Coming this fall, Katherine Heigl and Alfre Woodard team up in the NBC drama “State of Affairs.”
“State of Affairs” finds Heigl playing Charleston Tucker, a CIA analyst who compiles the daily intelligence breifing for the president, played by Woodard. But the two’s relationship goes much deeper than that. Tucker is focused on finding the person responsible for the death of her fiance, who happens to be the presiden’t son, in a terrorist attack.
The series marks Heigl’s return to television following her controversial exit from ABC’s Shonda Rhimes drama “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2010.
The Times spoke with Heigl and Woodard following their appearance on the show’s panel at the Television Critics Assn. press tour Sunday at the Beverly Hilton —a panel that drew headlines centered on Heigl’s comments about her reputation in the industry.
What was it about Charleston — Alfre, for you, Constance — that made you think, I want to do this, I want to see more from this character and I think viewers will too?
KH: For me, it was important to me that Charleston not only be a very strong, confident and very intelligent woman with a clear idea of what she wants to do in life. And her path is very patriarchal … patriotic, I mean. Freudian slip? She has a job that doesn’t tend to garner a lot of glory. It does garner a lot of blame when things go wrong. When things go right, no one really knows what goes into making sure it all goes right. So I think it’s interesting that she chose this career and chose this path. And I wanted her, at the same time, to not be this valiant hero, this shining star. I wanted her to also have this complicated history and personal life because, as an actor, that sort of dichotomy is always so much more fun to play.
AW: Hello, for me, I mean, I get to be president! It’s fun to play the president, rather than to be the president. But what drew me was how smart the script was, and this world we hadn’t seen before — this world most Americans didn’t know existed before we went after Bin Laden. And that it was being done by people who knew the world. So we’re not stepping too outside the boundaries; it’s based in realism. And I love politics. I have worked in politics for several decades, so it was a chance to live in a world that was important to me.
Is Charleston challenging you in a way you feel you haven’t been challenged before?
KH: You know what’s funny is … I’m not… I’m not as smart as that. I think I generally just gravitate toward a story or a character and am like, “I want to do that! That’s sounds fun! Let me try it!” With this particular role, I felt there was something about it that was uniquely different from what I’ve done in the past. And not because I haven’t done drama, or because I haven’t done television or because I haven’t played a professional in a professional world that i absolutely know nothing about — like the medical world! But because I’m older — I’m 35, not 25 — and because she feels like such a grown-up to me. Even though she’s making crappy personal choices, she still feels like an adult who has had real adult experiences both professionally and personally in a way that have affected her and have forced her to grow up even faster. I don’t know. There’s just something about her that I find really compelling and am wanting to be a part of because I myself feel more like a grown-up than I used to, even in the last few years.
The immediate reaction when word went out about the series was that it sounded like “Homeland” lite. That here was the broadcast version of the cable series. Had that not been a red light from the beginning for either of you — do we want to be viewed as a copy cat, will that drive viewers away because premium cable can get away with more, etc.?
KH: During the pitching process, that was sort of the problem, to be honest. We had to convince people that’s not what we’re doing. Just because it’s about the CIA, it’s a uniquely different show. Just because “Grey’s Anatomy” was in the medical world, it was not “ER.” So it is something we’ve had to come up against. Honestly, I think the proof is in the pudding. Once viewers watch, I think they’ll see it’s really nothing like “Homeland.” It is a very different take of the CIA, which was why I was very compelled by it. We haven’t seen this side of it. When do they ever do a show about the analysts? Because that isn’t as sexy as the operatives. It’s really about the analyst and Langley, [Va.].
We saw in the panel that where you’re concerned, Katherine, discussion tends to veer toward your reputation in the industry. And I’m sure you took that into consideration when signing on for this. But is there concern that the focus on your past will overshadow this project? Alfre, any concern on your end? I mean, the bulk of headlines following the TCA panel focused on Katherine addressing her reputation.
KH: Of course it’s a concern. Alfre saw me earlier today. I was just standing there shaking before I went out to do the panel. And she as like, “it’s going to be fine. You’re going to be fine.”
I mean, if people decide something about you and you want so badly to prove them wrong and tell them that’s not me, how do you do that unless they have the opportunity to get to know you? How will you get to know me past these few minutes talking to me now? I don’t know how to convince you that that reputation is not who I think myself to be. All I can do is do good work, work with great people and have them feel like it wasn’t a hellish experience. And to have a great show that gets everyone to change their perception of me. It’s not easy to change people’s minds, I’m learning.
AW: You’re much more gracious about all this than I would be. It’s like, you know, first of all, are you — and I don’t mean you, but media — going to base your journalism on rumors or whatever? How long has it been? Isn’t there a new story? Are you the same person you were 10 years ago? I certainly am not.
“State of Affairs” will air Monday nights beginning Nov. 17, getting the coveted lead-in from “The Voice.”
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