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Feature: The West Wing

One Heart Beat Away

The West Wing

The West Wing's chief of staff Leo McGarry is now running for Vice President, but his weak heart could cause problems down the line, as actor Jon Spencer tells TV Zone

It’s the kind of breathtaking final twist that The West Wing is so good at. As Senator Matthew Santos finally won the Democratic party’s nomination for the presidency, he announced that his running mate would be Leo McGarry. After years of silently guiding the Bartlet presidency from behind the scenes as the White House Chief of Staff it’s Leo’s chance to step into the spotlight.

“I personally owe Wells and Warner Brothers two more seasons, this coming season and one after that,” comments John Spencer, who plays the character. “This year, we’re going to elect a new president and I don’t know if there will be a place in a new administration for Leo. Honestly I wasn’t sure that Leo would stay in an administration that didn’t involve Bartlet. I thought Barlet was his man.”

However, he admits it was inevitable that some distance would develop between Leo and his President, as the result of a long chain of events going back through the series’ run. But it also means that Leo would be finally able to claim power for himself, rather than being the power behind the throne… if his body is up to it.

"It was such a journey,” he says of his character’s sixth season heart attack. “It seemed so technically and dramatically correct that ultimately Leo’s health would give out. If you look at the history it started with the strain after the Sharif assassination where suddenly reality was slightly tarnished. In a way the Bartlet administration was a Camelot up to that point, and then suddenly we assassinated somebody, justifiably perhaps. Then there was a Macbethian sort of darkness that came in, and I think that began the separation between Leo and Jed Bartlet. In a way they could almost not look at each other without the knowledge that they had done this."

by Jenny Eden

Read the full interview in
TV Zone #193

Photo © NBC
Feature © Visual Imagination 2005. Not for reproduction

Taken from
TV Zone #193, see below for ordering options
TV Zone #193
September 2005
ships from Aug 18 2005
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