‘Designated Survivor’: Natascha McElhone On Being First Lady

Natascha McElhone stars in ABC’s upcoming drama ‘Designated Survivor,’ and told Hidden Remote what it’s like to play TV’s newest First Lady.

When ABC‘s Designated Survivor premieres tomorrow, Natascha McElhone will once again be playing the wife of the lead character – but it’s a very different role from when we last saw her as Karen Van Der Beek on Californication.

Natascha stars as Alex Kirkman, the wife of Cabinet member Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), who becomes the new First Lady of the United States after her husband is shockingly sworn in as the next President following a major-scale terrorist attack.

Hidden Remote spoke with Natascha during the Television Critics Association Press Tour to discuss what about Designated Survivor attracted her to network television, and how Alex is not going to be sitting on the sidelines while her husband is out trying to hold together the country.

Hidden Remote: What was it about this show and this character that made you want to play Alex?

Natascha McElhone: A lot of it for me was logistics. It being an ensemble piece really attracted me to it. I’m not a big believer in 22 episodes of anything. The only way it could sustain itself was multiple storylines, and it’s an ensemble piece and you’re attacking six different storylines all at one time. I think you can really engage and keep you on its game.

Otherwise I tend to think for me as a audience and a performer, it would end up eating its own tail. That was incredibly attractive and why I think I haven’t done network before, because I was scared off by the notion of something that had that many episodes.

Hidden Remote: Sometimes in series like this the wife tends to be an underused character, who’s just stuck worrying about her husband while he drives the show. So what can you say about how Alex fits into the series?

McElhone: She’s not the wife in the corridor or anything like that. But it’s been necessary, especially in a couple of episodes and the pilot, to establish that there’s a domestic life that needs to be recalibrated and sort of realigned and kids that need to be talked about and make sure they’re secure and the rest of it.

We established Tom as a very much hands on dad. He’s the one there making pancakes in the morning while she runs off to court to fight a case so that turns on its head; it’s kind of inverted in a sense. I think their relationship is one of equals and they share parenting responsibilities are very equally. What turns it upside down is this unexpected job opportunity that comes his way.

What we explore after that is what lots of couples explore when someone shoots to the top of their game and the other one needs to compensate and hold down the rest of their lives. As we discover, she has a full professional life and one that she doesn’t particularly sacrifice, but I think in the end sees an opportunity to be effective as First Lady.

Hidden Remote: So will we get to see her interacting with other characters on the show besides her husband?

McElhone: I will, absolutely. I do and I have.

Hidden Remote: How has it been for you to work opposite Kiefer Sutherland and form that relationship between your characters?

McElhone: I have enormous respect for him. He’s great. He’s smart and bright and curious. He’s engaged. All those things you want.

Designated Survivor premieres Wednesday, September 21 at 10/9c on ABC.