Saturday, October 25, 2014

Philippine Star: The State of the Nation according to Téa Leoni - October 25, 2014

Conversations’ first close encounter with Téa Leoni was years ago at Universal Studio for the Jurassic Park III junket. She was then very much married to David Duchovny (fondly remembered for the TV series The X Files) from whom she was divorced effective only last August.

During a phone interview a few days ago, Leoni was as engaging as she was during the first time, so focused and so in-control as she is in Madam Secretary which airs Thursday nights at 8:30 exclusively on Sony Channel (available in the Philippines on SkyCable Channel 35, Cignal Digital TV Channel 37 and Cablelink Channel 49).

In Madam Secretary, she plays Elizabeth McCord, the shrewd and determined newly-appointed Secretary of State who drives international diplomacy, battles office politics and circumvents protocol as she negotiates global and domestic issues, both at the White House and at home. A college professor and a brilliant former CIA analyst who left for ethical reasons, Elizabeth returns to public life at the request of the President of the United States (played by Keith Carradine) following the suspicious death of her predecessor. The President values her apolitical leanings, her deep knowledge of the Middle East, her flair for languages and her ability to not just think outside the box, but to not even acknowledge there is a box.

Your Madam Secretary character reminds me of former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Is she your role model?
“Actually, I would say that my character is reminiscent more of Henry Kissinger. But I think the blonde hair makes everyone think of Hillary Clinton. My character is not based on any previous Secretary of State. But I think I probably stole a little bit from some of the historic figures who have been Secretaries of State including, first and foremost, Madeleine Albright.

“Mostly, I was not thinking about a person so much as I was thinking about a person, whoever he/she is, who has the opportunity to see first-hand the tension around the world. It’s an amazing position to hold. My idea for this character was that she would have no personal judgment. In other words, she doesn’t think of people in terms of evil, she doesn’t judge people that way. I think if you look at people as crazy, that would be the end of diplomacy.”

Madam Secretary marks your return to television after quite a spell. Any hesitation about going back to TV work?
“Well, I did hesitate because I thought of when David was doing The X-Files, I was very aware of how grueling the hours were. But now, I feel that my kids are very much in a place where they could enjoy independence of having me back on a full-time job. After the first week, I wondered if I was too old for game.” (Laughs) “It has taken me a few months to get over that feeling. Now I’m over that hesitation and I found that being back on TV is really fun.”

Why did you choose Madam Secretary as your comeback vehicle?
“You know, it’s not really a comeback. I’ve been going away so often but I don’t think anyone would accept that I was ever coming back in any spectacular fashion. I love to play a character that has ‘fantasy element’ to it, you know, the idea that somebody who is not a politician could have a chance to hold one of the most powerful positions in the world. And what it would be like to be thinking, as the expression goes, out of the box. Also, women on television are really fun right now because there’s so many different women being played on television. These are very exciting times to be working in television.” 

America now has its first Black president (Barack Obama). How do you feel about the possibility…the probability…of America having its first woman president in the near future?
“I’m hopeful that there would be a female American president quite soon. I think if you look at how many women there are in politics, it won’t be a surprise if a woman will lead the country…soon!”

I believe that you have the qualities and the qualifications of a good politician. Hasn’t the idea of running for a public office ever entered your mind?
“Whether or not I have an intention of becoming Secretary of State or holding any high-level political office, my suggestion is: Work on not being elected; don’t support me or my campaign because I’m not cut out for the job and I will be bad at it. That’s No. 1.”

What’s No. 2?
“Well, No. 2 is, if I was elected to a political position, the first thing I would do is probably look less on politics and more on the state of the children. I think that if we educated and supported the next generation, we will have a very, very different future.” (Tea Leoni has two grown-up children with David Duchovny.)

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