Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Nichole Robinson, also known as Nichole Mercedes Robinson, is a Panamanian-American actress and model. She has had a recurring role on the Showtime television series Huff, and before that appeared in roles that showcased her bikini body beauty with a supporting role in the 2003 movie Love Don't Cost a Thing.
After the series finale, I thought my season-long Watercooler coverage of The West Wing was complete. Thankfully, not so. A few weeks after the series wrapped up, I heard from NiCole Robinson (aka “Margaret”), who had read some of the posts (Pretty cool.) and she was nice enough to agree to an interview. What follows are highlights from a fun and funny conversation which touched on the West Wing finale, Margaret’s “baby daddy” and the late, great John Spencer. Enjoy.
Watercooler (Jon McDaid): Let’s start at the beginning. How were you cast for the role of Margaret?
NiCole Robinson: I was in an acting class and Jeff Roth from Warner Bros. casting saw me. As a result, I got 12 auditions in the Warner Bros. casting department. Those were the first professional auditions of my career and number 12 was The West Wing. It was the very first pilot for which I ever read, the other 11 were shows already on the air, including Friends and ER . I was only given one page of the script because, after all, I only had one line and when I read that page I knew for sure it was a very funny comedy. Luckily, before I walked in the door, I was told that it was definitely not a comedy and Aaron Sorkin was the writer. This kind of freaked me out because I am really a comedic actress. So, I walked in the room and there was John Wells, Tommy Schlamme, two of the biggest casting people in the business, John Levy and Kevin Scott, and I am told that the person I am going to be reading with is Aaron Sorkin. Aaron said to me, and I will never forget it, “this is going to be the shortest audition of your life.” He was right. It was the shortest audition and, ironically, the longest job.
My one line was “Is this for real or is this just funny?” This is exactly how I feel now, seeking Emmy consideration, for the role that came from my one line audition.
WC: Emmy consideration, how does that procedure work?
Robinson: You have to be sponsored into the Academy. Two of my sponsors were John Spencer and Martin Sheen. Isn’t that cool? Once you are a member, you’re automatically eligible for Emmy consideration. So, basically, all you have to do is fill out a form. You have to pick the episodes that you send them to consider you for.
I have never put myself in. John Spencer, every single year, would get on my back and say "Put yourself in, kid, put your name in the hat, put your name in the hat.” I always felt like, you know, I don’t have as big a part as these other actors. Three weeks before he passed away, we had dinner up as his house and he invited me over to grill me about putting my name in for the Emmys. And he went over all the procedures. Then when he passed away I felt, like, disrespectful to be quite honest. I thought if I don’t do this, it would be weird, and wrong, and I’d feel funny if I didn’t honor him in that he felt so strongly. So, I’m doing what I was told.
WC: Could you talk a little bit about working with John Spencer?
Robinson: On the very first day we worked together he said to me “I’m going to say your name in a way that, if I do it right, people will yell it at you.” Five years later, on my wedding day, I was in a room while the guests were entering and even then I hear one of them shout “Margaret!” Just like Leo would. Let’s just say it happens a lot. John was a master. He was my teacher and my friend. This question is very hard for me. I’m sorry. I just miss him so much.
WC: At the time of the pilot, did you sense the show was something special?
Robinson: Well, once I realized that it, in fact, wasn’t a comedy and got to set and Tommy Schlamme gave me a tour of the set, an exact replica of the White House, yeah, I sensed this might be a pretty important show. I’m quick like that.
WC: Seven seasons is an eternity in TV time. Were you surprised at all at the show’s success and longevity?
Robinson: No, absolutely not. When you have the combination of Aaron Sorkin writing, Tommy Schlamme directing and John Wells producing, topped off with an awesome ensemble cast (Don’t forget me, cast member No. 11 on this cast of nine.) the success and longevity is not surprising. I knew the potential because I got the whole script, about a week after I shot the pilot, and when I read that script I saw that it depicted politics and government without the usual cynicism.
Robinson: Don Richardson was my teacher and mentor and he would always say to me “Think of what everyone else is going to do and then do something different.” When I auditioned with my one line, the line was pretty sassy and I thought everyone would go in playing the old-school sassy secretary so I thought I would play the proud and devoted secretary. I guess that would be the regal part. As for being quirky, I have been called “quirky” my whole life and I’m not even sure what it means exactly. Wait, I think that was a quirky answer, right?
Margaret changed a lot! I think like anyone in a new job she was more timid at first, but after dealing with heads of state day after day, year after year, she gained a lot of confidence, just like the people in Washington.
WC: I know some of your fellow cast members talked to their real-world counterparts in the White House. Did you feel that kind of research was necessary?
Robinson: I did extensive research. When the cast was invited to meet our counterparts at the White House, I went. Who knew you needed an ID to get in? I was stuck at that little guard hut at the front gate. By the time I got in, I became painfully aware that the cute little sundress I wore was not exactly “inside the beltway” attire. The Rose Garden pictures are pretty funny. I definitely stood out, I guess it’s that quirky thing. Now, here’s the cool part: the woman’s name who was the Assistant to the Chief of Staff was Josephine Robinson. Kinda weird that we had the same last name. She showed me that she actually had a peep hole looking into the Chief of Staff’s office so she could tell if a meeting was wrapping up or what was going on before she entered. Cool, huh?
WC: Did you create a whole backstory for Margaret? Did she have a home life, hobbies, any superpowers?
Robinson: John would always say to me he thought she had a lot of cats. I have no idea where that was coming from. There are a lot of actors who do create this whole life and that tends to fall more for a method actor. I was trained by a man who had a very different philosophy, who was very writer-and-director driven. For me, if it’s not on the page, it’s not there yet. I was taught “don’t try to make things up,” because that’s the writer’s job. My job is just to interpret what’s on the page in front of me.