TERENCE SMITH: How much research did you do to try to make your portrayal of C.J. as real as it could be?
ALLISON JANNEY: The first thing I did was panic because I knew nothing about politics, nothing. I didn't follow the political races, nothing, and I was kind of terrified to enter into this world I knew nothing about. And so Dee Dee Myers very graciously took me out for dinner, and we talked about her job. I think the most interesting thing that Dee Dee Myers told me was that a lot of what goes on in the White House, in terms of who talks to who, it's all just personality driven, as opposed to what your job is and who you're supposed to talk to. It's not about that. And so as a woman, it was just twice as hard for her to be in with the right group and know what she needed to know. She was invaluable.
And then I read Howard Kurtz's "Spin Cycle," which was pretty informative. But I am lucky enough to have Aaron [Sorkin, the show's creator] write what I have to say. So just have to go up there and just act like I know what I'm talking about, which is what they do, too, but they really know what they're talking about.
TERENCE SMITH: One of the things that your character does that people like Marlin Fitzwater and Joe Lockhart say is true to life is that the press secretary is always racing to catch up, to find out what's going on. Do you have that sense?
ALLISON JANNEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it is a very difficult job because you are the servant of two masters. And Joe Lockhart, once, actually let me start a press briefing in Washington, and it was strange. I felt strangely comfortable, though, going in there.
But [UPI White House correspondent] Helen Thomas came up to me afterwards, and she said, "I just want to give you some advice. As the press secretary, you represent the American people. That's who you represent.
You can't--" I mean, she was basically telling me that I had to tell, give up the goods to the press and to the people because that was where my duty lay, where my obligation was and not to the president. And I was like, "Well, Helen, I'll take that under consideration."
TERENCE SMITH: That's funny.
ALLISON JANNEY: It is. I don't know how they do it. But Joe Lockhart, and Dee Dee Myers, and Mike McCurry, all three of whom I've met, are all, they're great people. They're smart, and they're funny, and interesting, and I just really enjoyed meeting all three of them.
TERENCE SMITH: How important is it for your character to be as real and credible as possible?
ALLISON JANNEY: Part of the reason why "West Wing" works so well, I think, is it gives a human face to these people who work in these extraordinary jobs that we all know from the news, but you never get to see the human side of these people.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you think it is possible, within the limits of dramatic license, to convey the truth of what goes on in the White House even better in a fictional show than conventional news reporting can do?
ALLISON JANNEY: Yes, because I think that the news reporters generally have a certain bias or a story they're looking for that's maybe not the real story, and they're sort of cynical in a way, so you maybe don't get to hear the whole story in the newspaper. And in our show, you get to see what comes out on the news, but you also get to see what happened before that story came out to the news--like what the president went through to have to make a decision whether to bomb this country or put someone to death. You get to see what he personally goes through as a man struggling with his own beliefs.
TERENCE SMITH: You dealt with a subject in the first season, the census, and the idea of undercounting the census that most news organizations don't touch.
ALLISON JANNEY: No. And I thought Aaron was crazy. I read that, and I was like, "Well, this is going to be the most boring thing ever." And then as we did it, we had such a good time, and I learned, right along with C.J., as did my friends who watched the show. And now I can guarantee you everyone who saw that show is going to fill out their census because they saw how, and they learned how important it actually was and what it means.
TERENCE SMITH: In fact, the show is really very issue heavy.
ALLISON JANNEY: Yes, it is. It is. It's the White House, and I guess it has to be.
TERENCE SMITH: And yet the public seems to be ready to take it in.
ALLISON JANNEY: I know. It's unbelievable. It's a wonderful sign, though. I mean, I guess they really were hungry for it, if they're watching it. You know, there must have been a need that Aaron has filled. It's just extraordinary. I think it's a good sign that, that people are interested in it.
TERENCE SMITH: The only complaints I've heard, in fact, are from pretty conservative Republicans who are unhappy with the fact that the show and the presidency depicted in it is that of a liberal Democratic president.
ALLISON JANNEY: Yes. This is what I would say to them, this season, in particular, Aaron is focusing on the Republican side of things, too, to bring in more conflict, which is going to be more interesting and fiery. We're bringing on a new character for a while that's a Republican, who's going to be working for Bartlet, and we have, you know, Marlin Fitzwater now as a consultant, who is Republican.
And I think that Aaron really recognizes the potential there for some great story lines because great drama is all about conflict, and what's a better conflict than Republican-Democrat. So I think that Republicans might be happy with the way things are going to happen this season, in terms of their side is going to be definitely more apparent.
TERENCE SMITH: The people who have had this job before, the Joe Lockharts and the Marlin Fitzwaters, do have trouble envisioning an ongoing relationship, a romantic relationship, between a press secretary and a member of the press.
ALLISON JANNEY: I do too. C.J. does too. And I sort of think that that relationship is not going to be going any further. I think that Danny, Tim Busfield's character, wants it to, and that'll be interesting stuff to play, too, because I think that C.J. has definitely decided this is not good because it's already come up in her professional life, where people are asking, "Are you making that decision because of Danny or because of, you know, what's really going on?" And that's not good.
TERENCE SMITH: And is she cutting it off or deciding to end it for that reason?
ALLISON JANNEY: Yes.
TERENCE SMITH: The internal conflict.
ALLISON JANNEY: I think she would never let anyone know what her real feelings were for Danny. She probably cares about him a lot more than she lets on, but it's not going to go any further.
TERENCE SMITH: Joe Lockhart had a fun observation. He said that watching the show, he liked it that whenever C.J. was cut out of the loop, something bad happens.
ALLISON JANNEY: I love that. Anything to let people know that you can't leave the press secretary out of the loop or you're going to be in trouble.
TERENCE SMITH: How literally do you think viewers, take this show as a representation of life in the West Wing?
ALLISON JANNEY: I think it's what they hope life is like in the West Wing because these are all good people trying to do the right thing, and I think they really want it to be what it's like. And from the people that I've personally met in the West Wing, I would say that we're pretty right on track.
They're pretty great, wonderful people that work in the White House in this administration. I mean, it's the only one I've met or had the opportunity to get close to, but they all seem like really wonderful people who really care about their jobs and what they're doing.