate with exhaustion or dead. It's just shattering. Her CV reads like Thomas Jefferson's. It is unbelievable what she's done. To say that she's whip smart — why bother even saying it? It's like saying a star is bright.

So you enjoyed getting to know her, hearing her stories, learning that some of the craziness you're seeing on the page is not really that crazy?
Yes, but she was very concerned, very interested in asking, "What kind of woman are you going to be?" She kept saying that. I thought,Maybe it's because of this horrible, tacky top that I'm wearing?[Laughs.] Maybe the blonde hair? But she believes in this country and believes in women in this country, and it was really great to sit and have coffee with a woman who says, "I think you're doing the right thing." I think she was concerned that we wouldn't fall into some tawdry drama, and I said, "Rest assured: We will." [Laughs.] But honestly, that's not Barbara's intention — she's not interested in that. She's not in it for the buck. Barbara's in it because she's been inspired and Morgan has put his trust and faith into her in a way that feels good to somebody with her kind of integrity.

It helps that you know there are already plenty of real-life stories to pull from without having to heighten things for television.
When you think about how brilliant it is… she's set it, politically, five years ahead, in terms of international affairs. So you're secure in that you're not beholden to anything that happens yesterday. You get to take that perfect 20/20 hindsight that we all have. But the part where it becomes a choice… Barbara's not interested in making it pro-Democrat or pro-Republican or pro-Tea Party. That's not the point. She wants to present both sides to every issue we've lived through — or one that looks a lot like it — with this is what the thought process was. And that is so much fun.

Madam Secretary airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBS.


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