When portraying the son of a former president, why not use a member of one of the most prominent political families in American history as your reference?
That's exactly what James Wolk did as he researched his role for the six-episode limited series event “Political Animals,” which airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on USA Network.
The Michigan native plays Douglas Hammond, son of former first lady and current Secretary of State Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver), who serves as her chief of staff, while also working to assist his twin brother, T.J. (Sebastian Stan), in avoiding trouble and keeping his engagement to interior designer Anne Ogami (Brittany Ishibashi) on track.
“When I took the role ... right away, I went out and I bought Bobby Kennedy's biography. And I read his biography because Bobby Kennedy was his brother's chief of staff, and he was a very, kind of, dark character,” Wolk said.
Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds and Ellen Burstyn also star in the miniseries.
Wolk, 27, shared details about researching his character and the appeal of the show during a recent media conference call.
“We see pictures of Bobby, and he's this very all-American, kind of, you know, affable fellow. But, what you find out about him is that he was the family bulldog. He really was the runt of the family, so it kind of turned him into this just ambitious, kind of ruthless guy,” Wolk said.
Such a personality intrigued the actor and inspired him to mold his character with this in mind.
“I thought, ‘Well, how interesting would it be if that's what Douglas had, if that's where Douglas came from.' And, I really read it, and I really wanted to take Douglas in that direction, and it was something that Greg (Berlanti, creator, co-executive producer and writer of the show) felt when he created the character as well,” Wolk said.
Playing this type of role has been a positive lesson for the actor.
“I'd say I've had to go to some really dark places to play Douglas, and that's not always easy to do. But it's been a wonderful stretch as an actor to go to these really dark places, and these unlikable places, and it's been a real great exercise and experience doing that,” Wolk said.
Getting to see what goes on behind closed doors is the main viewer attraction for “Political Animals,” according to the actor.
“With this show, we're pulling the veil back on this former first family, and ... you're seeing how these pristine people really do have flaws and really do struggle,” Wolk said.
“And, I think it's really putting the magnifying glass on a portion of it that we don't get to see in real life, but, that we imagine in our heads, and that we're curious about finding out. And I think that's what's so fun about watching this family.”