Saturday, November 1, 2014

[Transcript] "Madam Secretary" Fall Preview on TV Guide - Téa Leoni Interview - September 2014


MORE THAN THREE decades after Helen Gurley Brown famously assured women they could have it all, television is still looking to prove it’s true. The high-stakes political drama Madam Secretary stars Téa Leoni as CIA analyst–turned–college professor Elizabeth McCord, a wife and mother who is suddenly thrust upon the world stage when she is appointed U.S. Secretary of State. With three women having successfully held the post in real life—Madeleine Albright (who consulted on the series), Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton—no one these days should be wondering if women are right for the job. And, if you are, this show will leave you in the dust. “The guys on the Hill certainly had their concerns about Secretary Albright— in fact, they really gave her trouble—but we do not give that sort of thing even a minute of air,” Leoni says.
“We skip over Elizabeth’s Senate hearings and confirmation altogether and move right into the action.” And why not? “One could make a very good argument that women are particularly well-equipped to serve as Secretary of State,” the actress says. “We traditionally excel at diplomacy because we are not raised to solve problems with a right hook.”

The series does veer from recent history by having Elizabeth wrestle with complex global issues—such as the kidnapping of Americans in Syria—while also dealing with school-age children at home,
something Albright, Rice, and Clinton never had to worry about. “Women lead very full lives, but TV usually only shows us a quarter of it,” says Leoni, a single mom with two children from her former marriage to David Duchovny. “Right now, as I’m sitting at home doing this interview, I have texts coming in on my iPad about my 15-year-old daughter, whom I need to get to the orthopedist in 45 minutes to have her ankle X-rayed. Then I need to swing by the set and get fitted for a ball gown for a big scene coming up. Meanwhile, my cat is blowing chunks all over the house. That’s life—one big juggling act—but somehow the important stuff still gets done.”

Well done, in the case of Madam Secretary. The plot kicks off with the current Secretary of State dying in a plane crash and President Conrad Dalton (Keith Carradine) asking Elizabeth, not a woman who traffics in self-doubt, to take the position. “Elizabeth is supremely qualified for the job,” says creator Barbara Hall (Homeland, Joan of Arcadia). “She is a Washington, D.C., outsider with great knowledge of international relations—especially those in the Middle East—but she’s not a lifetime politician. She’s not seeking higher office. She has only one agenda: To make the world a better, safer place.” Elizabeth’s confidence and disregard for protocol “may come off as arrogance,” Leoni says, “but it’s really her belief that this country can and must do better. She has a lot of hope.” Not to mention backup. Elizabeth’s State Department team includes Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers) as Chief of Staff Nadine Tolliver, Patina Miller (Broadway’s Pippin) as press coordinator Daisy Grant, Geoffrey Arend (Body of Proof) as speechwriter Matt Mahoney, and Erich Bergen (Jersey Boys) as trusty assistant Blake Moran. The fireworks are supplied by Zeljko Ivanek (True Blood) as the president’s pugnacious chief of staff, Russell Jackson— but don’t expect any from Elizabeth’s husband, Henry McCord, an übercool professor of religious studies played by Tim Daly (Private Practice).

In a twist so refreshing it’s radical, the McCords have a well-oiled, fully functional marriage. It’s not that they don’t clash, but when they do, it’s fabulously mature, intelligent, respectful. “We see so many bad marriages on TV, especially those where the woman is successful and the man is threatened by it,” Daly says. “I love getting to play a partnership that’s powerful and supportive. It’ll be really interesting to watch, maybe even inspiring.” There’s a big difference, he notes, “between portraying a relationship that’s all roses and rainbows and kitties and candy and the one Elizabeth and Henry have, where the problems are real and serious but never a deal-breaker. These two are in it to win it.” Henry’s expertise in religion—especially ideological and violent extremism—will make him an ideal pillow-talk partner for Elizabeth. And only Elizabeth. “People already want to know if Henry will start shtupping coeds by the fifth episode,” Leoni says. “Now, if I were a guy, I’d be really offended by that. In fact, I’d be offended by a lot of the depictions of men on television. We always hear that behind every great man is an even greater woman, but we’re also told that behind every great woman is a scoundrel or someone so thrown by his wife’s accomplishments that he can’t take it. We are going to challenge that.” Though Madam Secretary is rife with mystery, conspiracy, and interoffice turmoil, the show’s creator feels no need to soap it up and make it Scandal. “International politics is fascinating enough,” Hall says.

“We will draw back the curtain and bring the audience right into the inner sanctum to see how it all happens.” In a nonpartisan way, of course. “We show you how they make the sausage, along with a lot of humor and humanity, a lot of ego and trial and error, but the words Republican and Democrat are never mentioned,” Leoni says. “We’ve gotten into a habit in this country of saying, ‘I’m right and you’re crazy!’ and that’s unforgivable. It’s time to show that real discussion and debate are possible.” 
—Michael Logan

[Editor's Choice]
MATT’S TAKE Even when she seems to be playing the too-good wife, Leoni brings an unaffected and alluring authority to this classy political procedural. More, please, of her frosty clashes with Zeljko Ivanek, a most worthy adversary.

source: TV Guide Magazine. September 21, 2014

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