See The West Wing administration reunite in EW's exclusive portraits
The West Wing wants you... to vote
More than 20 years after The West Wing debuted, EW got the cast and creator of NBC's beloved political drama to reunite to help get out the vote in this crucial election year — and to reminisce on filming the iconic series and as well as the upcoming West Wing special (set to air this fall on HBO Max) to benefit When We All Vote, Michelle Obama’s nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to registering everyone to vote.
Martin Sheen (President Bartlet)
For our socially distanced West Wing reunion, each cast member was shot individually and later composited together in postproduction. The shoot required masks, temperature checks, and reconfigured studio spaces to maximize distance between the few people on set.
But when it came to POTUS himself — Martin Sheen's Josiah "Jed" Bartlet — we took extra care. Artist Tim O’Brien was hired to paint a portrait of Sheen, 80, and EW caught up with the actor via Zoom. "It’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my acting career," he says. "I always think of it with gratitude and humility. I’m often asked would I have done it if the president had been a Republican. I responded even today to that question the way I did 20 years ago and said, 'If Aaron Sorkin wrote him, I would play it.' Because the chief part of the character that I responded to and I think is projected in almost every episode is a level of humanity, a level of compassion, a great sense of curiosity and self-effacement."
Aaron Sorkin (creator)
"The whole idea behind The West Wing was that in pop culture, our elected officials are portrayed either as Machiavellian or dolts," Aaron Sorkin says, looking back on the origins of his four-time Emmy-winning series. "So I wanted to create this very unusual workplace: the White House where the people who work there were as competent as the doctors and nurses on a hospital show or the detectives on a cop show or the lawyers on a lawyer show. And they were going to lose as much as they were going to win. And they were going to slip on banana peels from time to time, but we were going to be certain of two things: One, they’re hyperconfident; and two, they wake up every morning thinking about how to do something better."
Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg)
"She is my favorite character I’ve ever played because she’s someone that I aspire to," Allison Janney says of her role as White House press secretary. "I wish I could be C.J. People come up to me all the time and say they changed their majors in college, they went into public service because of C.J., and I get it. She’s a wonderful character, she’s not afraid to speak truth to power. She’s a woman in a traditionally male-populated arena in the White House and she was given the president’s ear. And it’s a great role to champion women. She’s such an amazing character. She’s the one I most want to be like and who I’m most not like."
Dulé Hill (Charlie Young)
When reminiscing on his favorite scene from all seven seasons, Dulé Hill chose a moment from season 2, episode 8. "The scene with Martin [Sheen's President Barlet] in 'Shibboleth' where he gave me the knife," the actor says. "That still, to this day, warms my heart because I feel like it really cemented the relationship between Charlie and Bartlet as a father-and-son-type relationship."
Rob Lowe (Sam Seaborn)
"One of the reasons why The West Wing resonated so much for me on a personal level was — maybe it’s corny — I really believe in all things that are truisms about our country," Rob Lowe says as he thinks about the show's message in 2020. "If you’re not going to vote, then you don’t have a dog in the fight and you shouldn’t complain. Empowering people to vote, making it easier for people to vote, is a total no-brainer. I’ve been working on it for many years and it feels like it becomes more important with each passing election cycle."
Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman)
"The last time I was in D.C., an exhausted young guy who was clearly a Hill staffer came up to me and said, 'I just want you to know that you’re the reason I went into politics,' and I said, 'Oh, that’s really sweet. I appreciate that,'" Bradley Whitford recalls. "And he said, 'Actually, I’m exhausted, I’m broke, and I don’t think I’m ever going to kiss Mary-Louise Parker.' And I said, 'I don’t think that’s going to happen.' It’s very easy to be cynical about politics. And what I’m proudest of is that the show is not cynical about public service. And it’s very dangerous to be cynical about politics and public service because politics isn’t just another genre. Politics is the way we create our moral vision, and we cannot afford to be cynical about it. So I hope we’ve inspired people to go into politics with the understanding that it is an honorable, urgent exercise that requires all of their moral capacity and talents."
Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler)
Richard Schiff, who starred as White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler throughout the entire series, remembers the season 6 episode "Drought Conditions" as being "tough" because, as Toby mourns the death of his brother, he ends up in a physical fight with Josh in front of a crowd of shocked White House staffers. "It was a very difficult acting job, and it was a painful one," Schiff says. "And there were a couple of scenes with Allison, with whom anyone else it would have been that much harder to accomplish. I was always grateful that Allison, we had that connection."
Janel Moloney (Donna Moss)
The West Wing is remembered for many things, but perhaps one of its biggest pop culture influences is Sorkin's love of the "walk-and-talk" scenes. "The walking-and-talking scenes are the easiest scenes to do, because you don’t have to act," Janel Moloney remembers. "All you have to do is say [your lines] and not run into the cameraman and it’s just like you’re brilliant."
Marlee Matlin (Joey Lucas)
"All the years before West Wing, I would always play deaf victims or sympathetic characters, or talked about being deaf and the sign language and it got so old," Marlee Matlin says. "But when the show came into my life, I thought, 'Wait a minute, how is he going to write this? Joey Lucas is a pollster. In the history of television, there’s never been a deaf pollster.' And he just happened to make her deaf and he was willing to think outside the box. And that’s what I loved about that character. For the [rest of my time on the show] there was never a discussion in the script why my character was deaf, why she did what she did. It was just who she was."
Joshua Malina (Will Bailey)
"It just taught a lot of people a lot of stuff about how the government works," Joshua Malina, who joined the series in season 4, says of the show's impact. "And I would not exclude myself from that group as a fan of the show prior to being on it. And then once I was involved in it, there was always something or some issue that I would learn more about or dig deeper into because of the series. I’ve had so many people say, 'Because of The West Wing, I studied poli-sci and now I’m writing speeches,' or 'I’m a community activist.' I always say, 'Thank you and all credit to Aaron,' because he’s the one who really deserves it. But it is very satisfying to have been part of something that has affected so many people in such a positive way."
Mary McCormack (Kate Harper)
Mary McCormack joined the series as a recurring role in season 5 as Deputy National Security Advisor and ex-CIA officer Kate Harper before becoming a series regular for the final two seasons. "My [daughter] Margaret, who's 15 now, I was pregnant with her when I joined The West Wing," McCormack says. "And she was born and I came back to work seven days later and everyone held her. I held a rosary that Martin gave me when I gave birth to her. And then I came back and it was such a family. And I still consider them my family. We’re still all in touch all the time. And we’re activists together and we help each other, we’re at funerals and weddings and baby showers."
—Reporting by J.D. Heyman, Lynette Rice, and Ethan Bellows
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And to register for the upcoming election and find other voting resources, visit When We All Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring everyone is registered to vote.