In the new CBS drama series Madam Secretary, Elizabeth McCord (Tèa Leoni) unexpectedly becomes the newly appointed Secretary of State and must quickly learn to handle international diplomacy, office politics and how to circumvent protocol, as she negotiates global and domestic issues, both at the White House and at home. The show also stars Tim Daly, Keith Carradine, Geoffrey Arend, Erich Bergen, Patina Miller, Bebe Neuwirth and Zeljko Ivanek.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Tim Daly (he plays supportive husband Henry McCord, who is also a professor of religion) talked about how he came to be a part of this show, what attracted him to this character, how her new career will affect their marriage, the vital family dynamic, the long arc of intrigue and mystery vs. solving dilemmas on a weekly basis, and how much he enjoys working with Téa Leoni. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did this come about for you? Had you been looking to do another TV show?
TIM DALY: I was looking to do good work. This script came across my desk and I read it, and I was instantly intrigued by it. It was smart writing, but it was also entertaining. It was not so smart that it wasn’t accessible to people. I was fascinated by this guy that I play, Henry McCord, and I went and talked to (executive producer) Barbara Hall about it a lot. Based on our conversations, I thought this was a chance that was really worth taking.
What specifically attracted you to this character?
DALY: What attracted me to it, beyond it being really intelligent, was that it was sadly something that would be unique on television. Anchoring this political show is this vital, dynamic, complex, thriving marriage. These people are passionately and fiercely committed to making it work out. So, I saw Henry as a guy who was confident and powerful enough to be able to say to the woman that he’s with, “Yeah, go for it, babe. Go be the Secretary of State.” Yet, within their relationship, he is as powerful as she is. They are equal partners. I thought that was great, and not unrealistic.
It’s become a cliche to think of marriage as a disaster area and a war zone. Although political shows are really popular now, I think what sets this apart is this marriage and this family dynamic, and this way of revealing that people in positions of power or who have public careers are also real people. They have children and lives, and they have to deal with all of the things that everybody else does. But, Henry is not just a doting house-husband. I think he has his own power and career and interests that are, in an odd way, distinctly complimentary to what Elizabeth is doing.
I’ve never seen a professor of religion on television before, and I thought that was fascinating. The creative tension with spirituality vs. practicality in the world of politics is a vital conversation. The other thing that I know a little bit about is where Henry is going. There’s a lot more than meets the eye. His expertise in religion and the history of religion also makes him an expert in history and somewhat of an expert in ideological and violent conflict because religious history is fraught with it. That gives him an insight into the world that his wife is now in.
How will her new career affect their marriage?
DALY: An issue for their marriage is going to be the issue of trust and honesty. It’s not because someone has committed a transgression, but as Secretary of State, she literally can’t talk about things with her husband because he doesn’t have the right security clearance. She can only hint at things. But his knowledge of religion and religious practice gives him the ability to speak in allegories, which can be helpful and useful to her, in light of a dilemma that she’s dealing with.
When you did the pilot, did you know that you were going to have a third child that isn’t in or spoken about?
DALY: I did not know that. I had no idea. I have a daughter who’s a little older than that, but almost that age. I love exploring the relationship between fathers and daughters. I think that’s a special thing, especially with daughters who are dealing with being adults. That’s fascinating to me. I’ve had a lot of very interesting parenting techniques that I’ve employed with my own daughter that have worked really well, so far.
How do you view the dynamic with the McCord family?
DALY: That’s something that really sets the show apart. There is this family dynamic that is vital. I like it that both of the parents, for lack of a more technical phrase, just give the kids shit about stuff that’s going on, but remain compassionate. There’s this old saying that you’re only as happy as your least happy child. I think that these are people who are interested in being parents. They are interested in working out how the changes that their life is going through is going to affect those children and their relationship with those children.
DALY: I also think that Henry is funny. He’s got a wry sense of humor about his kids and their problems in life, and he’s got a pretty good perspective on the importance of a 15-year-old’s dilemma, in terms of their entire life. Not that he’s condescending or doesn’t take it seriously, he knows where it is.
Will the sense of danger that comes with being Secretary of State create any tension between Elizabeth and Henry?
DALY: Yeah. For a network show, it’s surprisingly slow-burn. The pilot doesn’t give you everything, all at once. You will learn a lot more about Henry, as the show goes on. You will have the long arc of this intrigue and this dangerous mystery, plus you will have the more traditional satisfying show, where the dilemma is solved at the end of the episode.
What’s it like to work with Téa Leoni?
DALY: It’s great. It’s so funny, we went to the same high school, years apart. It was a very unique boarding school in Vermont. She’s a person, like me and like a lot of people who have gone to that school, including my own daughter, who can be perfectly happy sleeping in a wet sleeping bag on a stone floor, or staying in a fancy hotel. She’s not a whiner. She wants to work hard and she wants to have fun. We get along really, really well. We have a really good time. I’ve gotten along with plenty of people, but the chemistry sucked. And I’ve hated people where the chemistry is great. It’s much better if you get along and the chemistry is good. That’s perfect.
Madam Secretary airs on Sunday nights on CBS.