From executive producer Ryan Murphy, the Netflix original series The Politician is a comedic satire about what it takes to be a politician and the lengths that some will go to, in order to win. As Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) fights to unseat Dede Standish (Judith Light) in the New York State Senate race on the way to his goal of eventually getting to the Presidency, he must decide whether he’s going to find a political message that will excite the voters, or whether he’s going to play dirty and expose secrets and lies.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Rahne Jones (who plays Skye Leighton, an important player on Payton’s campaign team), talked about what it was like to join such a high-profile project for her first venture into acting, her unusual journey to becoming an actor, going through this audition process, the challenges of this role, what her first day on set was like, working and collaborating with Ryan Murphy, her character’s sense of style, what she’d still like to learn about Skye Leighton, and the type of stories that she would like to create, in the future.
Collider: I love the fact that Skye either has facial expressions that say entire novels, just with the look on your face, or she’s spouting off long monologues of dialogue.
RAHNE JONES: There’s no in-between. I appreciate you recognizing the facial expressions, though. I really do.
What are the challenges of playing someone where you either have to convey so much with a look, or you literally have to say so much?
JONES: I guess the challenge with saying so much is the basics of memorization, and being able to not only know the words, but to know where they’re coming from. It’s interesting with everything that’s happening right now, with the racial climate that we’re in, some of the things that Skye was saying last season and some of things that she’s saying this season, still resonate. It’s just pulling from negative experiences, to be able to make those things believable, as far as the words are concerned. Luckily, Brad Falchuk, Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy are great writers, and there really wasn’t much to add because the words were already there. It was just pulling from somewhere, emotionally. As far as the facial expressions are concerned, that came naturally because, honestly, that’s just me.
I love that this is your first acting gig and you’re also stealing every scene that you’re in.
JONES: Well, I appreciate that.
Was this a character that you immediately felt like you knew and got, and that allowed you to have the confidence to live in that, or was it the vibe and atmosphere on set that empowered you?
JONES: This being my first thing, and playing someone like Skye, who is aesthetically similar to who I am, gave me a level of comfort. I didn’t have to fully outright pretend to be a completely different person than who I am. I got very lucky that was the first thing that I ever had to do, and I’m looking forward to the challenges, in that regard. I was definitely able to connect to her, aesthetically, and her lived experiences of loving women. But then, I was also lucky enough that the cast of The Politician was unbelievably welcoming to a newcomer like myself. It never made me feel embarrassed for asking questions. I’m definitely a person where, if I don’t know, I’m gonna ask and I don’t care if I sound dumb. I’d rather ask the question then assume and get it completely wrong. My friends and co-stars really helped me out and helped me learn, and continue to help me learn. I was very lucky for this to be my first thing.
Do you feel like it being your first thing also worked to your advantage in auditioning for this, because you had nothing to lose by taking this chance?
JONES: Exactly, yeah. I literally had nothing to lose. It wasn’t like I was coming off of something big, and you have to continuously follow it up. I hope that’s a problem that I have in the future. Who knows. But I literally went in there with nothing to lose and everything to gain, and it lifted the pressure off of me. Even though I was absolutely terrified to walk into the audition room, I got the opportunity to audition in front of [casting director] Alexa Fogel and [executive producers] Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, and be in the space with these people who I’ve admired for so long, just to show them what I’ve got, regardless of whether I got the part or not.
How did the audition process feel for you, especially being new to it?
JONES: Prior to me taking the leap, that was the one thing that was honestly holding me back. It was like, “Can I walk into these rooms and perform? I don’t know if I can do that. That sounds terrifying.” And then, I realized that the fear of not trying, and the fear of getting older and realizing that I should have tried back then, outweighed the fear of walking in there. I realized that, when you’re auditioning, the people on the other side of that table want you to do well because it solves the problem for them, of who can play the role. If you go in there, thinking that they’re going to hate you and you get into your head, that’s not gonna help you. It helped me to realize, doing my little nerdy research of what to expect at an audition, that for the most part, the people on the other side of the table are on your side and hoping that you perform to the best of your abilities. As far as the whole entire process, it was just an initial audition, and then two weeks later, I got a callback with the writers and producers of the show and the casting director. And then, two weeks later, I found out that I got the part, and a week after that, I was in L.A. filming Season 1. It was a complete whirlwind. The last few years have been crazy.
When you were first told about this character, what was the original description? Was it a character that evolved a lot, or was Skye always the same on paper?
JONES: The way the character was broken down was that Skye was considered Payton’s nemesis. We know that Astrid is also his nemesis, but Skye was definitely his worst nightmare. I was like, “I get to play somebody’s worst nightmare. I love that!” We get to see Skye evolve into much more of a team player, with still a little bit of bite. She definitely hasn’t lost that. You get to see a much more subdued side of her. Even though she’s still laying into people, she’s much more aware of the people around her and the common goal.
As wild as it is that this is your first acting gig, it’s even more wild that you worked in Homeland Security before deciding to quit and try this. How did that happen? When did you realize that there was something else you wanted to do instead?
JONES: The universe is so funny. I used to play basketball, for years. I played in college, and then transferred to another school, after giving up my scholarship, and throughout those years, I made connections with a lot of different coaches. One coach that I had when I was playing competitively in my teens, worked for the Department of Defense. After college, I was like, “I need a job. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with my life.” And she had me forward her my resume, which she forwarded to one of her good friends in the Inspector General’s office of Homeland Security, and I got to go in for an interview with the heads of that department. Luckily, I was able to get that job, and I did that job for about four and a half years.
It was rewarding work. We worked with some of the big agencies of the departments, like TSA, ICE and CBP, just making sure that those programs were working properly to secure the homeless. It was very important and heavy stuff. And then, after the four years, I was just like, “I think I’m all set. I think there’s something else out there for me.” I didn’t want to spend my entire life behind a desk. No shade to anybody that does, but it just wasn’t for me. So, I quit and moved to New York on a whim, with no plan of action. I slept on couches. I was broke. I finally decided to work at a hat store because I love hats, and I was able to meet a manager through a guy that came into the hat shop, one day. It was serendipitous that all of these things happened, to bring me to this moment.
Did you set yourself a time limit, to see if you could make something happen?
JONES: I did not have a goal in mind. I was very much happy with just acting, in any way, shape, or form that I could. Once I moved to New York, I started doing community theater, and it was just the most amazing outlet and something that I’d always wanted to do, from when I was little and watching classic movies and just being like, “I wish I could do that,” but didn’t have the nerve. And then, there’s something about being in New York City, with all of this opportunity and inspiration around you, where it’s like, why not? I didn’t have any goal in mind, but I just thought that, if I gave it a try, the sky’s the limit. I was like, “I have nothing to lose. I either book something or I don’t, but then I can say that I tried it.” And then, the universe was like, “Hey, girl, I’m gonna give you this,” and lo and behold, here I am. I think that not having that tangible goal in mind really helped me to just be happy with where I was. I was very much content with the life that I was leading, prior to this. I had an amazing girlfriend, who is now my fiancé. I was working at a hat shop, and I love hats. I was an assistant manager selling hats, and I was happy. So, the joy that I had in my life already, lent itself to not necessarily needing a huge part to be able to fulfill me, as a whole. But I got fortunate with this blessing, for sure.
What was the first day on set like, when you had to shoot your first scene? How did that feel, and how did that compare to showing up for day one of Season 2, knowing that you already had a season behind you?
JONES: Thank you for that question. The first day on set for me, in Season 1, I was like, “Oh, my god, I have gotten myself into something.” I was nervous because it was a scene that was focused on me yelling, and it was directed by Ryan Murphy. So, I was on set with Ryan Murphy and many extras, and he was directing me and I didn’t want to screw it up. It was intense, but once it was all said and done, I was like, “Okay, I really dig this. This is super fun.” It’s very nerve-wracking, at first, but once you settle into, it’s really good. What happened on the first day of Season 2 was excitement. I knew everybody on set, as far as the cast was concerned, and I knew the tone of the show, not necessarily where the show was going because we get scripts in certain increments, throughout the shooting schedule. It was a night and day experience. The fear wasn’t nearly as palpable as Season 1, for sure. It was way more comfortable.
One of the things about Ryan Murphy is that he puts these incredible casts of actors together and he seems to see things and actors that they don’t necessarily know that they’re capable of, and is really able to bring that out of them. What has working with him and on one of his sets taught you about acting and about being an actor?
JONES: Ryan, and not only Ryan, but also Ian and Brad are just geniuses, in their writing ability and their ability to tell stories. As far as what it’s taught me about acting, it’s just being highly present and in the moment. I not only learned that from them, but I also learned that from watching the seasoned veterans that I’ve been lucky enough to co-star with. Ben Platt is a young guy, but watching that man, every day, I’m like, “What in the world? How do you do that? Where do you pull that from?” And then, working with Judith Light and Bette Midler for this season, I’m just in awe of the way that they approach a scene and the choices that they make. I love that Ryan, Ian, and Brad want us to feel comfortable in our performances. They’re very aware that we want to get it right, and they allow us to explore and make choices and make changes. It’s very much a collaborative effort. So, what I’ve learned most is just the collaboration aspect of the thing.
Skye clearly has a great fashion style, as do you. What did you think of Skye’s style and wardrobe? Did you get to have a say in what Skye wore?
JONES: Oh my gosh, the costumers on the show were so collaborative, making sure that I was extremely comfortable. They picked out everything. I walked in for one of my first fittings and I was like, “I love everything in this closet.” They really hit it out of the park with the fashion, for everybody on the show. In Season 2, I got the opportunity to wear some amazing coats and I was just like, “Thank you, fall and winter in New York.” Our costumers, Claire [Parkinson] and Lily [Parkinson], were phenomenal in being collaborative and making sure that we were all comfortable. They’ve inspired me to add more color to my own personal wardrobe. I was never really a big color person, but now, I’m like, “Gimme that orange coat.” They really inspired me, outside of Skye, to really explore more. The costuming was probably one of the best things about the show. It’s phenomenal to look at what these characters are wearing. It’s a whole fashion show for The Politician characters. They’re very specific and defined, in their fashion, and it lends itself to the character, 100 percent.
Have there been conversations about where these characters could go for a third season? Have you talked about the future of this show?
JONES: I am not privy to that information. I wish I was, but it’s above my pay grade. I sincerely hope that we get a Season 3, and my fingers are crossed on that. I can’t speak to what’s going to happen, but I do think that, as far as the narrative is concerned, I feel like there are places for us to go.
Do you have a personal wishlist of things that you’d still like to learn about Skye?
JONES: I’ve basically had to create a backstory for her, just so that it helps me keep her a little bit more grounded, so I would love to know where she comes from, who her family is, and what makes her so powerful in her voice and not being afraid to use her voice. It took a long time for me to feel comfortable speaking out and using my voice, and I envy Skye for her ability to speak unapologetically about very real things, so I would love to know how she became who she is. That’s the big one for me.
Have you thought about the kinds of roles that you like to play and the types of projects that you’d like to pursue, in the future?
JONES: Oh, my goodness, I really want to do a horror film and be chased by a crazy person. I would love to be a superhero, but I’ve gotta hit the gym for that. I’d love to tap into animation. I would also like to be a creator. I would love to tell varying stories and stories that don’t center on white people, to be completely frank. There are so many different people in this world, and so many stories that haven’t been told and should be told, and I would like to be a part of that narrative, for sure.
Have you also been thinking about what it would take for you to feel safe returning to a set and getting back to work, especially with our new reality, post-COVID and with everything else going on in the world?
JONES: As far as all of the issues are concerned, coming back to work and just ensuring that the safety of everybody involved with productions is a top priority. That’s number one. And two, as far as going back into a workplace that is post-uprising or during uprising, I just want to make sure that people are listening and continue to listen, and are still having tough conversations. I want to make sure that when I go on set, on any set, that I feel wholly comfortable speaking my mind and speaking my truth, whether that be something that I’m happy about or something that has made me upset. I don’t want to ever feel that I can’t speak up, for fear of retribution, on any set. I hope that this movement really changes various industries, and not just Hollywood, but everywhere. It’s going to be an interesting reopening, so to speak, as far as COVID and as far as dealing with issues of racial injustice. I think that people are finally waking up, and it’s long overdue.
The Politician Season 2 is available to stream at Netflix.