Willimon at the PEN Gala, May 2015.
|Born||Pack Beauregard Willimon
October 26, 1977
Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.
|Residence||Brooklyn, New York|
|Alma mater||Columbia University
|Occupation||Playwright, screenwriter, producer|
The checks and balances is a way to prevent government from either devolving into an autocratic tyranny or an autocratic mob mentality.
The press don't wake up in the morning simply to be a mouthpiece for pols – they're out to uncover and expose news. That often is at odds with what politicians are setting out to do – it's both symbiotic and antagonistic. They need each other, they work in concert with one another, they work against one another.
The reality is that politicians, in terms of the amount of power they wield and the amount that they work, don't actually make that much money.
Tales of power and ambition and intrigue and betrayal and desire – when you're telling those in a big way, you automatically want to go to Shakespeare.
I don't desire happiness. I think it's a myth, and I don't think it's… and it makes you complacent. I feel very satisfyingly uncomfortable. I have the freedom to feel uncomfortable in the way I want to, is maybe a way to put it.
Money is finite; it's limited by a number and what you can buy with it. Power has no limits if you're willing to go far enough in order to get as much of it as you can.
The media doesn't create narratives, really. They're not that powerful. What they do is they tap into narratives that are already bubbling amongst their viewership or readership.
I refuse to buy a PS3 or Xbox for my home for fear that it might ruin my life. I think I would cease to accomplish anything productive, would quickly dispense with all human contact, and would very well end up with a nasty case of arthritis in my over-used digits from constant gameplay.
In the best possible scenario, whenever you get notes from people, they're good notes, and they see things that you wouldn't have seen otherwise, and they make you a better writer.
There were many years when I was hand-to-mouth and didn't know how I was gonna make rent. I've done every job under the sun, from busing tables, temping, and working in factories to SAT prep and detailing cars. So to be able to make a living where all I do is write is absolutely liberating.
The fact that slavery is written into the Constitution is about as entrenched a form of classism as you could possibly imagine.
I certainly keep my eye on Washington all the time because often life is stranger than fiction.
Is self-interest a bad thing? We want our leaders to be pure and good, but at the same time we want them to be effective, and to be effective you often have to be ruthless and not bound by ideology or the same morals that we pretend to hold ourselves to.
The economics of being a playwright are abysmal. I like to think of the work I do out in Hollywood as a way to actually make a life in the theater easier.
The political world is a dark place. If you want to portray it accurately, authentically, you've got to turn out the lights from time to time.
Writing plays supplied for me everything that painting didn't, which is the ability to tell stories in real time, in a real space, in three dimensions, in flesh and blood. I realized I had been trying to cram all this narrative into my paintings, but ultimately painting was a static medium. So it just opened up this whole new door.
You just have to re-wire your brain when you're shifting from the stage to the screen or the silver screen or the HD flat screen.
Like any young person who gets into a political campaign, I joined out of a highfalutin' desire to change the world. But you start to see the sort of tactics people use. You start to see politics not only in the macro but in the micro of the campaign itself. Some people get turned off by this side of it. Other people are drawn to it.
When you have both parties who will not find ways to compromise, who won't meet in the middle, you have paralysis. It's the perversion of idealism.
If you really think that ambition, power, lust, desire are not as applicable in the media as in politics or on Wall Street or anywhere else, you're deluding yourself.
The way I see politics is, I don't think it's cynical to accept the fact politicians are human beings, that they're flawed, and they represent the best and the worst of us.
A lot of people have asked me whether I am a cynic or take a cynical view of politics and are often surprised when I say that I consider myself an optimist, but an optimist dressed in the robes of a realist.
Real leaders have to live a paradoxical life, where they must break the rules in order to maintain them. If your expectations are high, you're setting yourself up for disillusionment. The land of governance is paved with gray streets, not black or white ones.
At home I mostly stick to online Scrabble, or chess or Risk – games I find far less addictive than the spectacular games created for consoles these days. But, whenever I get the chance, I head over to my friend Kyri's house to play his PS3.
We all experience power struggles in our lives – at the workplace, with our friends, in our love lives. In a way, we're all politicians.
My jobs on campaigns were pretty low on the totem pole – I was an advance man.
It's a rough and tumble game whenever power is involved – people's ambitions, their desires, their competitive spirit will often push them to play outside the rules. It's dramatic, it's interesting, and I think it's something we can all identify with to a degree.
You always want to try, in everything you do, to attempt something you've never tried before, and the only way to succeed at that is through failure, and the only way to succeed through failure is just banging your head against the wall over and over until you get to that interesting thing on the other side.
In politics, it's very theatrical. There's a lot of stage craft. The campaign is trying to tell a story that they want people to believe in, and candidates are playing the role, like actors, by a creative personae that people will be attracted to.
When you're lucky enough to get paid a nice chunk of change to write a movie or a TV show, you have no right to complain, really. I guess it's more of an appeal to the powers that be that the less they interfere, the more likely, actually, they are to get something that works, I think.
This is the way I think about politics: We want two diametrically opposed things from a politician. On one hand we want them to be bastions of moral integrity, perfect people, saints. And on the other hand, we want them to be effective leaders.
In Washington, if you're a congressman or a senator or the President, you make much more money than the average American, but you'd think that if you were the leader of the free world you'd be making major bank, and you don't.
I was always a writer – working on campaigns was never a profession for me. It was something I did on the side, really, so the trajectory hasn't been a political operative who likes to dabble in writing and finds himself into stumbling on film and TV – that was always my goal.
People in D.C. are so psyched when anyone dramatizes them in an exciting way. They're a lot more open to looking at the nastier side of themselves than the media is.
Richard III is not likeable. Macbeth is not likeable. Hamlet is not likeable. And yet you can't take your eyes off them. I'm far more interested in that than I am in any sort of likeability.
Film is much more visual, a scene is typically a lot shorter, you're dealing with a lot more characters, a lot more locations, and you're able to rely on things that you just can never do on the stage.