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EW Reunion: 'The West Wing'

Cast members reflect on seven years in the White House

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The West Wing, Allison Janney, ...
James Sorensen/NBC

It’s a blistering Sunday morning, drifting well past 90 degrees by 9 a.m., certainly no time to be hanging out behind a dive bar in East Los Angeles. And yet there’s Martin Sheen, happily catching up with his TV daughter, Elisabeth Moss, whom he hasn’t seen since The West Wing‘s 2006 series finale. (Moss has been busy since then; the next day, she’ll begin shooting the finale of Mad Men‘s fourth season.) Mrs. Landingham — er, Desperate Housewives‘ Kathryn Joosten — chats in the shade with Stockard Channing and Dulé Hill, who has a rare day off from shooting USA’s Psych. In a few hours, Bradley Whitford has to catch a plane to get back to the Dallas set of Fox’s The Good Guys, but he takes the time to watch a video of Janel Moloney’s new baby on her iPhone. Allison Janney sums up everyone’s feelings with a soft smile: ”It feels like coming home, to be hanging out here on a Sunday morning.” (Unfortunately, Richard Schiff and Rob Lowe were unavailable; Lowe tweeted a shout-out to his former castmates in his absence: ”Shooting I Melt With You in Big Sur keeping me from the West Wing reunion photo shoot for EW. Miss you, old friends. Wish I could be there.”)

From 1999 to 2006, the Emmy-laden NBC drama managed to make government sexy and stirring, while also humanizing the people behind politics. ”We were on the air at a time when there was a lot of discomfort in the country,” says Sheen. ”That was the most gratifying part of the whole thing, that we served as a measure of inspiration.”

1 Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg)

”She’s the most competent, wonderful, smart character I’ve ever gotten to play,” says Janney, 50, of the press-secretary (turned chief of staff) role that won her four Emmys. But that didn’t help the actress fend off her practical-joke-happy costars — especially Joshua Malina (speechwriter Will Bailey). ”He hid a fish in my trailer,” says Janney, who will next star with Matthew Perry on ABC’s sitcom Mr. Sunshine. ”He changed my [car’s] navigation system to Spanish, and I couldn’t figure out how to [fix] it. He put mayonnaise on my car handle. He was just ruthless.”

2 Martin Sheen (President Josiah ”Jed” Bartlet)

Little-known fact: During The West Wing‘s seventh (and ultimately final) season, exec producer John Wells already had designs for President Bartlet’s years outside the Oval Office. ”I learned that John Wells was in preliminary discussions with another network about carrying the show into another season,” explains Sheen, 70. The sudden death of John Spencer (Leo McGarry) on Dec. 16, 2005, however, took the wind out of everyone’s sails for continuing the show, ”which was just as well,” says Sheen. ”But in those talks, [Bartlet] was considered to be a kind of Jimmy Carter character who would be an international ombudsman on behalf of the United States. I would travel to foreign countries, maybe to observe fair elections or to serve in whatever capacity for peace and justice that could be done there.” The actor, a fierce Notre Dame fan who successfully lobbied to make the university Bartlet’s alma mater, stops to chuckle. ”And I would have [had] a chair at Notre Dame, which is the part I like the most.”

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3 Stockard Channing (Abigail Bartlet)

Playing the president’s wife did not make life off screen any easier. ”I did have a security officer take a fork out of my [carry-on] luggage at Dublin Airport,” explains Channing, 66. ”Grinning saucily, he said he hated to take anything away from the First Lady, but he took it anyway. Thank God it wasn’t a knife, or I might have made a headline. Luckily, I had a backup fork in another bag.”

4 Elisabeth Moss (Zoey Bartlet)

Moss spent a lot of time on set with Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk tap dancer Dulé Hill, who played her on-again, off-again boyfriend Charlie Young. ”I’d like to believe that they ended up together,” says Moss, 28. ”It was never resolved. I thought they had a sweet romance…. I had so much fun with Dulé and his tap dancing. All. The. Time. The man in dress shoes, in a suit, would be tap-dancing. Eventually they just would bring in a board so he could tap on [that].”

5 Dulé Hill (Charlie Young)

”We’d always go to D.C.” for location shoots, recalls Hill, 35. ”One of my biggest memories is playing basketball in front of the White House with Richard, Brad, Martin, and [NBA star] Juwan Howard. I had just gotten the [role] about a month before. Before that I was unemployed and almost out of money, and now I’m playing basketball at 1 o’clock in the morning in front of the White House.”

6 Kathryn Joosten (Delores Landingham)

To research her role as President Bartlet’s beloved personal secretary, Joosten wrote a letter to her counterpart in the Clinton administration, Betty Currie. ”Because my script would always say ‘Mrs. Landingham is doing whatever it is she does,’ ” laughs Joosten, 70. ”But she never answered.” About a year later, during the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, the actress finally met Currie at a party for the Democrats on the West Wing set. ”I said, ‘Hey, I wrote you a letter.’ She said [curtly], ‘Yes. I know you did.’ ” Turns out the Lewinsky scandal had affected the fake White House, too.

7 & 8 Bradley Whitford & Janel Moloney (Josh Lyman and Donna Moss)

As the deputy chief of staff and his unflappable assistant, respectively, Whitford, 51, and Moloney, 41, perfected the delivery of creator Aaron Sorkin’s famous screwball-speedy banter. They clearly haven’t lost their touch.

EW What would Josh and Donna be up to now?

JM I don’t think they got married; I think they were just living together.

BW I’m thinking we got married. And am I, like, working at a think tank?

JM Sure. What am I doing?

BW I think you were working at the think tank until the kid came.

JM [Laughs] Okay.

EW Do you have any favorite episodes?

BW [To Moloney] Do you watch them?

JM Never. My dad had Bravo on and I walked by — it was Thanksgiving morning, I’ll never forget — and saw myself on camera, Donna was going, and I had no idea what was coming up next.

BW I’ve seen Aaron recently, and he’ll mention the title of the episode, which is completely meaningless to me.

What would President Bartlet’s staff be up to today? The cast answers that question at ew.com/reunionsvideo