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Ellen Burstyn's Reluctant Foul Mouth on 'Political Animals'

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire July 6, 2012 at 12:00PM

USA's upcoming miniseries "Political Animals," created by Greg Berlanti and Laurence Mark and premiering July 15th at 10pm, is unquestionably Sigourney Weaver's show. She's ferocious in her first lead television role as Elaine Barrish, a Hillary Clintonesque divorced former First Lady, one-time presidential candidate and current Secretary of State and a woman of unapologetic competence and ambition whose family -- made up of her manipulative ex and adult twin sons -- has been very much shaped by the pressures of life in the spotlight.
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Ellen Burstyn as Margaret in 'Political Animals'
Andrew Eccles/USA Network Ellen Burstyn as Margaret in 'Political Animals'

USA's upcoming miniseries "Political Animals," created by Greg Berlanti and Laurence Mark and premiering July 15th at 10pm, is unquestionably Sigourney Weaver's show. She's ferocious in her first lead television role as Elaine Barrish, a Hillary Clintonesque divorced former First Lady, one-time presidential candidate and current Secretary of State and a woman of unapologetic competence and ambition whose family -- made up of her manipulative ex and adult twin sons -- has been very much shaped by the pressures of life in the spotlight.

But while the rest of the cast, which includes Ciarán Hinds as Elaine's former husband and Carla Gugino as a ruthless but not unsympathetic reporter, is impressive and provides solid support for Weaver's standout leading turn, it's Ellen Burstyn as Elaine's former Vegas showgirl mother Margaret Barrish who gets many of the best lines. "My character doesn't really come from politics," she noted at the "Political Animals" press day, "She's the truth teller. She cuts through the bull." Indeed Margaret provides a wry and frequently tipsy outsider perspective on the constant machinations -- her daughter mentions her mother once told the press that the country didn't elect Elaine because they didn't want to sleep with her.

That unfiltered dialogue didn't always come easy to Burstyn, who says, "It's been very challenging for me to play someone with such a foul mouth."

I read the lines sometimes and I say, "Oh my God! How can I say that?" It's been interesting to feel my own inner barriers and boundaries with language, which I wasn't really aware of until I get the script and go, "What? I have to say that?!"

That's been a challenge... I've always had fun with [Margaret], but I'm always negotiating with Greg on the language [laughs]. I trade him one bad word for another one: "ll say this if you don't make me say that!" He's been very generous with it.

Burstyn did say that she felt the political climate in general could use more Margaret-style truth telling:

I think the level has lowered to such a degree that people are out now, lying, and just trying to get away with it -- not even caring that they're lying, just to be able to say whatever the opposite of what the other character is saying. I think it's horrendous. I don't know if our show does anything to help that or not but it certainly does expose some of the horse trading that goes on behind the scenes.

This article is related to: Television, TV News, Ellen Burstyn, Political Animals, USA