The West Wing Anniversary: Three Secrets From the Cast Eight Years After the Finale
It's a West Wing reunion!
Eight years ago, on May 14, 2006, fans bid adieu to President Bartlet, Josh Lyman, C.J. Cregg, and the rest of The West Wing. In recognition of the eighth anniversary of the final episode of the show, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the cast and crew behind the NBC political drama and uncovered some secrets.
Here are three gems from the look back on The West Wing.
1. Janel Moloney didn't originally audition for the role of Donna. Actress Moloney, now 44, got her longest-running gig with the seven-year role of Donna Moss, the assistant to Deputy Chief-of-Staff Josh Lyman. The Good Wife actress, however, didn't even audition for the part as the lovable aide in the first place. "Janel Moloney came in to read for C.J., but when it became clear that Allison [Janney] was going to get the part, we asked her if she'd like to help us out and play the relatively thankless role of Donna [Josh's assistant] because who knows? We may see her from time to time," showrunner Aaron Sorkin explained. Moloney, who went on to appear in close to 150 episodes, added, "I was hostessing at an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills called Il Pastaio, and I kept my job at the restaurant at first. But by the third episode, I knew that they were never going to get rid of me."
2. Martin Sheen wasn't a shoo-in for President Bartlet. With his role as President Bartlet, Sheen, 73, is one of the most famous and beloved fictional presidents. But the Golden Globe winner was hardly the first actor considered for the part in West Wing, which is now available for streaming on Netflix. "One of the things we got crap for was not having enough minorities, but what people didn't realize is we had offered Sidney Poitier the president role," former West Coast President of NBC Entertainment Scott Sassa told THR. The next actors the showrunners turned to were the late Jason Robards (All the President's Men), Hal Holbrook, who later appeared in the show as the Assistant Secretary of State Albie Duncan, and John Cullum (The Middle). "One day [executive producer] John Wells called and said, "What about Martin Sheen?" Sorkin explained. "I'd loved working with Martin on The American President but didn't think we had a shot at him for this. A few minutes later Martin called and said he'd read the script and he'd like to do it. At the outset, I'd imagined that the president was a character we'd only see once in a while, and so Martin was originally signed to a contract that would have him appear in four out of 13 episodes." As West Wing fans know, Sheen's Bartlet became the center of the show.
3. Richard Schiff, who played Communications Director Toby Ziegler was "very hurt" by his character's ending on the show. After Sorkin's mid-series departure from the early 2000s show, Schiff's Ziegler took a turn from the beloved moral compass of the staff to a suspicious whistle-blower who gets fired and faces jail time. "Aaron [Sorkin] wrote me a very lovely email saying that Toby is one of his favorite characters he's ever written, and he talked about our relationship building that character," Schiff told THR. "He said, 'I've heard what's happening to your character and I'm so sorry.' And that's how I felt: very sorry that they had chose to do what they did. They didn't tell me in advance like Aaron would have. Clearly they didn't want to tell me because they were scared of my reaction to it. I would have talked them out of it because it was not in line with the six years of work that I built with that character. I was very, very hurt by it."