Animal Instincts: Ciarán Hinds Channels Clinton, LBJ for Political Animals

Ciarán Hinds explains what inspired his turn as ex-president Bud Hammond on USA's 'Political Animals.'

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Ciarán Hinds as Bud Hammond in "Political Animals"

You don't have to be an American history scholar to guess who and what was the model for the new limited television series Political Animals: the show depicts a philandering-but-popular former president whose wife—after a failed presidential run herself—wins over the country as secretary of state.

Even the some of actors portraying America's version of royalty don't call the United States their home: famed Northern Irish actor Ciarán Hinds plays Donald "Bud" Hammond, the swinging, swaggering ex-president with a predilection for political manipulation and young, buxom women.

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While as Hammond he lays on the Dixie drawl, Hinds reverted to an accent more suited for the streets of Belfast as he talked with Whispers about his inspiration for the character.

"The research was minimal due to circumstances," Hinds explains, as he was signed on to another project before Political Animals co-creator Greg Berlanti recruited him for the role.

"The people that [Berlanti] referred to without making any impersonations were Bill Clinton, because of some of the behavioral aspects of the character, but Lyndon B. Johnson as well because of the way he spoke....the bulk of the man and his kind of earthiness."

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Hinds makes the role his own, complimenting the female leads—Sigourney Weaver playing his ex-wife and current secretary of state, and Carla Gugino playing the journalist continually dogging his scandal-prone family—while pulling off the impressive feat of being a loveable jerk.

"He's very flawed, Bud, the character, but he has a generous heart and he has a liberal agenda."

A Belfast native, with experience on stage, TV and films including Julius Caesar in HBO's Rome, Road to Perdition and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Hinds says he always has "cast a wary eye" on politics.

But even from across the pond, he wasn't completely naïve to Washington, D.C.

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"American politics, because they are so enormous to the world, I think we follow them and we keep an eye on different movements that happen apart from the presidency, an idea of who's in control, whether it be Republicans or Democrats, what their agendas are."

Once he jumped into the depiction of a Beltway power-family from the inside out, Hinds says, "What amazed me was the way people behaved with each other behind closed doors…[like they were] at war with each other."

Political Animals premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on USA.

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  • Tierney Sneed is associate editor of U.S. News Opinion. E-mail her at tsneed@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter.