Monday, October 17, 2005

Alda and Smits on Vinick versus Santos

From the Philadelphia Daily News:
"In a conference call last Friday with reporters that included executive producer John Wells, the actors and their boss talked about wanting not only to make their Nov. 6 debate more entertaining than the ones we're used to seeing real presidential candidates engage in, but also more meaningful.
"We'll have a general sense of where we're going," but both Smits, who plays Democratic contender Matt Santos, and Alda, who plays Republican front-runner Arnold Vinick, are going to be briefed extensively enough on their characters' positions so they'll be able to react to each other naturally, Wells said.
"God, it sounds like... you're saying it'll be less scripted than a regular debate," Alda said, sounding mildly alarmed."We're just going to try to go out with a little bit of a net and riff a little bit, too," said Smits. "What's important to me is that we... keep the audience on their toes, keep it topical... and that both points of view are strong." "This show has always tried to say what we wish our politics was," Wells said, and in the "West Wing's" debate, "we will try to set up a world where the candidates can have a real exchange."
And if you want to get two actors to sound like politicians, just mention the competition.

Asked if they'd seen "Commander In Chief," Smits said something about it being nice to see "inclusiveness" and Alda quipped, "No, I'm not able to contact alternative universes," before pleading lack of time.

"I squeeze in time to watch our show," he said. "I haven't had time to see that show yet."

From the New York Daily News:
"For their upcoming live presidential debate, "West Wing" stars Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda will be taking cues from the real candidates - in what not to do. "I'm just going to try not to smirk," said Smits, referring to President Bush's preferred facial expression in his first debate against challenger John Kerry. "I know from looking at debates that that gets people in trouble, so no smirking.""I don't know what to do about not pointing," said Alda. "You're not supposed to point and that's my favorite gesture."
"You're just looking for that one moment when somebody makes a slip: 'You're no John Kennedy,'" said Alda, referring to Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen's famous retort to Republican Dan Quayle in a 1988 debate, "or Nixon's five o'clock shadow. I mean, you're looking for things that are so minor that it's like reading tea leaves."
There is no set script for the episode, although there is a well-constructed outline. The actors, in preparing to go head-to-head, are boning up on each of their character's core issues.Neither Alda nor Smits will reveal who will have the leg
up in the campaign after the episode. And there is still no word on when the fictional election will take place, although it won't be November. But as in a real presidential debate, there is plenty at stake.
But for all of the lessons recent presidential debates have provided in what to avoid, there is one thing Alda can get behind.

"One of the most interesting moments in a recent presidential debate was the rectangular wrinkle in President Bush's jacket," he joked. "I thought that was fascinating. And if I can, I'm going to get that wrinkle."

From the Washington Post:
"Executive Producer John Wells says that they'll have a "general sense of where they're going," are "definitely rehearsing a script" and are giving the two actors "substantial briefing materials" for the episode, noting that these days real presidential candidates are usually well rehearsed and almost never surprised by a question.

But there will be improvisation and spontaneity -- more than in the real thing, Wells said -- and they plan to solicit some questions over the Internet from viewers.

The whole idea about doing a [live 'West Wing'] debate was to try to do a debate in which the characters actually debated. . . . We will try to set up a world in which the candidates can have a real exchange," he said, adding that his goal is to get viewers to question why they don't get that in real life.

If yesterday's unscripted, spontaneous phone news conference is any indication, Alda will win the debate hands down -- though it's widely presumed that NBC has Smits in mind to play the next president of the United States if "West Wing" goes to another season -- if only because, at 69, Alda has nearly 20 years on Smits and is even further out of the 18-49 age bracket NBC chases than current "West Wing" faux president Martin Sheen, who's 65.

Alda is a very good public speaker. His early training, he notes, was in improv, whereas, Smits explained, "Jimmy is not a good talker," and his character is "much more verbal than Jimmy is or could ever be." Yes, it appears Smits sometimes talks about himself in the third person. Why is that so creepy?

Consider their answers to a simple question: "Is it important to you guys . . . that your character wins the debate or . . . the election?"

"What's important to me," Smits replied, "is that we do good storytelling. I think we've been doing that and keep the audience on their toes, keep it topical. And, just to reinforce what Alan said before, is that both points of view are strong and I think since last season we've been doing that and will continue doing that."

Alda also began with the same evasive blah, blah, blah, but then recovered with a great save: "But specifically, to answer your question . . . I have to tell you that it's hard to play any character and not want that character to get what he wants. I wanted to destroy Howard Hughes when I was in 'The Aviator' and I saw every good reason to do it, so that I could be the guy convincingly.

"Of course I want to win the debate, some part of me does, anyway, but . . . you do have to go along with what the story is. If the story doesn't actually have Richard III winning the battle, no matter how much he wants to win, he doesn't win. But you still have to want it. In a debate like this, where . . . you're the one live on camera, if you don't win, it's like something's wrong with you. So it gets even more personal. Some part of me of course wants to win. Even in our imagination I would love to rule the world."

To which Smits added: "Alan wants to cream me out there."

Even Smits acknowledged he's no Alan Alda when one critic asked if he was worried about the live debate, given that "Alda is slick of tongue" and has been "talking for decades" -- which somehow sounded like it was meant to be an insult.

"Jimmy is not a good talker," Smits said, adding bravely that will force him to "prepare doubly hard.""

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