Both reporters and political press reps will admit that the relationship between the two can be frustrating – even adversarial – at times.Constance Zimmer gets to see it from both sides – or at least her characters do – with her dueling roles as a D.C. journalist and a campaign spokesperson.
After playing seasoned political correspondent Janine Skorsky on Netflix's "House of Cards," Zimmer starts her turn as Mitt Romney's fictional campaign spokesperson, the chipper Taylor Warren, on Sunday's episode of "The Newsroom." She spoke to U.S. News about playing both characters at once, attending the White House Correspondents Dinner and what Hollywood and Washington have in common.
How did you become involved with the show?
[Creator] Aaron Sorkin asked me to come in and do a two-episode arc, which is what my character Taylor Warren was originally supposed to be. And when you get a call from Aaron Sorkin, you don't say "no." Even though I had said "no" in the past because I was just never available and the timing never worked out. This time, the timing worked out perfectly and I was really excited about playing this character, because it was the complete opposite of what I had just been doing on "House of Cards."
What's the feel of "The Newsroom" set like?
What happens when you work on a show that has a very specific creator is that the second you walk on, you feel it. I was very nervous because they had already done a full season and I was walking into something that was very specific in dialogue and in character. But I found it very easy to slide into, because everybody is a team and they're so welcoming. They're ready to embrace this new character that is going to come in and shift things and affect different characters in different ways. Aaron is always at all the rehearsals and the read-throughs, so you want to make sure you are doing everything the way he envisioned it. It's always nice having a showrunner on hand who is the writer, which is the same thing on "House of Cards" with [creator] Beau Willimon. It's their vision and it's their words, and you always want to make sure you're doing it the way they dreamed of it.
What does it feel to play the opposite side of the political press-spokesperson equation?
It's really been great. I'm playing the liberal journalist, fighting the good fight against social media on "House of Cards." Then I'm playing Taylor Warren [on "The Newsroom"], who is a Republican conservative – but not crazy conservative – and having it be two different worlds. They are of course very similar, but yet it's their humanity that makes them different. Being able to dive into the world of Republicans when I had just spent a whole season being very liberal and being very Democratic, it created a really great place for me. Because I was shooting both shows at the same time, I would get on the "House of Cards" set and they were like, "What are you doing? You're being very over the top and Janine is not over the top." I was like, "I'm sorry, I'm my other character."
Since "House of Cards" came out, what has been the reaction you've encountered from people who work in politics?
I was lucky to be at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and I have to say I didn't realize how many people in politics and in D.C. were obsessed with the show. It was probably the biggest form of flattery and compliments. Across the board, we were all given praise for representing and, for me specifically, praised by a lot of journalists and people at BuzzFeed – which Slugline [the blog Janine writes for] is a little based on – doing social media. They were excited that I was representing old school writing and trying to get your facts versus just putting it out there and making mistakes. We were all very, very blown away by the reaction, even from someone like Chris Matthews. They knew all of our names, knew all of our characters, and asked us very specific, detailed questions about, "How did you do this?" and "How did you come up with this?" and "Where did this come from?" It was phenomenal to walk into a world that I don't know very much about and feel like we were one of them, like we were part of D.C. politics even though we were just actors on a TV show.
Did you care about politics before you took on these roles?
Not as much as I probably should. I'm kind of a "Daily Show," Bill Maher junkie. I listen NPR and I still get the New York Times paper delivered to my door, even though I live in L.A. I would think I am little bit more aware of politics and personalities now than I was before. But I'm still not well versed in it. I would be terrified if Bill Maher was like, "Hey, do you want to come on the show?" I would be like, "Oh, God." It would completely terrify me even though I'm such a junkie for the show. I think I brush the surface of being involved politically with the issues and the personalities in the news.
As someone who works in Hollywood and played a Hollywood agent on "Entourage," how does D.C. compare to Washington?
They all have their similarities. I think that specifically they feel like very contained worlds that kind of lend themselves to drama. "House of Cards" feels a little bit more Shakespearean, but everybody is playing games. Everybody. In politics, they play games. In Hollywood, they play games. I think that overall, everybody is trying to do whatever it takes to get ahead. It's just in those different worlds, it's about "How far do you go?," and knowing when to stop before you go too far.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.