During the Pixar Coco Event, we had the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with Designated Survivor’s Italia Ricci, who stars as Emily Rhodes, by video, and Co-Executive Producer and Writer Jessica Grasl. So as a Kiefer Sutherland fan from 24, I was intrigued by Designated Survivor. It was fun to find out some inside scoop and behind the scenes tidbits from two talented women.
What is Designated Survivor About?
Kiefer Sutherland stars as Tom Kirkman, a lower-level cabinet member who is suddenly appointed President of the United States after a catastrophic attack on the US Capitol during the State of the Union. Kirkman will struggle to keep the country and his family from falling apart, while navigating the highly-volatile political arena and leading the search to find who is responsible for the attack.
So I’m embarrassed to say I never even knew the Designated Survivor was a real thing. This show was not one I needed time to get hooked on. I was invested from the get-go. It’s a high-action, clever show. Are there times I wish Kiefer Sutherland would break out into his Jack Bauer voice and go rogue on everyone? Sure. But you do get a Presidential Jack sometimes, and I love it.
Designated Survivor’s Italia Ricci
Italia Ricci stars as Emily Rhodes, Secretary Tom Kirkman’s chief of staff, on ABC’s popular drama “Designated Survivor.” So as usual, you know I like to ask questions about the role of women since I have 5 daughters.
I love that you play the Chief of Staff and that you’re in a position of power as a woman. What do you want to share with other women and girls who watch?
Italia: “I hope that she is able to portray that women are just as smart, just as strong, and just as tough, present, and capable as a man in that world, if not better. I think I’m a better Chief of Staff than Aaron was, but you know, I’m a little biased.
I like the idea of saying, ‘Hey, we can do it, too, and we can wear killer heels while we do it!’ I really enjoy being able to push your own limits and really see what potential you don’t even know that you have. So I’ve really enjoyed that part about Emily.”
I completely agree! I love that she shared this, because growing up I wanted to be a lobbyist, a lawyer, or a CIA Agent. And while I chose a different path, I want all girls to know that they can be these things, too.
Politics and Drama in Designated Survivor
In writing a political drama, how do you balance the politics in the drama without making it too political?
Jessica: “I think that the Kirkman White House lives in a different universe. Obviously it started from a very unique place which, God forbid, our actual U.S. history has never experienced — the destruction of the entire seat of government. I think it’s been really exciting to sort of live in a space that feels so different from real world. Regardless of who is in the White House, it’s very different from Tom Kirkman being in the White House and something we’ve really gotten to explore a lot this year, because we’ve sort moved past the crisis point and the rubble, if you will, and now it’s about Kirkman and his team.
He’s in administration moving the country forward into Kirkman’s vision. As writers, that’s the world that we live in. Obviously, we all read the newspapers, and we follow the news, and sometimes we pull stories from things that are happening like last week, you know, it was based on the thing that actually happened.”
Italia: “Sometimes, we will shoot an episode, and while we’re shooting it, it will actually happen. We were shooting an episode about the statue and that whole rally happened. We were shooting an episode about the ship, and that happened. I can’t go on farther or I’ll be spoiling it, but things just keep happening. I was like, you know, you should write an episode where Emily wins a million dollars. It was just, Freaky!”
Jessica: “It is freaky and sometimes that’s awesome because you’re like that’s great, we’re really sort of tapping into something that people are living through, and sometimes it’s really complicated, you know? When an episode really pre-dealt with the Confederate statue issue, and then all of a sudden the Confederate statue issue became something the whole world was talking about. That’s awesome, but it’s also that you wanna be sensitive so it’s a fine line that we walk as writers. I just get really excited that I get to go to work every day and live in Kirkman’s world and his vision for America and be a part of that, and escapism is maybe not a place you wanna live in all the time, but we’re artists.”
Watch Designated Survivor on ABC
It was such a pleasure talking with Designated Survivor’s Italia Ricci and Jessica Grasl, two kind and kick-butt women. The amount of time, research, and creativity that goes into making a 1-hour drama is incredible, and I admire them both. Designated Survivor keeps me at the edge of my seat every week. My husband and I were on a binge one weekend, and one by one, my kids sat down next to us, because they drank the Designated Survivor kool-aid, too.
Watch Designated Survivor on Wednesday nights at 10/9c on ABC. Here’s a sneak peek of tonight’s episode!