It was only then that I discovered that there are people who blame The West Wing for a false expectation we have that Republicans will do the right thing, which blows my mind that The West Wing would be blamed for anything at all. I had no idea that an off-the-cuff answer that seems simple enough to me would trouble people, but I guess it did.
It sounds like you’re in charge of the GOP now. Congratulations!
I guess I am. So, I’ll revise my answer: In my romantic and idealistic world, Donald Trump loses the election, refuses to accept the results, and the world explodes. I’ll change it to that.
People have been begging you to bring The West Wing back for years now. And given that it’s apparently to blame for our political problems, the reunion special should fix everything that’s wrong with America—or at least show us what a proper press secretary does. How did the idea to restage “Hartsfield’s Landing” come about?
It started as something much smaller, shortly after March 13, which is when all theaters in America shut down. There’s an organization called The Actors Fund, which helps out anybody who works in the theater—not just actors, but crews, front-of-house, everybody. I have a play currently on Broadway which is suspended, just like everyone else. So I was asked to do a benefit for The Actors Fund.
I thought: I’ll get The West Wing cast together and we’ll just do a Zoom table read of one of our episodes, and we’ll raise some money for The Actors Fund. But then the ground which had been shifting beneath our feet for a while shifted very dramatically with the protests over the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor—and many of those protestors were being met by police with tear gas and nightsticks. As worthy an organization as The Actors Fund is, I think the moment calls for something bigger. So we partnered with When We All Vote, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Get Out the Vote operation, and I brought in Tommy Schlamme, the principal director of The West Wing.
We took an episode that ends up being an ode to voting and restaged it at a theater in Downtown LA. We didn’t change a word of it, it’s just been restaged as a play, and then we filmed that play in the style of modern Playhouse 90. During the act breaks, where you’d ordinarily see commercials, we get to hear from people—everyone from President Clinton and Mrs. Obama to Samuel L. Jackson and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marlee Matlin, Elisabeth Moss. They hit different points about voting in what I hope is an entertaining, inspiring, and helpful way.
As an American citizen and a voter, do you think there is any chance that the election could end without some sort of major conflict that ends up in the Supreme Court?
We’ve been told over and over that there will not be a peaceful transfer of power. We’ve been told that. We’ve been given a three-week heads up that men with bad intentions and box cutters are boarding passenger planes. We’ve been given a three-week heads up that enemy planes are headed toward Pearl Harbor. He’s been laying the groundwork for almost a year to say that “it was rigged.” I don’t know what happens after that.
I’ll just hope for the Trump version of All the President’s Men to come out in a few months.
Here’s the thing about these last four years: Certainly, writers are going to write a lot about it. Not just journalists like you, but playwrights, screenwriters, and television writers; they’re going to write a lot about it. But my prediction is that you’ll hardly ever see Trump as an on-screen character. He’ll have to be an off-screen character. You’ll have to see him in news footage on the TV because he’s simply implausible as a character. You don’t buy him. You can have heroes, and you can have villains. You can have protagonists and anti-heroes and antagonists. But there’s no such thing as an interesting character who doesn’t have a conscience. You can’t work with that, so you can’t have that character. Because he will look like Alec Baldwin on SNL every time.