Months ago, a friend of mine mentioned on Facebook that she wanted to see a gender-flipped version of The West Wing. Mekaela and I happened to be playing around with a bunch of different ideas for gender-flipped movie casts at the time, so naturally we abandoned all of them to work on casting The West Wing instead. Of course, that show went on for a fairly long time and I’m a big quitter who gives up on TV when I don’t like the way it’s turning out, so Mek and I mostly just stuck to casting the first couple of seasons. It was a little more manageable that way.
So, Happy Birthday, Kate! Here’s to hoping you don’t hate ALL the casting choices.
I didn’t bother changing anyone’s names. Feel free to do that yourself, if you want. Although, personally, I think you should keep the name ‘Josiah’ either way. I know it’s traditionally a boy’s name, but I kind of like it for a girl.
President Josiah Bartlet
I am the Lord, your God. Thou shalt worship no other God before me. Boy, those were the days, huh?
I’ll admit it: I love CCH Pounder without reservation. I generally want to cast her in most things. But I can especially see her being a great Bartlet. She has the voice and the gravitas for the Big Speech Moments, the badass presence for the role of Commander and Chief, the warmth and compassion needed for playing a mentor role. She can also bring the irritation just fine, which is absolutely great. Some of my very favorite moments are when Bartlet’s irritated with somebody.
The only reason I was concerned about casting a black woman in the role was because it affects a pretty fundamental storyline in Season One. Mek and I talked about that, and we’ve devised a way to update it, but I’ll hold off on discussing it further until we come to Charlie.
I am making a mental list of those who are snickering, and even as I speak, I am preparing appropriate retribution.
I sometimes worry that, after Glee, Jane Lynch will be typecast in only comedically outrageous and ridiculously antagonistic roles, but I feel like she could actually be a pretty great Leo. I’ve always loved Leo, and I was sad as hell when John Spencer died. Lynch, I think, could be a worthy successor. I’m pretty sure she could nail that matter-of-fact delivery. I can see her calling the New York Times about the errors in their crossword puzzles, and I can definitely see her yelling at the top of her voice for Margaret. I also think–mostly based off her guest work on Criminal Minds–that she can handle the kinder, softer moments when necessary, like some of Leo’s scenes with Josh (before the show started needlessly fucking around with that relationship) or some of Leo’s scenes with Bartlet (before the show started needlessly fucking around with that relationship).
Victory is mine, victory is mine! Great day in the morning, people, victory is mine. I drink from the keg of glory, Donna. Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.
Lauren Graham’s actually one of the very first people we cast, which is interesting because Josh is kind of a hard character. He requires nearly an impossible amount of charm because, when you get right down to it, Josh is kind of an arrogant little shit. But because it’s Bradley Whitford (who is amazing), Josh somehow ended up being my favorite character. (I mean, don’t get me wrong, Josh does have some awesome qualities. But he is smug, like, at least 70% of that time.)
It’s hard to strike lightning twice, though, and it’s certainly true that audiences are generally more willing to forgive an arrogant male character than an arrogant female character. Thank you, Hollywood double standards. I wasn’t sure who had the insane amount of likability to counterbalance Josh’s supreme levels of confidence . . . but then I thought of Lauren Graham, and I was like, “Okay, that’s it. We’ve got a winner.”
I . . . yes, reluctantly. I think it was clear by the way I ate the crab puff that it was a gesture of protest.
Sam, on the other hand. Sam took forever to cast because he’s got kind of the opposite problem: he’s the puppy. The idealist. As characters go, idealists are often one-note, righteous, and boring. Sam is a rare exception to the rule, but once again, performance matters a lot here, and Mek and I struggled to come up with an actress we liked in the role, one who could balance moral conviction with Sam’s easy, affable manner.
Maggie Lawson’s name came up because one, she’s hilarious, and two, she’s played non-annoying idealists before, namely Juliet from Psych. Admittedly, Juliet was a little silly when she first came on board, but she quickly became one of the show’s best characters. I can see Maggie Lawson passionately arguing about the importance of education. I can see her snagging a defeated bigot’s crab puff. And I can see her blowing up about how she accidentally slept with a prostitute the night before. These were all key moments for me when it came to casting Sam.
I’m going to make a suggestion that might help you out, but I don’t want this to be mistaken for an indication that I like you.
The first thing I ever saw Camryn Manheim in was The 10th Kingdom, and I liked her, but I didn’t fall in love with her until watching Person of Interest where she. Is just. AWESOME. Control is very definitely not Toby, but the role gave me a decent sense of Manheim’s range, and I’m pretty sure gruff, passionate, sharp-as-nails speechwriter is within it.
I’m now imagining “17 People” with Camryn Mannheim facing off against CCH Pounder, and I’m just like, “Holy Jesus, give it to me NOW.”
First of all, you’re wrong. Second of all, shut up. Third: I went to Hoynes with your thing, and he said he wasn’t the one who talked to you, and I believe him and he’s really pissed at me and he’s right. And fourth . . . shut up again.
Alan Tudyk has had an interesting career. He gets a lot of outrageous, wacky comedic roles (A Knight’s Tale, Dodgeball, Death at a Funeral), but he excels at all types of comedy, not just broad humor. I keep going back to his performance as Wash on Firefly, and while Wash and CJ really don’t have anything in common as characters–I don’t know, it just works for me. Tudyk can be ridiculously expressive and that would obviously do well for the more dramatic scenes, but I can also see him using this great deadpan during all the press briefings. I would never say he would do a better job than Allison Janney–because ALL HAIL QUEEN ALLISON JANNEY–but I will say that both actors have stellar comedic timing, and I like this casting quite a lot.
Aja Naomi King
Well, I’m personal aide to the President, so my supervisor’s a little busy right now looking for a back door to this place to shove you out of. But I’ll let him know you’d like to lodge a complaint.
Okay, so here’s the thing about Charlie: a major storyline in the first season is that terrible racist assholes disapprove of the fact that Charlie, a black man, is dating the President’s daughter, and when I say disapprove, I mean with gunfire. However, that story inevitably changes when you make the President a black woman instead of a white man. I tried to reconcile that, and my solution was to update to a post 9/11 prejudice and make Charlie a Muslim. I then tried casting a Middle Eastern actress, but honestly I could not find anyone I was familiar with in the right age range. And I figured, okay, well if stupid people today are still claiming that President Obama’s Muslim, then we can still have a black actress in the part and maybe that would be better anyway because Charlie is black and I don’t have to feel weird about swapping PoC ethnicities? Anyway, there’s that thought process.
Now. We’ve just sped through How to Get Away with Murder like crazy in the past few months, and while Michaela and Charlie have pretty much nothing in common, we felt that Aja Naomi King has the range to make it work. Figured it might be kind of fun, actually, watching the normally ambitious, high-strung law student become the laid back, eternally patient Presidential aide. Charlie’s got so many quietly hilarious lines, and I can see Aja Naomi King pulling those.
Yeah, so, Mr. President, if you could further see clear to not answer that question like an economics professor with a big old stick up his butt, that would be good too.
I’m gonna be real with you people: I don’t care about Mandy at all. I have never particularly liked Mandy, probably because Moira Kelly’s performance never did a whole lot for me, but also because the show never quite knew what to do with her. (I suspect she was supposed to be Josh’s love interest, but when Donna and Josh ended up the show’s big OTP instead, the creators never really gave Mandy her own storyline, save the one about the memo.) I’m also, honestly, not sure how exciting it is to gender-flip her role. But she is a main cast member for the first season, and since we’re focusing on characters from Seasons 1 and 2, we figured we had to find someone for her.
So, Tom Cavanagh. Honestly, it’s just a matter of loving him on The Flash and thinking maybe he could make Mandy a lot more fun for me. Her introduction scene (when she’s ignoring a cop to talk on the phone) has always annoyed me, but I put Tom Cavanagh in the same seat, and I think . . . you know, maybe that could work.
If you were an accident, I wouldn’t stop for red lights.
Donna is an interesting character to gender flip. I love Donna, but she is both a secretary and the voice of of the audience, which means she gets to ask a lot of questions so that everyone watching understands the politics and history involved. It’s definitely a role that we’ve become comfortable giving to women, but men? A little less so, particularly given the nature of Josh and Donna’s relationship. I definitely wanted someone who could do rapid fire banter (admittedly, a quality that any actor on The West Wing should probably have), someone inherently likable, and maybe someone who had experience playing the love interest to an actual strong female lead.
And I found my way to Scott Foley, who has proven on Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal that he’s quite possibly the most charming fucker alive. I can see him handling all the expository questions pretty well, and I’d pay money to watch him and Lauren Graham go back and forth.
CJ, I’m not staying in the penalty box forever. I have covered the White House for eight years, and I’ve done it with the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and the DALLAS MORNING NEWS! And I’m telling you, you can’t mess me around like this!
Okay, I admit it: half of the reason for this casting is because I adore Melissa Ponzio on Teen Wolf and would like to see her in All the Things, and a quarter of the reason is that because that sometimes Danny wears suspenders, which I’d like to see Melissa Ponzio rock. But also, I just think she’d be a lot of fun in the role. I can see her as a journalist pretty easily, and I’d love to watch her flirt like crazy with Alan Tudyk. That’s kind of enough for me.
Aw, Danny. And I was just about to offer you a cookie.
Richard Jenkins is such a great character actor. I love the idea of him as this kind but totally snarky secretary who withholds food from misbehaving staff members. I’m used to seeing him in darker roles, but I honestly think he would just be delightful here.
Dr. Abigail Bartlet
Your electrolytes and metabolic panels are within normal limits. Your chest x-ray is clear, and your prostate screens are fine. So we can have sex now.
Okay, hear me out. I know Clancy Brown’s name is almost synonymous with villainy at this point after Highlander, The Shawshank Redemption, any of the Superman cartoons, etc., but he actually does play good guys with some frequency; they just don’t usually make it to the end credits. It’d be nice to see him play a good guy who doesn’t die for a change.
Mostly, Mek and I just really enjoyed the idea of Clancy Brown and CCH Pounder matched up, being all cute together and whatnot. We were thinking especially of the episode where she first comes in after Bartlet has an MS attack. Clancy Brown could be an adorable First Lady, growly voice and all.
Tyler James Williams
You look like death on a Triscuit!
I’ll be honest: I haven’t seen Tyler James Williams in a whole lot. But I like him. I cracked up at his Evil Telekinetic Urkel in a Key & Peele sketch, and I enjoyed him quite a bit as Noah in The Walking Dead, although we don’t get to spend as much time with him as I would’ve liked. Nothing about Zoey seems outside his range, so I figured it was a nice opportunity to see Williams in something else. (Plus, I like the idea of Zoey as a boy, given the kidnapping plot line that happens later. It’d also be nice if they could make a male Zoey sweet and bookish without parodying him into some stereotypical Hollywood nerd.)
Mr. Tribbey? I’d like to do well on this, my first assignment. Any advice you could give me that might point me the way of success would be, by me, appreciated.
Okay. So let’s talk about this.
Gender-swapping a lot of the cast appeals to me because it’s such an interesting exercise in power dynamics. Not that the women in The West Wing aren’t powerful in their own way, but they’re also almost entirely secretaries to male supervisors or are related to male characters. In the first season, CJ and Mandy are really the only exceptions to that, and like I said before, Mandy barely even has her own storylines.
Gender-swapping Ainsley, though, kind of feels like it’s missing the point since her whole character is addressing a very specific stereotype, and if she was a man, no one would blink an eye at the fact that she was attractive. It wouldn’t be some sign that she’s just a pretty face and nothing more. Then again, I kind of like creating this world on TV where this kind of sexism is directed at men for once, so Mek and I tried to focus on the pretty boy angle. And there is no Southern pretty boy like Jensen Ackles.
In full disclosure, I fee like I should admit that I have some reservations about this casting. Ainsley has a very specific manner of speaking, and it’s kind of hard to imagine Jensen Ackles, much as I love him, imitating it. On the other hand, I still like to dream–fondly–that someday Supernatural might actually end, and Ackles will go on to do other projects where he will be as un-Dean-like as possible. And people, I love Dean Winchester. But the guy’s been playing the role for, what, twelve years? He’s got a lot of talent, and I’d like to see him use it to do something else.
Can, can I just say something, you know, for the future? *I* can sign the President’s name. I have his signature down pretty good.
So, Margaret’s . . . weird. She has always been an oddball character, and I assume she remained so well past the point where I stopped watching the showing. Margaret has a very unique brand of oddness, and the best person I could think to match it was Sean Gunn, who played Kirk in Gilmore Girls. And if you watched Gilmore Girls at all, you know Kirk definitely had his own special brand of oddness.
And finally . . . Ron Butterfield
It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t Gina’s fault, it wasn’t Charlie’s fault, it wasn’t anybody’s fault, Toby. It was an act of madmen. You think a tent was going to stop ’em? We got the President in the car. We got Zoey in the car. And at a 150 yards and five stories up, we got the shooters 9.2 seconds after the first shot was fired. I would never let you not let me protect the President. You tell us you don’t like something, we figure something else. It was an act of madmen. Anyway, Secret Service doesn’t comment on procedure.
Ron’s not a huge part in the show. We didn’t have to cast him. But every time I rewatch “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen,” I kind of fall in love with this guy all over, and I could hear Holly Hunter delivering those lines pretty well in that clipped manner of speaking that she has.
And . . . well, I guess that’s all for today. Mek and I will have to get back to all of our other abandoned gender-swapped castings. It’s fun to see what, if anything, shifts in your story when you reimagine all the male characters as women. Maybe Ocean’s Eleven next?