Mary-Louise Parker reflects on Amy Gardner's complicated legacy on The West Wing
"It was really about the work that she did that made that character important, not who she was involved with," the actress tells EW.
If you ask Mary-Louise Parker, the first lady’s chief of staff/campaign consultant/White House Director of Legislative Affairs Amy Gardner has a legacy that's much bigger than any romantic drama she had on NBC's iconic political drama The West Wing.
The actress looks back on the role that earned her an Emmy nomination with pride knowing that Amy accomplished so much throughout her career. She also understands that the character's arc ranks as a favorite with fans because of her relationship with Josh Lyman (played by Bradley Whitford). But Parker thinks that when her storyline waded into romance, it got "too soapy."
"I think she's most effective when she's cheerfully annihilating someone," Parker says of Amy's impressive political career. "Young girls, especially a few women who went into politics, have said some really complimentary and moving things to me just about that she had her own kind of sexuality or whatever, but she could still be tough. And she was very clear without apologizing for herself. I tend to apologize for myself a lot, and this character was just refreshing. It was always really nice to hear that because I felt the same."
That doesn't mean Parker isn't still approached by West Wing fans who want to talk about Amy's relationship drama. In fact, she laughs as she recalls many fan interactions that — when not focused on her other career-making, marijuana-slinging role on Weeds — go in that direction... whether she likes it or not. "Sometimes people are like, 'Oh my God, she's stealing him from Donna!'" she says. "But enough women said that it was really about the work that she did that made that character important, not who she was involved with. Even when she was talking about marriage incentives and stuff like that, it was nice to hear that spoken out loud on TV — and just to hear both sides of that argument, which are valid. But that it was a woman bringing it up, it gave it a certain kind of heft in a different way. To hear a woman say that and discuss that issue was incredible."
Even knowing how important it was to see a female character taking on that kind of role on TV at the time, Parker never in a million years expected to receive an Emmy nomination for it. "Not at all," she says with a laugh. "I just was so excited to have such great writing. And every time I got a script from [creator] Aaron [Sorkin], I was thrilled to open it. Even if I wasn't in the script, I was thrilled to read it."
And if playing an empowering role that earned her awards recognition wasn't enough, Parker also made some lifelong friends thanks to her time on The West Wing, which she says mean more to her than anything else. "The night I met Richard Schiff, we ended up at like three in the morning on the roof of a bar watching a meteor shower or some astronomical event," she shares. "He'd probably remember what it was called [laughs], but we just had a bag of apples and that's how we got to know each other. A bunch of people were supposed to meet up and we were the only ones who showed up and we just had the greatest time. It was just the perfect evening."
She pauses, then adds, "I think that was the first night I shot, actually. And I became really close with Eli Attie, one of the writers, and he ultimately asked me to marry he and his wife, which I did. It was the biggest honor in my life. I just felt lucky that they let me be a part of that show, because those relationships are so important to me to this day. I mean, I now have the license to marry people and used it." Amy would be proud.
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The West Wing