1600 Penn Interview: Bill Pullman, Jenna Elfman and Josh Gad On Playing a Presidential Family

The cast of NBC’s upcoming comedy, 1600 Penn are excited for audiences to see the hijinks of President Dale Gilchrest and his dysfunctional First Family. TV Equals was happy to be a part of a conference call with Bill Pullman, Jenna Elfman and Josh Gad. Read below to see what you can expect from the show.

Political issues in 1600 Penn

Gad said that while 1600 Penn will loosely address some political hot-button issues, the majority of the show will focus on the family unit.

“Well, in the pilot, one of the characters expresses an interest in the same sex, but, you know, like all of the issues we address on the show, the show itself is not very politically motivated and that’s not our intention,” he said. “Our intention is to do a story about a dysfunctional family who happens to be the most famous… in the United States in America. And while it touches on politics, it’s sort of a backdrop and not at the forefront of any of the storylines.”

A family in the limelight

Could the First Family be facing some of the craziness that the Gilchrests face? Probably, according to Gad.

“To a certain extent, Jon Lovett, who was one of [President Obama's] speech writers has said that in writing on the show that it was never his intention to portray the Obamas because the Obama family is almost supernaturally perfect and perfection doesn’t really lead to comedy,” he said. “But I think you can look as far back as Mary Todd Lincoln and you can look at some of the presidential predecessors and you can see dysfunction in the halls of the White House, for at least a hundred years. And I think what’s interesting now is that under the 24[-hour] news cycle, what happens if a family like were to be front and center in this world? How do you avoid the blitzkrieg of questions? If you think back to the Bush twins and all the questions they had to deal with about their alcohol consumption, even though they were just in college, or you look at some of the questions Chelsea Clinton had to deal got about her life and her lifestyle…I think there will be a lot of questions that will be addressed more and more we kind of live in that bubble and the more that 24-hour cycle is there.”

Preparing for the role of President and First Lady

Elfman and Pullman talked about how they were able to understand their characters through books and newspapers.

“Thank God I have so many first ladies on my speed dial [and] close my eyes and scroll and hit anywhere my finger landed,” said Elfman, jokingly. “I wish. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ring up any current or former First Ladies, so I used the good old fashioned way–at the bookstore [and used] books about First Ladies and really just tried to get a sense of what their reality is, landing in such a heightened existence than their life prior to that, what obstacles they faced, what goals they had as First Ladies and just to get myself oriented.”

“It was a surreal time to be making this because of the campaigns going on,” said Pullman. “Every time I read something in the paper about either candidate going through something I could really kind of zero in empathetically what it must be like in the private moments with the family about different issues and different ways that could be tweaked in a comic way.”

Are the Gilchrests the Romneys?

You might think it’s ironic that the Gilchrests resemble the Romneys. But, according to Elfman, the resemblance wasn’t the plan for the show.

“We were just so focused–when we made the pilot, we weren’t in that territory…” she said. “We were in the middle of filming our season when that kind of happened to really come to the forefront…So…when we were cast in the roles, that wasn’t really part of our mindset.”

“Technically, Romney was copying Bill. Let’s be honest,” said Gad jokingly.

“True,” said Pullman, adding to the joke. “…He’s styling after me. I’ve noticed his suits.

What to love about 1600 Penn

Pullman, Gad and Elfman described how their characters are similar to themselves in real life.

“I think that Bill has absolute control of the room when he walks in. I think that’s the reason he’s played the President on more than one occasion. You would trust him to be the leader of the free world. You look into his eyes and see somebody who has command of a room, who has the wherewithal to lead people through either an alien invasion or his son’s invasion of his home,” said Gad about Pullman. “I think with Jenna, there’s this actual..sense of of inner calmness and inner strength, but an outer flurry that’s excitable and is all of these wonderful things, and I think that character absolutely represents the inner and outer version of the brilliance that is Jenna.”

Elfman likened Gad’s character to Curious George. “Josh has one of the best sense of humor and timing of anybody I’ve met in a very long time, combined with a true sense of joy,” she said. “What I love about his character is in all of the craziness…there’s always a little…truth and magic and honesty [that he brings to] our family on this show. So while being very annoying at times…he inevitably has a piece of humanity and heart and magic that ends up bringing the family together.”

“This is my first time doing a series, and I imagine you, probably as journalists, have all heard ‘We love each other on the show’, but I’m a newbie and I get to say that for real as an honest thing,” said Pullman. “This is great group of people who are incredibly respectful of each other and the whole process has been a great gift…There isn’t that kind of modern snarkiness in the characters and I think it comes from the fact that these people aren’t that way in life.”

“I think that there’s a cynical approach to a lot of comedy today and some people will love the fact that we’re taking the completely opposite route and some people won’t,” added Gad. “…This is not a cynical world. This is a very optimistic family and they love each other and we as a cast truly have truly kind of fallen in love with each other.”

The sneak peek of 1600 Penn airs December 17 at 9:30/8:30c on NBC. After that, the show will air at its regular time January 10 at 9:30/8:30c.

About The Author

Monique Jones is a freelance entertainment writer who also runs Moniqueblog.net, a site analyzing how race and culture are perceived in American entertainment. She has been published on ShockYa, Racialicious, Topless Robot and more.