The new NBC comedy series 1600 Penn follows the lives of the Gilchrists, who are just the average American family dealing with everyday issues, all while living in the White House. The President (Bill Pullman) is finding it more difficult to be the head of his family than the head of the country, the First Lady (Jenna Elfman) is trying to win over her step-kids and the First Son (Josh Gad) just keeps sticking his foot in it, especially when it comes to his pregnant sister (Martha MacIsaac).
While on a set visit, where Collider and a few outlets were invited to tour the Oval Office and then conduct interviews in the Situation Room, co-stars Bill Pullman and Jenna Elfman talked about how being a part of the show has given them a new appreciation for what the First Family has to go through, research they did into presidential families, fascinating First Ladies, and fun cameos they have coming up, including Bruce Campbell as the President’s brother. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
JENNA ELFMAN: Very much. I am so not judgmental of what they must be going through, as a First Family. And thinking back to any First Family, whether you approve of their politics or not, it’s such a heightened existence and there’s so much at stake. But, you’re also human beings with normal problems, and you have to set this example of perfection to America. It’s impossible because people are human and you have flaws and problems and fears and troubles. I have so much admiration. I think Michelle Obama is the first First Lady that I’ve paid the most attention to because I’m more enlightened, educated and aware of my environment and culture and country, especially since having children. I have such empathy and compassion and admiration for how graceful she is because I know it’s not easy.
Bill, are you worried about it or do you like being typecast as the President?
BILL PULLMAN: Well, I did think about it, but I was relieved. I had been playing a number of serial killers, pedophiles and murderers, and I’m glad I’m not repeating those roles. I did a Torchwood where the character had a chance to be born-again from his pedophile murdering background and I just thought, “I’m done with that!” I’ve never really been a television watcher, so I never watch comedies. I have gotten a number of invitations to be on television shows as “the dad,” but that was Kryptonite to me. I was like, “This would be the death of me. I’ll be a cesspool of niceness.” It doesn’t feed me. I can get to be that in certain circumstances, but not all the time. But with this, he’s the anti-dad, in some ways, with so much going on. It’s not the touchy-feely type of role. Josh [Gad] is a hugger, as Skip, and I really don’t like that too much. So, I get to have awkwardness, which I often feel like is a part of my parenting, in my own life. Fathers all have to be very understanding now, and I don’t have to do that. I usually am repairing a lot of damage because I’m not that way. So, it’s feeling like a great adventure.
The First Lady has a past as a dancer, but will the President have any skeletons in his closet?
PULLMAN: Well, he was a Lady Gaga impersonator, which was kind of outrageous to discover. I’ve just been watching these YouTube videos of Marines in Afghanistan who have been doing these elaborate lip-synch videos to Lady Gaga songs. I like to see that the men are out there, expanding their horizons. But no, so far, there hasn’t been any skeletons that are going to come out. The laundry is flying high, all over the place, so you see the dirty laundry everywhere, anyway.
ELFMAN: I did. I’ve been reading books on First Ladies of yore, just trying to find some common denominators. Since I’ve never been a First Lady and it’s such an extraordinary situation and it’s not like I can just ring up any old First Lady and ask questions, I was reading some books. I just wanted to know what territory I was in, in terms of my boundaries or freedoms, and on what magnitude. I realized that the main thing is that there’s just no rule book for the First Ladies. Any First Lady can come in and really create what they wish, so I knew that I was pretty free. Also, in terms of gaffes that are made or what kind of presence she’ll have, I thought it was pretty freeing that there are no rules. And then, I just took cues from my own personal goals, things that I would love to see or be or do, if I were the First Lady, and was inspired by Michelle Obama, who I respect and admire. But, the main thing is that there is no rule book, and a lot of past First Ladies were thrown by that. You sometimes need some guidelines.
Did you want a specific look for your First Lady?
ELFMAN: Yeah, very much! I wanted her to be real and appealing, fresh and young, and have good style. I felt, ultimately, that the First Lady should set a good example for women in America, take care of herself, and have pride in how she looks. There’s no reason a First Lady has to take second position to her presidential husband and be dowdy and boring. I think that she can be attractive and healthy and fit and have a point of view, especially in this day and age that we are in. I was definitely inspired by Michelle Obama on that. I also wanted to push the boundaries a little bit, with bolder fashion choices while staying appropriate. I just wanted her to be relatable and real while also looking wonderful.
Aside from Michelle Obama, what other First Lady really fascinates you?
ELMAN: Eleanor Roosevelt because she always had a strong point of view, she never seemed overwhelmed, in a way where she fell victim to her husband being the president, in terms of her own goals for humanity, she helped draft the National Declaration of Human Rights with the United Nations, which especially in that day and age was bold for a woman to do, she never seemed to back down from what was true for her, she always cared about others, and she always had a great sense of humor. I just really dig her.
PULLMAN: I think about Laura Bush, every once in awhile. She is a great supporter of the arts. I did a show at the Eisenhower Theater, and she would make a point of coming backstage. The relationship between Laura and George Bush was always that way where you felt like he was at his best behavior when he was in her company. You never heard about George W. having an affair, or anything. She had this thing about her. He was mischievous and playful, but there was always a really interesting change in him when he was around her.
Any fun cameos coming up?
ELFMAN: We’ve had some great guest stars. We’ve had some wonderful ones.
PULLMAN: Stacy Keach was really fun to work with, and Henry Winkler was very fun. There definitely seems to be some opportunity for that. And there has been some amazingly good people who have just been right for the role, and aren’t big names. The President has a brother, played by Bruce Campbell. I have a ranch with my own brother in Montana, and I think I’ve heard my brother talk more about Bruce Campbell’s movies than anything I’ve done. So, it was perfect to have this competitive brother played by Bruce Campbell.
ELFMAN: They really look like brothers, too. It’s uncanny. It’s awesome!
1600 Penn airs on Thursday nights on NBC, starting January 10th.