'1600 Penn' Interview with Josh Gad, Bill Pullman and Jenna Elfman: Curious George of the First Family
'1600 Penn' Interview with Josh Gad, Bill Pullman and Jenna Elfman: Curious George of the First Family
Carla Day
Carla Day
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the White House? NBC's new comedy, 1600 Penn, provides a funny look at the life of the First Family. This is not the serious drama, West Wing! Executive Producer Josh Gad (First Son Skip), Bill Pullman (President Dale Gilchrist) and Jenna Elfman (Stepmom Emily) recently spoke with reporters about the new comedy.

Do you like to believe that these kind of shenanigans really are happening behind the scenes in the Obama White House? Or, were happening in the Bush or Clinton years?
Josh Gad: Well, you know, to a certain extent Jon Lovett -- who was one of the President's speech writers -- has said that in kind of writing for the show that it was never his intention to portray the Obamas. Because the Obama family is almost supernaturally perfect. And perfection doesn't really lead to comedy.

But I think that you can look as far back as Mary Todd Lincoln and you can look at some of the current presidential predecessors and you can see dysfunction in the halls of the White House for at least a hundred years.

And I think what's so interesting now is under the scrutiny of the 24 media news cycle what happens if a family like were to be front and center in this center? 

How do you avoid the blitzkrieg of questions? If you think back to Bush twins and all the questions that they had to deal with about their, you know, alcohol consumption even though they were just in college.

Or you look at some of the questions that Chelsea Clinton got about her life and her lifestyle. I think that there's a lot of questions that, you know, will be addressed the more and more we kind of live in that bubble and the more that 24 hour cycle is there and present.

Can you talk about for each other how you think that they're most alike and different from their characters?
Gad: I think that Bill has this absolute control of a room when he walks in. I think that there's a reason that he's played the president on more than one occasion. It's because you would trust him to be the leader of the free world.

You look into his eyes and you see somebody who has command of a room, who has the wherewithal to lead people through either an alien invasion or his son's invasion of his home.
And I think with Jenna there's this absolute sense of inner calmness and inner strength but an outer flurry that is excitable and that is all of these wonderful things. And I think that that character absolutely resembles the inner and outer version of what you get from the brilliance that is Jenna Elfmann.

Jenna Elfmann: Josh has one of the best senses of humor and timing of anybody I've met in a very long time combined with a true sense of joy. And it's rare in my experience that I find actors who are men who are truly joyful, who are really freaking funny. And you either kind of get one or the other or none or neither.

But what I love about his character is that in all of the craziness and all of the mis-estimation that is Skip he brings - there's always a little - even if it's one billionth of a fraction of truth and a magic and honesty and realness and humanity to our family on this show.

And so while being very annoying at times or, you know, just confounding he inevitably has a piece of humanity and heart and magic that ends up bringing the family together.
And this is the strangest analogy but he kind of reminds me of Curious George.

Gad: I don't know where this has gone. This has gone off a fiscal cliff for me.

Elfmann: No Curious George always gets into trouble but his mistakes always end of leading to something good.

How important do you feel it is for Americans to be able to identify with the first family? How easy or difficult it is to identify with the first family in a show like this?
Gad: It was interesting because when we set out to do this one of the first decisions that we had to make was kind of figuring out who our president and first lady were going to be.
And when Bill and Jenna fell into our laps it set the rest of the show afloat because we knew that this president and first lady couldn't be goofy. If they were in any way goofy nobody would buy them in the office and therefore we wouldn't have a show.

Because the axis is so wobbly when it comes to the children the centrifuge which is the president and first lady needs to be as strong as possible. And I think that that's what gives us the freedom to sometimes go a little crazy with some of the other characters.

And there's an absolute necessity for people to relate to this family. Because if they don't relate to the family then, you know, what are you watching it for, you know, what are you really tuning in for.

And I think especially as the episodes go on you'll find most of the characters relatable if not all of the characters relatable to you or somebody that you know I think it's safe to say.

Elfmann: What I love with my character specifically is just that she does have these moments where, she's a fully capable lawyer and political consultant and she does have a sharp wit. But when it comes to the family as the stepmother that's her Achilles heel. And that's where she falls off balance and is grasping for straws and gets a little bit nutty.

And then when the two worlds collide - when her necessity to please or win as a stepmother collides in the political realm it gets a little crazy for her. And I'm having fun having those moments where I get to play like I know how this is supposed to go but not when there's a family involved. And that's when there's like an inner conflict within my character and I get to fall off balance and find a comedy.

Is there sort of a certain tone that you're trying to capture about the city and Washington DC itself or is the show really about the family dynamics or a combination?
Gad: I think that it's absolutely not a political show. And I can't emphasize that enough because we never set out to make a political show. There are so many great political shows out there from West Wing to Veep.

We wanted to make a show about a family that happens to live in a world where they are surrounded by politics. And while we do engage in those story lines it's not really a commentary on that.

With gay marriage being such a big topic in politics, is that addressed on the show or are there any gay characters on the show?
Bill Pullman: In the pilot one of the characters expresses an interest in the same sex. But, you know, it's like all of the issues that we address on the show, the show itself is not very politically motivated.

And that's not our intention. Our intention is to do a story about a dysfunctional family that happens to be in the most famous address in the United States of America. And while it touches on politics it's sort of backdrop and not at the forefront of any of the story lines.

1600 Penn premieres on Thursday, January 10 with the pilot at 8:30 pm ET and a second episode in the regular time slot of 9:30 pm ET on NBC

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(Image courtesy of NBC.)

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