Rob Lowe remembers how The West Wing cast was 'treated like the Beatles' in Washington
As part of Entertainment Weekly's exclusive reunion special featuring Aaron Sorkin and the cast of The West Wing, we had a chance to catch up with Rob Lowe to talk about his memorable run as Sam Seaborn and what it was like to work on such an iconic series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What's it feel like knowing that people are binging The West Wing these days?
ROB LOWE I think the comfort food element to The West Wing is one of the things that I love, as well as how people are finding solace, inspiration, protection — whatever adjective you want to use — in it. It's kind of remarkable that after 20-plus years, it still has the ability to comfort people and inspire people.
Do you think if the show was launched today, it would look and sound the same?
Boy. One has to wonder what effect The West Wing paved the way for all of the political programming, what affect it had on the landscape. Whether it's House of Cards or Veep, I think the show would not be received the same way today because it was so revolutionary then. I think today's West Wing would have to be a little more funny. I always thought The West Wing was really funny, Sam always had a lot of funny lines. That was my instrument I got to play in the orchestra. My guess was if The West Wing were making its mark today for the first time, I think the orchestra would be playing slightly more ironic and funny memes because of all the political stuff that has come since The West Wing.
When we think back at Sam, I don't remember a flawed man at all. He seemed pretty perfect. What were his flaws, if he had any?
That's Aaron's thing, Aaron is the master — his Mark Zuckerberg [interpretation in The Social Network] notwithstanding — of writing people who seemingly have no flaws.
He gave you so much to memorize back then. Did you ever want to go, "Aaron? Can I just simply say no in the scene?"
Oh no. I think Aaron used to take great pleasure in keeping it convoluted. Everybody in the cast wouldn't have ended up on the show if we had not had the facility for it. My blind spot were names, numbers, and military insignias. If you ever want to have a drinking game, go back in the West Wing, and watch the amount times [Sam] would say, "Lieutenant Colonel John Jameson third rank." That was Aaron's way of having fun with me.
Did you have to wear a shirt and tie every day on set? I mean, I don't think I ever remember seeing Sam in gym shorts.
We were always excited when any of us got to wear anything other than our suits and tie. Aaron loved putting us in black tie. I think I might've worn a Princeton or a Duke T-shirt once or twice and they were some of my prized possessions because they were so rare.
What was it like working with John Spencer?
Johnny and I just connected. I'm in recovery, Johnny was also in recovery. So we really had a deep connection. He made me laugh. Oh my god, that man was funny. By the way, everybody from the cast was hilarious. Johnny was my favorite actor on the show, for sure. I used to just marvel and be so excited to watch what that man could do with the words, "Thank you, Mr. President." He could make those three words say anything. He was fun, full of life, and probably the only person I ever met who drank more caffeine than I did.
What do you remember about being on the Warner Bros. lot? Were you guys the rock stars?
At least during the first year of West Wing, we were shooting Friday nights into the sunrise of Saturday morning. Everybody would watch the Friends stage. They would roll up in their Ferraris and Rolls Royces, Bentleys and Maseratis. I would wave, and they would wave. I just remember those guys had it so cush.
I remember one year at the New York upfronts when the cast was brought out on stage at Radio City Music Hall and there was a huge standing ovation.
I'll never forget it. I remember exactly. I think there might have been two instances. The one that was really amazing was the Radio City upfront the year we were debuting. Everybody knew the pilot but they hadn't seen the show. They didn't know it was going to be a hit. To get a standing ovation for a pilot was insane. Then in year two when we came out and did it again, it really did feel like we were the Rolling Stones. When we went to Washington it felt like we were the Beatles.
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