How The West Wing star Janel Moloney built her character Donna Moss 'from scratch'
Donna Moss, the jocular assistant and will-they-won't-they love interest of Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), is undoubtedly one of The West Wing's most indelible characters. But she began as little more than a bit part, and series creator Aaron Sorkin credits actress Janel Moloney with giving Donna a life beyond the show's pilot.
"Janel built her role from scratch, basically," Sorkin explained during EW's virtual West Wing cast reunion. "Donna was a character who had two lines in the pilot episode. And when it turned out that we were 20 seconds short or 40 seconds short... [director Thomas Schlamme] and I huddled up, and we said, 'You know, it was really nice when Josh and Donna were talking to each other. Let's just do a little bit more of that.'
"She was in all 22 episodes of the first season, but each week never knew if she was gonna be in the show the next week," Sorkin continued. "She just built herself into one of the leads of the show."
Indeed, Moloney was promoted to the main cast in season 2 and remained for the entire run of the series. Both she and Sorkin cite a moment in the third episode — when Donna takes advantage of an inopportune moment for Josh to ask for a raise — as a key turning point. "I think I quit my job, maybe, after that episode," the actress quipped.
Moloney, for her part, determined to make enough of an impression in each episode to continue to the next one. "Aaron and Tommy knew very well that they were not going to get rid of me," she said. "So I made every morsel — I didn't care if Brad was handing me a piece of paper and I had no lines. I was making a choice, I was making it about something, I was throwing a detail in there. There was no way anyone was gonna send my ass home. That was my goal."
You can watch the full clip above.
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