Kathrine Herzer – Madam Secretary
By: Taylor Gates
Q) One thing I like about Madam Secretary is that it’s so positive. It manages to be a political show that makes you feel good.
A) We need that. We really, really need that today.
Q) Alison’s storylines are some of my favorites. They always have been, but I feel like they’ve just been getting better and better with each season. Last year I know they touched on sexism and how the media judges women based on appearances. Do you have a favorite storyline or topic that you’ve tackled by playing her?
A) We had so many amazing moments last season. Definitely that one with Elizabeth (Téa Leoni) when Alison didn’t even realize she was coming off as sexist. I sort of love that we can all get caught up in it. I think as young girls especially we look at these women on magazines and we’re like, “Oh, they’re so hot.” We epitomize them just because of the way they look and we don’t know anything else about them so I thought it was a really refreshing way to sort of connect families. That’s what I love so much about our show—we invite so many conversations into the room by creating this family dynamic and these really, really serious issues, but we deal with them with sort of a light hand which I appreciate because it doesn’t overwhelm them. It’s exactly what you said: you love the show because it leaves you with a positive feeling. That’s what we want. We want you to be informed and to feel a little bit changed but feel good at the end of the day.
Q) Speaking of fashion, I love how your character is both really smart but also interested in fashion. I think that sends a great message, especially to young girls who may feel embarrassed by that interest or that love. What do you hope people can take away from Alison or what do you hope she can inspire people to do?
A) I think what I love most about Alison is her gusto. She approaches every situation with such a force and such a very pure enjoyment and I think that’s something that’s being missed today. We don’t find a lot of people talking about, “Oh, I’m passionate about these things” or “I care about my art” or whatever it is. You see a lot of people brushing it off like, “Oh, this stuff doesn’t matter.” It’s a disheartening time to be a woman, especially, and to care about things like fashion and whatever else. I think a moment that really culminated that on the show was when Alison had made her own dress for her dance and she got so much flack for it. Even her father gave her shit for it. It was like, at every turn people didn’t understand what she was doing for herself. Feeling comfortable in her own skin and her own body and also creating something that was beautiful and that was an external reflection of her own talents and art. To have that paired with the fight she had with her brother for not standing up for her and having that moment of slut-shaming, how everyone can get caught up in slut-shaming and how it’s not as simple as we think it is. But we do have to stand united for those that we care about. The bottom line of all of it is be who you are and hope that the people around you support you. I think the McCord family is such a supportive unit that they disagree and are not always on the same page, but they’re willing to listen to each other.
Q) You kind of touched on Alison’s gusto and her passion and I feel that’s becoming more and more evident and more of a strong characteristic as the seasons go on. She was a little timider in the first few seasons. So, what’s been the most exciting part of seeing Alison grow up and come into her own?
A) Everything about it is really exciting! I don’t know, it’s so much more fun to play a character who’s speaking her mind than sort of sulking in the corner which we saw a lot. But at the same time it’s been a very true progression of a young woman and that’s also what I really love about it. I love how she was timid before and now she’s more outspoken. I love the way [showrunner and creator] Barbara [Hall] is able to write this family unit that is so true. People do go through these phases of hating each other then loving each other. There are these sort of radical sides of them. That’s family.
Q) The McCord family has such great chemistry on screen. Some of my very favorite scenes are when you’re all together. Are you guys all pretty close in real life as well?
A) Oh my God, we are the tightest group out there. It’s insane. Tim [Daly] and Téa – they’re my second parents. I adore them. We do a lot of things outside work together. Wallis [Currie-Wood] is one of my best friends. We’re raising Evan [Roe] on the side. We’re a loud, rowdy bunch. We’re inappropriate. We make a lot of jokes, but we really support one another. So, it’s a beautiful, beautiful [thing]. My favorite part of the show is working with these people. Just the laughs with everyone on set, too: the camera people, the crew, everyone. We’re all just such good friends at this point. I’m so excited for this season to continue. Every season it grows so I can’t imagine what’s it’s going to be like at the end of this year.
Q) That’s so exciting to hear as a fan. You have these fantasies like, “Oh they’re all best friends off set too,” so the fact that’s actually true is so exciting to me.
A) Oh, you have no idea. I’m not even going to say to the limits it goes because it’s inappropriate. We’re like one of those in-the-trenches families. Like when Tim broke his legs I went and visited him…we’re one big family so it’s really sweet.
Q) You mentioned that Tim and Téa are kind of your second parents. What are some of the best pieces of advice they’ve given you or what have you learned from them?
A) To be myself, honestly. Like the way they step into a room. Téa doesn’t care what anyone thinks—she knows who she is—and that spirit is so alive in her and it’s so beautiful to watch. Same with Tim. I’m so lucky that I started this show when I did because I was definitely a shyer person. I’ve always been more outgoing, but they really taught me that I don’t need to change myself around certain people or to be at work I need to be so serious or whatever. The amount of things they taught me, I’ll never be able to express how grateful I am. They’re just really, really great people. And also the service they do. Téa is hugely involved with UNICEF and she’s brought me to those events and Tim brought me into the Creative Coalition, which was unbelievable. It’s such an honor to be a part of, to be able to stand for people who need help making sure that they get this arts funding and that it doesn’t get cut. Being an actor I’m so lucky to have always had the arts in my life, but a lot of people don’t and I think especially with the chaotic world we’re living in today where it’s just like stress, anxiety, teens are more depressed than they’ve ever been. People are struggling very seriously and I think art is the number one way we can help people.
Q) There are obviously so many powerful women on this show between Téa and Wallis and Bebe Neuwirth and Patina Miller, what is the set environment like having all of those strong female role models around all the time?
A) You are missing the two biggest powerhouses on our set, and that is our showrunner and creator Barbara Hall and our Executive Producer Lori McCreary. They are legendary. I mean Lori walks into a room and just commands everything that goes on. And it’s funny too because for awhile, up until a few months ago, I hadn’t realized what the dynamic was or that I was even living in a world run by women until my friend was like, “Yeah, your show has a woman showrunner, a woman Executive Producer,” and I was like, “Holy shit. That’s why. That’s why I’m not afraid.” Alongside the advice of Téa and Tim, I see these women in action and I see how powerful they are and how creative and talented and smart they are. I got so accustomed to it that I couldn’t even see it and I’m so excited for that to become everyone’s life because it doesn’t even need to be something we talk about, it just should be a part of life.
Q) There’s been so much in the news recently about not hiring enough women directors and things like that, so to hear you say that is just incredible. As sad as it is, it is groundbreaking in a way.
A) Our show is absolutely groundbreaking and we do our best to get as many female directors as we can on set and to get that going. CBS does a really good job of trying to get female directors in the sphere of the CBS directing world. I know they do an intern program. A few of them came to set a couple times. It’s like a mentorship program and it’s a wonderful environment to be in as a young woman.
Q) Would you ever want to branch out to writing or directing or do you think you’re just going to stay in acting for awhile?
A) I love this question because I go to NYU Gallatin, which is the school of individualized study so you can craft your own curriculum. At first it was kind of like film, business and psychology and now it’s being like taken over by film and writing and producing and directing. I’m about to start a class actually where we write our own shorts and then we make them and we get to do everything. So, I’m in a great position at school, too, getting to learn these really hands-on tools I definitely plan on using in my future. I’m excited about it. Hopefully you guys will get a chance to see my short. Hopefully, it turns out well.
Q) You’ve kind of mentioned that, like your character, you’ve found your voice and gotten more outgoing. What are some more similarities and maybe differences you have with Alison?
A) Alison and I are very different. [laughs] It’s funny because I watch the show with my friends and they’re like, “I don’t know who that is.” It’s funny because she’s naive in a lot of ways and there’s a beautiful pureness to that. I don’t think I’m quite as naive. Like when I read that initial script with that sexualizing of [Elizabeth] and [Alison] was like “Oh, she’s so hot,” I at first was like, “What?!” I was furious at it. I was like, “How can we do this?! No!” But then I could see the beauty of it because it’s so true and it’s so real. It’s not real to me, but it’s real to a lot of people out there. So, that’s what was cool. She takes me back a little bit. I appreciate it a lot of the time. She’s taught me more about—I mean acting is all about empathy—but really with her I’ve had to take a few years back, take a breath and reenter the situation.
Q) Are you as fashion-forward as she is would you say?
A) I would. I would. Actually, they got that because it was at a CBS party with a few producers of our show and I was wearing this all-pink outfit that was pretty stylish. One of the producers said to me, “Wow, that’s a great getup. Did you put that together yourself?” and I was like, “Yeah,” and she was like, “Okay.” And then the next episode I read she was into fashion.
Q) That’s so cool that they write for the actors a little bit. Does that happen a lot?
A) They do. They listen. Yeah, they really do. The producers and the writers, they listen. They want to make it fun and natural so they do. They incorporate a lot of our own quirks. Also, another piece they incorporated was back in Season Two. I was a peer mediator and I actually worked on a crisis hotline called TEEN LINE in high school so it was very similar. They do that a lot with a lot of our characters so it was really great. Geoffrey [Arend], his mother is Muslim and that was a story very close to his heart.
Q) I feel like the best shows are when the writers know their talent really well and put those personal details into it.
A) Our writers really have their finger on the pulse, Barbara especially. And this upcoming premiere episode is exactly what the world needs. Everyone needs to see it. It’s a fun mix of my going to college mixed with some other stuff. I don’t know how much I can give away—I think I may have already said too much. [laughs] But it’s a beautiful, beautiful episode and I’m really, really excited about it.
Q) Has there been an episode or scene that’s really stuck out to you the most while filming? I know they all probably kind of blend together a little bit since you’re so busy.
A) They do. They definitely blend together. There’s always moments from each episode that we remember. It’s hard because we’ve done so many and every season there’s a few standout moments. I really have to say last season it was with the slut-shaming.
Q) I love how that was a big theme that kind of carried over to multiple people’s storylines.
A) Yeah, it was a really cohesive episode. It really impacted me. It was a scene Evan and I had done and it like hurt to hear him say that and not defend me. I thought it was a really important storyline. I would say that one for myself. It’s hard for me to come up [with them] because there’s so many different [ones].
Q) If you could play any other character on the show who would you want to be?
A) I would love to play Zeljko’s [Ivankek] character, but I’m really super, super hesitant to say that because he’s so unbelievably gifted. So, I almost regret saying that.
Q) I think you could do it. I think you could pull it off.
A) He’s so cool and he brings so much to that role. I would love to bring that dry, brazen, crass attitude he has. I love it.
Q) What can we expect from Alison and the McCord family as a whole this new season?
A) You’re gonna get a whole lot form the McCord family this season. They tell me very little which is smart because I’m obviously a blabbermouth…I say this every time, but this is definitely the best season we’ve done so far. We get better and better every year. I really believe that we’re one of those shows that just feels it and gets more into the groove and more into the style every year so I’m really excited about this season..