'Political Animals': Rockland star feels 'first son's' pain

Sebastian Stan as TJ Hammond, left, Sigourney Weaver Sebastian Stan as TJ Hammond, left, Sigourney Weaver as Elaine Barrish, James Wolk as Doug Hammond in USA Network's "Political Animals." Photo Credit: USA Network

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The USA Network's miniseries, "Political Animals," is not only bursting with political intrigue, but also with talent from the Hudson Valley. The six-parter, which premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday, was created by Greg Berlanti, a Rye native, and stars Sigourney Weaver, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers. The cast includes two actors with Rockland County roots: Ellen Burstyn and Sebastian Stan.

Stan, best known for his recurring role on "Gossip Girl," plays T.J., a son of Elaine Barrish Hammond (Weaver), a character loosely based on Hillary Rodham Clinton. T.J. must contend with having two parents in the political spotlight -- his mother is the Secretary of State and his father is the former Commander-in-Chief (with whom Elaine splits due to his philandering). T.J. struggles with his parents' high profile lives, a drug addiction, and his status as the first openly gay child of a U.S. president.

Stan said he was drawn to the script, which he likened to "someone giving me a great meal," and the fact that the character was nothing like him. "It's probably why I so wanted to do it," he said.

He and co-star James Wolk, who plays his brother, Douglas, prepared for their roles as first sons by researching the lives of children born in the spotlight, such as Princes William and Harry as well as the Kennedys. He found that Paul Newman's son, Scott, who died of a drug overdose in 1978, was a "gold mine of information" due to the parallels between him and T.J.

"He was unfortunately similar to my character, just desperately wanting for a way to stand up for himself," Stan said. "He's in a situation where he's constantly having to look up to his father and what he's achieved, and what those pressures are, and ultimately has no other way of dealing with it besides drugs and alcohol."

While his character struggles with his demons through most of the episodes, Stan said he was delighted to be a part of the series, especially because of its all-star cast.

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"I felt very lucky and honored. The discipline on set was very specific -- these guys came up and delivered, bringing their A-game."

He was particularly admiring of Burstyn, who plays his fiery, alcoholic grandmother. Stan, who attended Rockland Country Day School in Congers, and Burstyn, a longtime Rockland resident, chatted on occasion about the area they had in common, Stan said. Stan also revealed that the two are in talks to perform in a play together in New York.

"I'm excited to work with Ellen in a different medium," he said. "She's experienced so much and she's so bright -- she's just a powerhouse of a woman."

Although the 28-year-old didn't begin working as an actor until after graduating from college, Stan said attending Rockland Country Day School was influential in inspiring his ambitions.

"We were really encouraged to spread out in different areas and try everything from soccer to acting," he said of his experience at the school, where there were only 15 kids in his class. "It was a really intimate environment."

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"Political Animals" airs as the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election. Stan hopes the series lets viewers know that no matter where they fall on the political spectrum, all politicians and their families are human.

"So much energy is spent making these people into a product. But the most important thing is to remember, as cliched as it sounds, is that what you see is not what you always get," he said. "The show is really trying to let you know that these people are not perfect, even though they might seem so on paper and on camera."

"Political Animals" will air at 10 p.m. on Sundays on USA.

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