Before he became the architect of the fictional Bartlet presidency on The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin wrote the 1995 film The American President. Sorkin’s story depicts the end of President Andrew Shepherd’s first term. Shepherd, a democrat, is a widower with a teenage daughter; his wife died before the campaign.
The American President stars Michael Douglas in the title role with a supporting cast that includes Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, Annette Bening, Anna Deavere Smith, Gail Strickland, Samantha Mathis, John Mahoney, and David Paymer. Richard Dreyfuss plays Bob Rumson, an outspoken Republican party leader running for president. Rumson targets Shepherd’s love life, specifically, the relationship with environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade, played by Benning. In Rumson’s view, Shepherd’s love life represents a failure of values.
Roger Ebert praised love story aspect of The American President. “The movie’s center is of course the love story, and Douglas and Bening have remarkable chemistry; their scenes are written and played in a way that develops the comedy without sacrificing the notion that two such people might very likely find themselves in similar situations. The inevitable strategic questions (like whether the power of ‘the most powerful man in the free world’ extends to his bedside prowess) are part of the general embarrassment that both feel because the presidency, in a sense, comes between them.”
The American President reflects a liberal sensibility. David Broder of The Washington Post wrote, “But before the final clinch, the audience is subjected to a five-minute presidential address, in which we learn: first, that you cannot truly love the Constitution unless you belong to the American Civil Liberties Union; second, that the only federal crime bill that makes sense is one banning assault weapons and handguns; and third, that when it comes to environmental measures, the stricter the standard, the better the bill.”
The West Wing enjoys several links to The American President. Airing from 1999 to 2006, The West Wing starred Sheen as President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet; in The American President, he played President Shepherd’s Chief of Staff.
Anna Deavere Smith played Dr. Nancy McNally, National Security Advisor to President Bartlet; in The American President, she played Press Secretary Robin McCall.
Sorkin’s template for a fictional White House showcased a treasure of actors and actresses, including Rob Lowe, Stockard Channing, Bradley Whitford, John Spencer, Elisabeth Moss, and Richard Schiff.
During Bartlet’s second term, Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits squared off as Republican Senator Arnold Vinick and Texas Congressman Matthew Santos to succeed Bartlet. Santos won the election, offering the job of Secretary of State to Vinick, primarily because the California republican is a great strategic thinker with strong ties to the diplomatic corps.
Other actors and actresses who graced the Bartlet White House include Glenn Close, Ed O’Neill, Mark Harmon, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Hal Holbrook, Karl Malden, Marlee Matlin, Ty Burrell, Amy Adams, Nick Offerman, Felicity Huffman, Evan Handler, Lisa Edelstein, Taye Diggs, Jorja Fox, Lance Reddick, Dean Norris, Connie Britton, James Denton, David Huddleston, Terry O’Quinn, Jane Lynch, and Gabrielle Union.
The West Wing won 26 Emmy Awards.
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