It’s been a decade since The West Wing wrapped, and to celebrate the series, ATX Festival hosted a reunion panel with Joshua Malina, Richard Schiff, Janel Moloney, Bradley Whitford, Dulé Hill, and Melissa Fitzgerald with director Thomas Schlamme and series creator Aaron Sorkin.
After the panel, I was able to sit down for an exclusive interview with Joshua Malina, who played Will Bailey, as well as Hrishikesh Hirway who currently produces a podcast with Malina called The West Wing Weekly.
How is it being back with everyone, having this reunion and then getting to see the fan interaction?
Joshua Malina: All of it is great. I love all of it, particularly seeing… I wish every single person who’s still around from those days were here, but seeing the majority of people is very nice. It happens occasionally when we make a public service announcement. This is really clapping ourselves on the back and celebrating ourselves.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Joshua Malina: It’s very self-indulgent, but it feels like a safe space, because we’re among people who love the show as much as we do. It’s a very nice self congratulatory victory lap that we’re enjoying together.
I’m getting monstrously shat upon by everyone on the show. Karmic, because I guess I’ve been not so nice in the past, and it’s catching up with me.
How do you think Will would prep the president for a debate with Donald Trump?
Joshua Malina: How would Will Bailey prep the president … Are we talking Hillary specifically, or any opponent for Donald Trump?
Any opponent that he’s advising.
Joshua Malina: I think he would be very wonky and content heavy in contrast to the Donald, who I think is going to be light on content. That said, I don’t know that Will’s the person to do it, but somebody on the team ought to be prepping. In an earlier interview Brad spoke very eloquently about the TV readiness of our candidates and this ridiculous emphasis that we’ve put on being camera ready and being presentable and even in the language of a lot of our journalism of saying, “Does she seem presidential? Does he seem … ” There’s a battle to be fought on the perception front. I don’t think that would be Will’s forte. I think someone else would be covering that, and Will would be the policy guy.
With your work on Scandal and then on West Wing, what has it been like for you to be on two shows that revolve so heavily around the world of politics?
Joshua Malina: It’s fun for me. In a sense, it cuts both ways. Not to complain, because I’m delighted to have any job anytime. West Wing and Scandal are certainly two of the highlights of my career and have been incredible long term jobs where I enjoy the material and the other people. Everything about them is pretty dandy. The only negative thing is that I got into acting thinking, “One day I’ll be a cowboy, the next day I’ll be an astronaut. Maybe I’ll be a fireman.” It seems that I’m destined to play smart people in suits. I’d rather have that than no niche.
It’s a good niche to have.
Joshua Malina: I would say one of the thrills of being in both shows is that they’re both very dialogue heavy, even though their clearly tonally very different, they’re both very dialogue heavy. I like delivering dense dialogue quickly.
Where do you think Will would be now 10 years later?
Joshua Malina: That’s a tough one. That’s a very, very tough one. I would like to think that he would get his idealistic mojo back, because I know that the fandom, if I can generalize, were largely disappointed in Will in his support of Bingo Bob Russell as opposed to Santos. I think he would have found his way back to a more meaningful substantive pubic service job. I don’t know what that would mean.
If you had to pick one favorite moment from the series, whether it was a scene, an interaction, or just the first thing that comes into your mind when you think about your time on the show. What would that be?
Joshua Malina: I don’t know if I were to give it more thought, if I would pick it as a favorite moment, but I enjoyed making it rain. I did early on wish for rain. This is a funny thing. I would like very much to have Aaron on this episode on our podcast. My memory is that he wasn’t thrilled with the way it was filmed. He seemed to imply that I actually had dominion over the weather. He was like, “I wanted it to play a little bit more like a coincidence and less like you actually made it rain.”
That being said, I felt the power and I enjoyed it.
When you guys started this podcast, The West Wing Weekly, talk to me about how that happened, who had the idea, and how it came to be? How do you guys know each other?
Hrishikesh Hirway: I wrote to Josh when I was in college, just leaving college and I was trying to figure out-
Joshua Malina: When did you graduate?
Hrishikesh Hirway: 2000.
Joshua Malina: We went to the same school 12 years apart.
Hrishikesh Hirway: I wanted to be a film composer. I was trying to figure out how to do it. I wanted to get some advice. I didn’t know. I didn’t know anybody. It was so foreign from my world.
Joshua Malina: If I know anything, it’s film composing. You came to the right guy.
Hrishikesh Hirway: Sports Night was on. West Wing wasn’t… I guess it had started, but I wasn’t watching it, but I’d really loved Sports Night. I knew that Josh had gone to Yale. I was like, “Maybe I could ask him for advice.” He had a website with his email address on there. I was like, “Well, it’s on there.” I wrote to him and I was like, “I’m thinking about moving to LA, but I’m also thinking about moving to New York because it’s a lot easier. Which one do you think I should do?”
He said, “If you want to do anything, I think you need to move to LA.”
I was too scared. I moved to New York anyway. Later, when I finally came to LA, that website was gone, Josh’s email address didn’t work, and I lost track of him. 12 years later… Somehow, I missed Josh on Twitter that whole time. I found him on Twitter. I had just done my first movie. He had his Facebook page on there, and I sent him a message saying, “I don’t know if you remember me. I wrote you an email a long time ago. You told me to move to LA. I finally took your advice. I finally scored my first movie. Can I buy you lunch and say thanks.” We’ve become friends since then.
Joshua Malina: We met at Veggie Delight. We did become friends.
Hrishikesh Hirway: Veggie Grill.
Joshua Malina: Veggie Grill.
Hrishikesh Hirway: Is that the same thing?
Joshua Malina: I always have a vague sense of what’s happening. Actually, Hrishi is… We became partners and we’ve done things together. He invited me to become part of a charity event. It was a live celebrity driven game. It went really well. We felt like that it had a possibility to work as a TV show. We made a pilot of that. Hrishi’s got that … He’s sharp, he’s focused. He’s the kind of person that I work well with. He keeps things focused. We did that. This West Wing podcast was entirely his idea. He had the foresight… I think he just knew it would work.
Hrishikesh Hirway: I knew it would help if I had a ringer in me.
It doesn’t hurt.
Joshua Malina: We’re friends, we have good conversations together. We felt like other people would like to listen to them. Obviously, I was involved in the show, but I also had the foresight to know that there would be an audience for it. From the moment it was announced, before we even started to do anything, it put a lot of pressure on us quickly. I was sort of envisioning a slow build. All of the sudden there were articles being written and NPR wanted to talk to us. There was thousands of hits on Facebook. Then all of the sudden, we really had to do it. We kind of put the pressure on ourselves.
I guess you guys have gone back and obviously re-watched the series while you’re doing this podcast?
Joshua Malina: We’re actually doing what we ask of the listener. At least I am. Hrishi knows the first 4 seasons very well. I’m really watching each one and taking notes before we discuss it.
Are you noticing things now that you didn’t originally?
Joshua Malina: Absolutely. Somethings, funny I play a little game in my head. Sometimes I question in my head whether I’m being too critical. I’m watching with a pad open and a pen. I’m clearly-
Looking for stuff.
Joshua Malina: I’m looking for shit. Sometimes it’s stuff to quibble over that I don’t even really care about, but it’s something to discuss. More often, it’s something substantive. Can we tease out a theme. Can I ask Hrishi what he thinks about this thing that occurred to me. Sometimes I wonder, “Am I watching it in too specific a way?” Then sometimes I find myself if I have time, I’ll watch it a couple times, or I’ll re-watch parts, so I can go be the guy who loves the show and watch it, and then go back and think about what I’m gong to discuss.
Looking back at it now, what impresses you most about the series? What kind of stands out as having stood the test of time with the series?
Hrishikesh Hirway: I think when they are giving out Michelin stars for restaurants, one of the things that determines whether a restaurant gets it is not just if a thing is good, but it’s the consistency. That’s one of the things they look for. They’ll go to a restaurant 4 or 5 times.
Joshua Malina: Quality control.
Hrishikesh Hirway: Exactly.
Joshua Malina: That’s actually a very good point.
Hrishikesh Hirway: I think that’s the reason why this show still hold up and the thing that impresses me most. I think for me, this is like … I don’t even know how many times I’ve seen it. I’m watching it for the whatever millionth time. To see that there’s this consistent quality week after week. We did this one pilot that we produced for the TV. Knowing how hard that was just to make that one thing…
Joshua Malina: It was hard.
Hrishikesh Hirway: The scale of this show is so much more vast. The idea that that could happen week after week is mind blowing.
Joshua Malina: Brad [Whitford] really game it to Aaron. He gave a huge tip of the hat during the panel. He articulated really well what a super-human creative endeavor, not to take away from the technical aspects, and the directors and all the crew and the cast and their acting, but what Aaron did as a writer in the first 4 season in West Wing as Brad said, no one ever is going to do that again. No one’s going to do 88 episodes back to back to back to back of that quality and that scope and that breadth.
Hrishikesh Hirway: I thought he sold it short, because he neglected to mention that in the first season of West Wing…
Joshua Malina: I was thinking the same thing.
Hrishikesh Hirway: … he was also writing the all the episodes of Sports Night. That’s crazy.
Joshua Malina: Yeah, I thought the same things too. That’s another level.
Some impressive time management skills.
Hrishikesh Hirway: Brain management.
Joshua Malina: How do you have all the time to be able to come up with all those stories and all those words.
Hrishikesh Hirway: You’d have to be a machine.
Joshua Malina: It gives me a stomach ache to think about. It sounds horrible.
Hrishikesh Hirway: It’s so hard for us to talk to each other once a week and put out a…
Joshua Malina: No kidding. Exactly. That feels difficult. Man, we’ve got to put out another podcast.
How do you guys feel West Wing would be today if it was airing new and fresh right now? How do you think it would affect today’s political environment?
Hrishikesh Hirway: I think there’s some… You might have even said maybe it seems too sweet for today’s TV climate. I’m of the opposite mind. I think especially now it would be appreciated, in the Donald Trump era, to see a political world that has principles and intelligence driving it and not just ratings.
Joshua Malina: I’ve revised my opinion. I know I just said once upon a time. I think in reality we joke about Netflix reviving the show or doing a reboot, I think the real feeling is why touch something that is … It really went well the first time. Maybe let’s not mess with our legacy. I actually do think there would be an audience for it, and that there would be all sorts of eyes on it. Really, the fact that most D.C. set shows now are splenetic and caustic and being funny. Is it more of a reflection of the people who are producing the stuff rather than what the audience wants to see. Clearly, there’s an audience for VEEP, House of Cards and Scandal, but I think there also would be a sizable audience for something like The West Wing too.
Hrishikesh Hirway: Yeah, The West Wing certainly helped create a more politically engaged viewing culture, but I think there’s also The Daily Show that helped that and even just the rise of 24 hour cable news. I think in general viewership is more politically aware. Even if The West Wing hadn’t been around, if it were to start right now, I think there would be a huge appetite for it.
Catch new episodes Josh Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway’s The West Wing Weekly Podcast here!