Poor Christine Lahti. You'd think being married to a former executive producer of The West Wing would guarantee her a role in any of his future projects. Not necessarily. According to the Emmy-winning actress, her husband, Thomas Schlamme, didn't initially see a part for her in Jack & Bobby (debuting Sunday). That's his new WB drama about a conflicted single mom raising two boys — one of whom is destined to be president of the United States. Here, the 54-year-old Chicago Hope alumna talks about her role as future first mother Grace McCallister, and how she persuaded her husband to keep it all in the family.
TV Guide Online: In the pilot episode, Grace smokes pot. Any reservations about playing a professor, a woman of influence, who uses marijuana?
It's probably not good for her. Certainly not for the kids. No, [I don't have any] reservations. In fact, one of the things I loved about her the most is that she's flawed. She's neurotically needy of her younger boy and has such a complex relationship with her older boy. I just love the complications. I love that she's not always sympathetic, that she makes mistakes as a mom [and] as a teacher. I love that she's very political and passionate. I think she's just great.
TVGO: You slap actor Matt Long, who plays Jack, in the pilot. Was that scene tough?
Yeah, that was tough. In fact, for many takes, I didn't really slap him. I just did the fake slap. And he kept saying, "Come on, come on." I couldn't do it. I'm not a hitter. And [Grace is] not.
TVGO: It was a very strong scene. His reaction was....
Oh, so moving. His little jaw was trembling.
TVGO: What's it like to work with your husband?
You know, I didn't even know there was a part in this for me. I knew that Tommy was developing this for the last year and a half. He talked about the concept, and it was so interesting and political, about a single mom raising two boys. And I think, originally, it was conceived for a younger woman, like 35, who got married and had kids right out of college. So when I read it, which was really just to see what [Tommy] was up to, I went, "Excuse me, but why are you not talking to me about this part?"
TVGO: Seems like you have a natural "in."
Yeah! [Laughs] And he said, "Oh, but I don't think you're really right for it." And I went, "What?! Why?" I guess Tommy had seen her more as a rookie, just lost and overwhelmed by having two kids to raise at a young age. What I said to him, very diplomatically, was anybody can be overwhelmed by that. You don't have to be young to be overwhelmed by that. Grace is older, she's just ill-equipped. She doesn't quite know how to do it. And she's doing her best, but she's making mistakes.