Just before Political Animals hit the halfway mark in its limited run, James Wolk, who plays younger son Douglas, took the time to speak with a group of reporters about his character and the relationships between Douglas and the rest of his family and friends as Secretary of State Barrish’s silent campaign ramps up.
Question: So tell me about Doug’s relationship with his dad. This weekend’s episode kind of hits a critical point I guess; you guys get in a big old heated argument.
Tell me where all that’s coming from and what’s going to come after.
James Wolk: Yes, so this week the show really takes an interesting turn for Douglas. What’s going to happen in this episode is the audience is going to see where his angst and anger comes from. And a lot of it and what you’ll see play out in the episode is exactly what you’re saying.
The kind of anger he feels towards his dad which is borne out of growing up as a young man watching the infidelity – the rampant infidelity that went all around and his father’s just dishonesty all towards Elaine.
And when Elaine fell to the ground and when Elaine fell to pieces, Douglas was the one that picked her up time and time again. And when she was publicly embarrassed, Douglas was the one that was there for her.
And, you know, he really feels like his father, you know, is responsible for tearing the family apart. And, you know, kind of tarnishing his mother who he holds in such high esteem.
Question: All right. Well you know, you guys sort of come to a – well Douglas has a realization sort of about the last campaign but just that – and you guys come to a sort of agreement on that.
But does that smooth over the whole infidelity thing, like the personal side of it, you know…
James Wolk: Yes…
Question: …or is that going to play out throughout?
James Wolk: It’s such a good question. I mean Douglas loves his dad. You know I love but, you know, and that’s 100%. You know there’s like a thin line between love and hate, you know, that you always hear that phrase and that’s exactly what Douglas feels for his dad.
He loves him and he wants his respect which Bud doesn’t give to him at all but the way, for his own reasons.
And then, you know, combined with that is his anguish for his father’s infidelity. And so it does comes come to him in this episode. We have a big – you know, it kind of all comes to a point and we get into a big screaming match and it’s while we’re away fishing on this kind of fishing trip, all these memories start trickling back to Douglas because we’re kind of jumping back into a campaign.
And that’s when the last time his father really let the family down in a big way in Douglas’ mind is when his dad kind of went AWOL during Elaine’s last campaign.
So all these memories start rushing back to him and he just kind of can’t take it anymore and the pop tops off which I’m so excited for audiences to see because this kind of perfect, pristine guy is really going to crack in this next episode.
Question: Right. And then also the leak – Doug makes the leak and then has second thoughts about it but it looks like you’re sort of over the barrel a little bit.
For the future is that going to – will you have to be pumping information or leaking information throughout the rest of the season?
James Wolk: Oh, the web we weave.
Question: Can you say that?
James Wolk: It’s the web we weave. Man, it gets – yeah, it gets bad; it gets bad for Doug. He kind of – he is totally over the barrel and I think it’s going to be really interesting for audiences to watch him try and navigate the murky waters he’s put himself in.
Question: All right great. I’ll let somebody else talk now. Thanks.
Question: Hi, thanks so much for talking to us today. Can you talk about how you became involved in the show?
James Wolk: Sure. Greg’s script for Political Animals it was a really hot script around town and it was one that was talked about. And, you know, we’re just as excited for the series as I think the kind of community out here was when this script was circulating.
So when the script came to me to read, you know, I (unintelligible) had access to the script. And I had a meeting with Greg and, you know, he kind of talked about where this is going and I expressed what I thought about the character, and I was just so enthused.
And I remember leaving the meeting and just going I hope he feels as excited about this opportunity as I feel. And it happened to work out thankfully and, you know, that was kind of the start of my role in Political Animals.
And at that point nobody had been cast either. It was really early in the process when I came to the project. But it just jumped out at me.
And I love playing characters that seem like they should be perfect on the outside but are just totally screwed up when you kind of pull that veil away, and Douglas had that in (unintelligible).
Question: Okay great. Can you talk a bit about working with Sigourney Weaver?
James Wolk: Sigourney – she’s wonderful. You know she’s a consummate professional. She’s an amazing actress. And kind of what you see and what you think she will be as a person, she lives up to that and more. And it’s a real treat to work with her. You know, you learn a lot from her both behind and in front of the camera of just how to kind of carry yourself on a set.
And it’s a joy, you know. It’s like being a young tennis player and being able to play tennis and volley with the pros. And she is a total pro and it’s a real joy to work with her.
Question: Do you think it’s possible for a politician at such a high level to be a good parent, or is it in the nature of their work to be prone to be self indulgent and selfish?
James Wolk: You know that’s a really good question. The first thing I think of when I think of a politician being a parent is Obama, because he’s constantly, you know, talking about his two daughters and constantly talking about his family.
And so you really do get the idea that he puts family first. And I want to believe that and I think that’s true of him.
What I would imagine and what I’ve learning from playing a neglected son in a political family is that I think there is a lot on the plate of these politicians. And I think that whether it’s, you know – whether it’s a self-centered thing or whether it’s just that hey, this is my profession and it requires so much of my energy, I do think it would be very easy for the children of those politicians to get sidelined unless they were truly made a priority. And I’d like to think that some politicians can do that.
But with out show there’s this great dynamic between Douglas and Elaine where she loves him but she does just kind of expect him to kind of be okay with being pushed to the side because she has so much on her plate.
And it kind of really screws his act and it makes him a total head case which is awesome.
Question: Okay. And do you think the media crosses the line when it comes to the families of public figures, whether it’s photographing the children of celebrities or in the case of your TV brother T.J., reporting his suicide attempt, or do you think its par for the course?
James Wolk: You know I think it’s crossing the line. I think that, you know, that’s the unfortunate part of being in the public eye is that in this day and age with all the social media we have and the easy access to just posting things on line and taking pictures with your phone, there’s really no privacy any more. And I think that people who are in that public eye, whether it be a politician or some other person in the celebrity life, you kind of have to realize that that’s going to come with the job.
And I – you know, it’s unfortunate but that’s the world we live in I think.
Question: Well thanks so much for taking your time to talk to us today. What challenges you about playing Douglas?
James Wolk: I think the challenge – that’s a really good question. I think the greatest challenge playing Douglas is when I first read the script and I saw the character, my only concern was that he was going to be the straight man and that, you know, what can we pull out of him; where can we find conflict in him to make him an interesting character?
And I think that as the scripts have gone on and this series has been written, the challenge I think has become almost like a group effort with the writers as well as myself making him very layered and dimensional.
But initially I thought, well how do you take someone who seems very perfect, because in the pilot episode he does and kind of, you know, tear him down.
And that has been a challenge that I’ve enjoyed rising to because it’s so fun to find the duplicity in Douglas and the kind of screwed up dark nature that he has deep within. But it was a challenge to find it.
Question: Well you have a great relationship on the show with your brother. Can you talk about the dynamic the two of you have.
James Wolk: Yes, Douglas and T.J. are kind of the only people in each other’s lives who they fully trust and who they can always count on. And so it’s been a blast to play that out with Sebastian Stan who’s playing T.J., to kind of find that brother relationship.
You know they’re twins, and so they really – they feel responsible for each other and I think the feel like either one could have gone either way. You know like had one been born before the other or, you know, the – you know, I think they feel like responsible – entirely responsible for each other.
And so that will play out really interestingly in the limited series that we’ll see initially here. And it’s been a joy to play that, you know. They are each other’s rock and they are there for each other through thick and thin.
They both go through some really bad shit, so it’s fun to see them there for each other.
Question: Well as a twin myself it’s definitely a true reality as to how you’re portraying. You know we do feel responsible for each other and look out for each other in that way.
And the show has gotten such great reviews and a lot of fan attention already. What is it you think about the show that really attracts people and makes it such a favorite?
James Wolk: You know I think quite frankly it’s we have such – politicians are such a celebrity in our culture now. You know it’s kind of one in the same, they go along with each other.
And when we watch the news and we watch our President and our senators and, you know, candidates running, they become these celebrities. And then they step away from the camera and they step away from where we’re able to see them very clearly, and you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, you know, unless of course, you know, leaks happen or what have you.
But the point is that with this show, we’re pulling the veil back on this former first family and we’re going – you know, we’re stepping inside where you usually don’t get to follow them and you’re seeing how these pristine people really do have flaws and really do struggle.
And I think it’s really putting the magnifying glass on a portion of it that we don’t get to see in real life but, that we imagine in our heads and that we’re curious about finding out. And I think that’s what so fun about watching this family.
Louise: Good. It’s good to talk to you and it’s good to talk about the show. So, your relationship with Anne- or I should say your character’s relationship with Anne is really interesting to me when I compare it to what I see your relationship to the rest of the family.
Can you talk a little bit about the dynamic of the differences between those two sets of relationships.
James Wolk: Yes, you know, that is very right on; that is very right on. And that is – I think what Douglas has with Anne is very outside of what he has with his family. And I think that is what he is so attracted to in Anne is that, you know, his family is this very tumultuous group of people and there’s so much turmoil within the family.
And they love each other and, you know, they care about each other but it’s a very tough dynamic within the Hammond family. And I think that just comes from being inside that fishbowl; from being inside that pressure cooker.
And when he steps into a room with Anne and when he’s alone with Anne, it’s a real escape for him. And it’s an ability for him to extract himself from this fishbowl that he’s grown up in and kind of relax and kind of put his inhibitions away and just be and be present. And that’s what he enjoys about being with Anne.
Louise: Do you think he’s going to find out a little bit more about her back story? I mean I know we’ve seen her suffer with her own eating disorders. Is that going to play into how open they are with each other?
James Wolk: Well what’s going to happen — I can say this — is that relationship is going to grow and it’s going to evolve.
And there are certain things that happen in the series. They find out about sides of each other they didn’t quite know existed before, and I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how they deal with that. And, you know, how Anne, you know, deals with Douglas when he tells her that his mom is running again and that, you know, he may be a part of this.
And, you know, when Anne came into the picture she was kind of Douglas’ escape from what he does. But Douglas kind of gets sucked back into this political world and it’s really interesting — Brittany does an amazing job of playing this — about how Anne deals with that and how she deals with Douglas kind of turning the tides of the ship back towards his political ambitions.
And I think Doug has also learned a lot about Anne in this series and I think it will be really wonderful to watch that unfold.
Question: Hi again. So before taking on the role did you do any research or, you know, watch any political stuff, for lack of a better word?
James Wolk: Yes I – you know, when I took the role I – right away I went out and I bought Bobby Kennedy’s biography. And I read his biography because Bobby Kennedy was his brother’s Chief of Staff, and he was a very kind of dark character.
I mean we see pictures of Bobby and he’s this very kind of all-American kind of, you know, affable fellow. But what you find out about him is that he was the family bulldog, you know, he really was the runt of the family so it kind of turned him into this just ambitious kind of ruthless guy.
And I thought well how interesting would it be if that’s what Douglas had, you know, if that’s where Douglas came from. And I really read it and I really wanted to take Douglas in that direction and it was something that Greg felt when he created the character as well.
So I immediately went out and bought the biography and it was really helpful in creating the character.
Question: Okay great. And is there anything you’ve learned since you started filming this; whether from an acting standpoint or just in general about yourself?
James Wolk: That’s a good question – what have I learned. You know I’d say from – I’d say I’ve had to go to some really dark places to play Douglas and that’s not always easy to do. But it’s been a wonderful stretch as an actor to go to these really dark places and these unlikable places and it’s been a real great exercise and experience doing that.
Question: Hi again. You talked a little bit about Doug and T.J.’s relationship, but I was wondering is there a point where Doug will just get completely tired of T.J.? Do you think he could ever reach that point of T.J.’s antics and screw-up’s?
James Wolk: Yes, you know, I so badly want him to get sick of T.J.’s antics. Like I actually read it and I’m like come on man, can’t you, you know, say no to T.J., but he can’t.
And he’s so – he puts T.J. in his place and you’ll see that. They come to a head just as, I think, some of the scenes you’ve seen between Bud and Douglas.
But I think once it’s all said and done it just really goes back to that twin thing which is so heartbreaking to see because he just doesn’t have the willpower to completely dismiss his brother. I think he feels so connected to him.
And so that’s an interesting one to navigate. He’s a really good co-dependent; Douglas. He’s terrible in that way.
Question: Mm-hmm. And do you and Sebastian, have you guys sort of bonded and talked about how to play this the way – because it really seems very natural and everything, so I find that interesting.
James Wolk: Thank you. You know we have – the funny thing is — and I can say this candidly — is that we have really; him and I did very little discussion about how to play these characters.
But one thing that happened that was really interesting was right when we got down to Philadelphia to shoot the series we ran into each other in the street. He was moving into his place; I was moving into my place, and we had never met before.
And we immediately – we were just truly like hey, what’s going on. We really bonded and that stayed through the whole series. There was a really great comfort factor between him and I.
And I think that we both knew that was there. We didn’t talk about it, and we just built on that. We were like okay, this is a great starting place for a brotherhood. And it’s been really fun to play with him. He’s a great actor and a great guy.
Question: Cool. And then Doug seems very, you know, calm, cool, collected, and the perfect guy on the surface and obviously that’s not the case. But who do you think is actually more messed up, Doug or T.J.?
James Wolk: I think that Douglas is more messed up because I think he’s keeping it all down below. And if you ask T.J. he would probably say that he thinks T.J. is more messed up.
But I think Douglas has some real – some real shit going on with him. I think he needs to get a psychiatrist fast, but unfortunately he won’t and it kind of all comes out.
Question: All right. And how do you think he sort of cultivated his sort of hero complex that he has where he wants to take care of everybody and everything?
James Wolk: It started with his father’s infidelity. I think it started with just growing up, and I think two things played into it. I think it was his father’s infidelity and having to take care of his mom, and I think it was T.J. being the squeaky wheel of the two and him kind of being sidelined by that; so not getting the attention he wanted from his parents.
And I think it’s, you know, it’s always – and I don’t just want to make it a mommy and daddy problem that he’s dealing with here, but it’s borne out of that. I mean he’s such – he cares so much about his family that it’s borne out of that. But then it grows and that’s just like the seed for it.
And I think when the audience meets him in this series he has a total hero complex that gets the best of him quite frankly.
Question: Hey. When you saw the cast on paper; when you realized who you were going to be working with, was it like all your Christmases had come at once?
James Wolk: Yes, it really was. It’s such a great cast. I was really, really happy. These guys are awesome and they do everything from film to theater to TV and they’re just real actors. So I couldn’t believe it had all come together in such a great way.
Question: That’s cool. And do you think that you’ll ever have any desire to run for office in your lifetime?
James Wolk: You know I don’t think so. I have a lot of respect for the role of someone in office and I think it’s amazing when people come in to that place with true ambitions of helping people and changing the world for a better place.
But I don’t think that I will run for office. No, I don’t think so.
Question: I apologize if this has been asked; I got disconnected for a minute a little while ago but, the show is, you know, just is a six part miniseries that’s airing this summer but I already want to keep going with these characters. Has there been any talk of extending it past this run?
James Wolk: You are so kind. It has not been asked yet. You know we are all open to the possibility of it extending. And, you know, it was such a joy to make this miniseries, and I mean that in its truest sense and I’m so happy that you feel that way as well in watching it.
And I think that we’re all excited for that possibility and hope, you know, that we do get the chance to unravel this world even more.
Question: Hi again. So talking about if you would get, you know, another season or whatever, if it was up to you and you were writing it, what would you like to see happen to Douglas if it could be anything?
James Wolk: You know if it was up to me, we have such great writers; we really do. One of them in fact wrote a play that I starred in with him just this year. And so we have these guys that come from theater; they come from everywhere you could possibly want — film, TV — and they are writing the hell out of these characters.
I really couldn’t imagine bringing anything more to them than they’ve created and I mean that. I mean they blow me away every week. When we get these scripts it’s like opening up a Christmas present. And you open it up and you can’t wait to see what’s happening with your character and where it’s going and some stuff that shocks you happens.
I remember when – did you see last week’s episode when Douglas spills the beans?
James Wolk: In that episode I remember Ellen Burstyn running up to me with the script in her hand and going, “I can’t believe it; I can’t believe what you did.” And we really like just have – well we just can’t wait to get these scripts. And so I’ll just go where the writers take me.
Question: I just had a quick question. You know a lot of actors – George Clooney, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck – are really vocal when it comes to politics. And, you know, they kind of get ragged on it sometimes because people don’t feel like actors and politicians should mix.
James Wolk: Yes.
Question: Do you feel like being on a show like this gives like pressure for you to have an opinion in the upcoming election year? And how do you feel about that?
James Wolk: Well I think first and foremost that for those actors that do really have a voice in politics, I think that, you know, at a certain point you have the bully pulpit. You have the ability to speak because you’re in a place with you in the public eye.
And I think if you have something intelligent to say and you’re passionate about what you feel, then by all means I think it’s okay to speak. So – but I don’t think that there should be a responsibility that necessarily comes with being in the public eye of having to speak about politics.
And so for me personally, you know, I’m educated in politics; I follow it. I wouldn’t say by any means that I’m a political junkie. But I just feel like in this upcoming election, whether or not I was on this show I would definitely have an opinion either way. And I might not necessarily share it though because I’m on the show.
Question: I know Greg [Barlanti] has been – I mean have you ever seen his Jack and Bobby; the one that he did about two brothers?
James Wolk: Yes, the one that was on a couple of years ago about Jack…
Question: Yes, yes.
James Wolk: Yes. You know I have to be honest, I have seen it. I wasn’t – I didn’t follow it regularly but I had seen it. This was a couple of years back. Yes, I am familiar with it.
Question: Right, right. And, you know, I was listening to it and I realized that I didn’t know that you guys are twins. And that really creates an interesting dynamic, and you guys went as a family, you guys went through the father’s infidelity together, but you came out so differently.
And I see that in my own family that I have a sister who experienced the same thing, but we had such a different take on any events or incidents. And I – what do you think, because you’re older brother; is that correct?
James Wolk: We’re twins. I’m actually…
Question: You don’t know which one is the older?
James Wolk: No, I’m three minutes younger than him.
Question: Younger; oh okay, okay.
James Wolk: Yes.
Question: But why do you think you had such a different – you feel more responsible for the family or why do you think you’re so – in two different, I mean, extremes?
James Wolk: Well I think that T.J. and Douglas, they are as you see them in the show, totally different. And yet as you’ll see as the show progresses, there is actually a line where Douglas says to T.J., you know, we’re not that different, you and I.
Because the truth of the matter is that Douglas, his perfect, you know, pristine exterior starts to crack and he really does become unraveled as the show goes on.
James Wolk: But I think that each of them found themselves in these two positions – Douglas as the caretaker of the family; T.J. kind of as a drug user.
James Wolk: And I think that they both came from places of hurt and places of being frightened and it just manifested in different ways.
Question: Different ways.
James Wolk: and one of them said okay, I’m going to fix this, and the other guy said I’m going to – I don’t want to speak for T.J., but maybe he said I’m going to fix it or I’m going to find a way to deal with it and they just went in different directions with it as you can see.
Question: I think you’re right on. And the other thing is your fiancé, is she supposed to be Japanese?
James Wolk: She is Japanese, Anne Ogami.
James Wolk: Yes, yes.
James Wolk: Except she was born in California in the show.
Question: Oh, okay. We usually, when you don’t have a real good role model – parent wise, you usually go from one extreme to another.
Because you have a very unfaithful father, do you think you picked Anne because she has this very — what’s the word I’m looking for — kind of submissive, women’s role model type culture; a woman so that you can control her?
James Wolk: I think as you’ll see in the show that they actually a very equal partnership. No one is walking in front or behind, they’re walking kind of together side by side.
And he actually looks to her for strength and they are each other’s kind of rock in the show. And she really becomes a friend in a big way.
Question: So I hear that you get to show us some of your DJ moves from your days in Michigan in an upcoming episode.
James Wolk: I just spoke about that this morning. Yes, that is true. I can’t tell you what happens though, but coming down the line, I think Douglas has a drink or two and he lets his guard down and that comes out. Yes.
Question: Now the last time we saw him let his guard down, he sort of slept through his dad’s appearance in the last campaign. Is something bad going to happen?
James Wolk: You know what Curt, I would just say stay tuned – stay tuned.
Question: All right. And was it fun to get to do your DJ stuff?
James Wolk: Oh yes, it was fun and embarrassing. I think I had a flashback to like the late 90s and it was definitely fun.
Question: All right, cool. All right, thanks.
James Wolk: Thanks man.
Louise: So you were talking a little bit a earlier about the relationship you have between you and T.J. as it opposed your relationship with your parents.
Can you talk a little bit about why your relationship is different that T.J.’s with your grandmother?
James Wolk: T.J. is really close with my Nana; is that what you were referring to?
Louise: Yes. Like T.J. is really close to her and you don’t seem as close and I’m wondering why that is and is that sort of borne of your – of Douglas’ need to kind of fix things or is that borne of T.J.’s sort of dependence on somebody to kind of make him feel better?
James Wolk: Well I think it’s really a – I think Margaret, the character being played by Ellen Burstyn, I think she has a quiet strength in her. And she herself is kind of always looking over the family and taking care of the family.
And little does everyone – does anyone know, that Douglas probably needs a lot of caretaking, but it seems like he can take care of himself.
So I think that Margaret really reaches across the table to T.J., because she sees the anxiety and the fear in him. And I think that she came from a life, you know, she was a dancer — a go-go dancer in Vegas; Margaret — and I think she’s been around a lot of alcoholics. She’s been around a lot of addicts.
And so she really reaches across the table to take care of T.J. as best as she can. And I think that Douglas’ job and his role in family as the strength and as the caretaker kind of, you know, doesn’t make him, you know, an easy person to take care of. You know, he kind of pushes that away a little bit and I think that’s why you’re seeing a difference between those two relationships.
Louise: Okay, thank you so much.
James Wolk: Yes, thank you.
James Wolk: All right, thanks everybody. Take care. Have a great day.
Watch Political Animals Sundays at 10/9c on USA.