Although it is now nearing a decade since the show was on the air, "The West Wing" still holds a special place in many television fans' Oval Office-shaped hearts.
The 2016 presidential election is beginning to pick up steam (if only because of what's emanating from Donald Trump's head) but no candidate is matching the greatness of President Bartlet. So, deciding to retreat back to Aaron Sorkin's Camelot-esque world, The Huffington Post interviewed Dulé Hill -- who played Charlie Young -- about what happened behind the scenes of the show.
1. Because of the show's subject matter, the cast got to meet countless high-level politicians. President Bill Clinton and Martin Sheen once bowed out of respect to each other.
Hill told HuffPost he could "probably take up an hour" just talking about how this acting role allowed him to meet famous politicians. At the highest level, Hill met all three living Democratic presidents since the show aired. According to Hill, President Barack Obama even told him, while still a senator, "I need your help to get me into the real West Wing."
The most memorable interaction, in Hill's mind, was the first time the cast got to meet Clinton while he was still in office. The White House had invited the cast to attend the annual Correspondents' Dinner and said that Clinton would like to meet beforehand. Being a fan of Sheen's work, when the president saw the actor, he formally bowed in a grand gesture, which Sheen reciprocated.
Hill recalls thinking, "What is happening?! The real-life president bowing to the fake president and the fake president bowing to the real-life president."
"It was a wonderful thing to see," he said.
The cast also notably got to meet with Clinton right after his last State of the Union address, which felt surreal to Hill. "He was just on TV addressing the nation and the world and now, here comes the president."
2. The cast often pulled pranks after arduous shooting days. Josh Malina got Bradley Whitford particularly bad.
When the actors had to endure long days on set, they apparently tended to start getting loopy with each other. Hill recalled a moment with Allison Janney -- who played C.J. Cregg -- that came from "being delirious from working some 16-hour day on set." As Hill is a skilled tap dancer, but Janney is not, the two would do this joke where Janney would fake tap dancing in a doorway while Hill did it for real behind the wall. It was kind of like watching a bad Saturday morning kung fu translation into English, joked Hill.
These long set days would also lead to pranks between the cast members, with Josh Malina -- who played Will Bailey -- taking a lead. "You got to be careful if you start doing that thing with Josh Malina, because he doesn't have any limits," laughed Hill, claiming the actor would burn down a trailer just to make a joke.
The worst prank he remembers Malina pulling was on a very late night after 9/11, when actors driving out of the studio had to have their cars checked by security. Somehow, Malina had figured out a way to hide "a lot of set memorabilia," such as props from the set, in the trunk of Bradley Whitford's car. When Whitford -- who played Josh Lyman -- attempted to leave the lot and the security guard asked him to pop the trunk, there was obviously a huge problem -- and an even later night ensued. Hill couldn't stop laughing while telling the story.
One time, Hill tried to get Malina back. After losing a few games of poker, Hill owed Malina a couple hundred dollars that he didn't really want to pay, so he'd call him up in the middle of the night using a threatening voice, saying, "Forgive the bet, forgive the bet." It's unclear if the debt was ever erased, but Malina does still prank Hill after all these years. Anytime someone tweets at Malina asking for a favorite episode, he responds "the one where Charlie dies," according to Hill. "I'm like wow, I didn't know my character had died on the show," Hill joked. He also noted fans should know that his favorite episode "is the one where Will Bailey dies."
3. Sheen's memorable way of putting on his jacket came from having to work around a birth defect.
Sheen once told a crowd in Dubai, as transcribed by News, "I was born under very difficult circumstances. They used a forcep and it smashed my left shoulder so I have very limited use of my left hand."
In a Season 5 extra about Sheen's way of putting on jackets, the actor further explained that he has "no lateral movement in his left arm" due to the incident and therefore devised that method as a boy, for shirts and jackets and whatever else he had to put two arms inside.
Hill, who looked to Sheen as a close mentor to teach him to handle himself in the entertainment world, actually had already learned how to do the jacket flip before meeting Sheen. "That's one thing Martin didn't have to teach me," he said. Even so, he felt Sheen's execution has "a real swagger. Presidential swagger."
4. Hill was about a month away from being broke and quitting his pursuit of acting before he got the role of Charlie.
"About a month and a half" before getting "The West Wing" job, Hill told HuffPost, he was playing video games over at his friend Freddie Prinze Jr.'s house, whom he knew from "She's All That."
"I said, 'Freddy, if I don't get a job quickly, I'm either going to have to go back to Jersey, or I'm coming to live with you, because I am about to be broke."
He then auditioned for Charlie, and within a couple weeks, landed the role with a four-episode guarantee. Just about two months after he made the comment to Prinze, Hill was filming a scene right near the White House with Sheen, Whitford, Rob Lowe (Sam Seaborn), Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler) and NBA star at the time, Juwan Howard. Hill recalled how he felt:
It really was a surreal time. 'What's happening right now?!' Maybe two months ago I was telling Freddie I was about to be broke and now I'm playing basketball with Juwan Howard and theres the White House right there. And there's Martin Sheen, too. I still remember being like, 'What the heck is happening?!' Just, wow, OK.
5. The cast wasn't completely happy about the direction of the show after Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme were forced out.
Perhaps most notably, Richard Schiff has been vocal about his disdain for where his character was taken after Sorkin and Schlamme's departure. The actor told Entertainment Weekly he "was very, very hurt" that nobody told him his character, Toby, would leak classified information and betray the president.
"They didn’t tell me in advance like Aaron and Tommy would have," Schiff said. "Clearly they didn’t want to tell me because they were scared of my reaction to it. I would have talked them out of it because it was not in line with the six years of work that I built with that character."
At the time, Sorkin even wrote to Schiff saying, "I’ve heard what’s happening to your character and I’m so sorry," according to the actor. Schiff ended up imagining his own backstory to justify the actions. "In the end, the only way I could make sense of my story was to come up with my own story -- that Toby was covering for someone else," he explained to The Independent. "That, at least, made sense to me."
Hill similarly felt there was a loss when Sorkin and Schlamme left, saying Season 5 was the "roughest year." He felt as if in the first four seasons, the show was written to pit the characters against the world -- a "romantic" and "Camelot experience" -- while the later seasons were "us versus each other." He told HuffPost he felt Season 6 was strong, but in general there was "a lot of infighting at that point" between the characters after Sorkin and Slamme's departure. "Less teamwork. We still got the job done, but it was less reaching for these lofty goals."
BONUS: Kanye West announced he's running for president in 2020, which Hill supports. Here's how he thinks the show would have been different with West instead of President Bartlet.
During a memorable speech at the 2015 VMAs, Kanye West announced his plan to run for president in 2020. At the time, Hill tweeted support for the run, and so HuffPost asked how he thought "The West Wing" would have been different with West as president.
Ha! Well, I will say, Aaron's words are very rhythmical. Kanye would have a wonderful time saying the words. Aaron is a poet and so is Kanye West. They have a great mastery of language. But who knows? Who knows what it would be like with Kanye as the president. Kanye West instead of President Bartlet would be a very different show. But also very entertaining -- I will say that.
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