Modern TV demands unflinching examination of real issues: Keith Carradine
The actor who plays President Conrad Dalton in the series, talks about his journey on Madam Secretary, his equation with Leoni, and his parallel passions for music and theatre
Now in its fifth season, the global hit political drama Madam Secretary displays no signs of slowing down. Headlined by Téa Leoni as the firebrand Elizabeth McCord, the show has been praised for its engaging dramatic turns, poised character developments, and its eerie ability to mirror — rather, presage — real-life political events. Of the vast array of characters propelling the gripping show, one endearing (and enduring) figure is President Conrad Dalton, played with charming ease and rare sensitivity by Hollywood and TV veteran, Keith Carradine.
The 69-year-old actor, whose television filmography includes roles in Deadwood, Dexter and Fargo, spoke to us about his journey on Madam Secretary, his equation with Leoni, and his parallel passions for music and theatre.
Excerpts from the interview:
Several actors have portrayed the President of the US — on film and on television. At a personal level, is there a sense of mythology, perhaps reverence, that you attach to the part of President Dalton?
I felt from the first day that my chief responsibility was to accord this character a level of respect. As a result of the political events that have transpired since we began filming in 2014, my task has broadened to taking every opportunity to reaffirm to the viewing public the hallmarks of decency and integrity in public service.
The relationship between McCord and Dalton has evolved dramatically over the five seasons. What has your collaboration with Téa Leoni been like?
I cannot say enough about Téa’s unique gifts as an actor. The highest praise I can give is that there’s no discernible difference between her off-screen manner and how she acts on-screen. As is true of the best actors, she brings her full self to the work. Her profound intelligence, her personal sense of justice, and her humanity infuse the character. The result is an indelible portrait of a woman.
Madam Secretary has been noted for weaving real global issues into the narrative. As a senior actor, how have you seen political television writing evolve over the years?
Any modern political drama demands a level of commitment to unflinching examination of the issues of the day. Our show is no exception. There is always the risk of poking a hornets’ nest if our take on an issue doesn’t please a particular faction. But the risk is justified if healthy discussion is the result.
Arrange in order of your most preferred medium: television, film, theatre, music.
Music is my first love. It’s the one arrow in my quiver that I can draw on without being employed to do so. Theatre is next, because that is the pure and ancient essence of human storytelling. As to film and television, they are more and more indistinguishable as the distribution methods have proliferated. More good writing is supported by television, as feature films have become more focused on 'tentpole' franchises. Character-driven storytelling has become more the provenance of subscription and cable television outlets, with some obvious exceptions.
The show is currently running on AXN