Ciaran Hinds is a chameleon. He can play nearly anyone, from a terrorist to a Roman emperor to Albus Dumbledore’s brother in the Harry Potter series. He is a classic character actor, an Irish man weened on the English stage and with an attractive, interesting face and expressive eyes.
Hinds so thoroughly embodies the character he is playing that the public may be forgiven for forgetting the last time they saw him. He's one of those actor who is in everything, whose name is always on the tip of the tongue.
In other words, Hinds is an actor’s actor, the kind of player a director brings on to a project without worrying if he can get the job done.
In fact, Hinds tells us that had little time to prepare for his role in the new show premiering tonight at 10 p.m. on the USA Network, “Political Animals.”
“I had very little time to do [research] because I was double jobbing,” he says. He spent most of the filming schedule — much of which took place during the GOP presidential primary — traveling between London, Los Angeles and his home in Paris.
Hinds plays the philandering, wildly popular ex-president Bud Barrish. Barrish is a big, brash man who throws around colorful pejoratives and sexual innuendos like candy. He has been recently divorced by his wife, Secretary of State Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver). She broke the news that she was dumping him after 30 years of marriage the night she conceded her own presidential primary campaign run.
Toward the end of the pilot, the former President Barrish manipulates his way back into the political landscape when he lobbies to be sent to the Islamic Republic of Iran to negotiate for the release of several Iranian-American journalists being held hostage by the government — a scenario that should bring to mind former President Bill Clinton’s mission to negotiate the freedom of several American journalists held in North Korea.
At this point “Political Animals” might sound like a fan-fictional account of the Bill and Hillary Clinton story, but, Hinds insists that it isn’t that simple.
Barrish, for one isn't merely a version of Clinton, but rather a composite of former Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton, an “earthy man with a big appetite.” Like Johnson in the Senate, Barrish is a genius at playing Washington, and like Clinton in the White House, he can read the emotional landscape and manipulate it instinctively. Barrish can move through the shark infested waters of political Washington with ease, while his wife and others struggle at times.
According to Hinds, "Political Animal" examines the political personality like a case study of sorts, investigating the egoism and drive that make a person — and in this case a family — believe that they know what is best for a people and nation.
“Whatever it is, it is in the DNA of these people,” Hinds says.
Politics, patriotism and a hunger for power are in their genes and is the foundation for the believe that they know best. Politicians may come to politics with the best of intentions, Hinds says, but they soon find out that genuine leadership and governing is a struggle.
“When you get into power, people [realize that they] can’t just go the way they want to,” he says.
As a result, the journey to harnessing power in a democracy “becomes very Machiavellian.”
“The characters in this show really believe in their [political] agenda,” he says. "That it isn't just their responsibility to lead a nation, but it is their destiny."
Quick warning to Washingtonians who tune in: "Political Animals" does not reflect the actual geographic makeup of the city. From the zoo, which they call "the National," one can see a clear and gorgeous view of the Washington Monument, the White House and Capitol dome. It is wildly distracting at times. Consider yourself warned.