Martha MacIsaac Interview: Family Comes Before Politics On ‘1600 Penn’

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For the most part, every family is dysfunctional. It’s either a weird relative, rivalry between siblings, or in this case, because of a son named Skip [Josh Gad] that heads home after attending college for a bit too long.1600 Penn is a hilarious new family comedy with one difference–it takes place in the White House. Starring Gad as the lead and co-creator, the clan has its ups and downs, but ultimately pulls off the idea that a story about the first family doesn’t necessarily have to do with anything about politics.

Martha MacIsaac, who plays first daughter Becca, recently chatted with me about the NBC series. From announcing a pregnancy in the very first episode to confirming that the cast and crew do make fun of Bill Pullman for his other president role in Independence Day, MacIsaac couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of it all. Her work in the 2007 hit Superbad was clearly just a start in comedy for her.

First Becca in Superbad, and now you play a Becca in 1600 Penn!
MARTHA MACISAAC: I know! Isn’t that weird? It was chosen way before I was a part of it. It just so happened to be a happy coincidence!

When it comes to this Becca, what caught your attention most about the 1600 Penn script?
Actually, when I read the pilot I laughed and I teared up and cried at parts of it. So, I just really connected to it for some reason, and these are the kinds of comedies I love to watch—comedies with heart. And I think that’s what 1600 Penn is. It’s a family comedy set in a political backdrop, but the center of the show is the family and how much they actually love each other at the end of the day.

What specifically made you cry in the pilot?
Just her having to tell her father, and my storyline because for some reason I instantly felt horrible in having to feel like she disappointed her father in such a way.

It’s interesting how the characters don’t necessarily have to go anywhere. They are in the White House all the time because it’s where their work and family is.
Exactly! Which was something that was so exciting because every show takes place in that home base. This family just so happens to have their family and work life in the same place.

What can audiences expect with your character throughout the season?
What I thought was so fun about playing this character too is that she starts out—she kind of has her life figured out—she’s a perfectionist and a straight A student, has political aspirations and really takes care of her family. And then her whole life gets turned upside down in the pilot and she’s kind of in a new headspace and a new place in her life. So it was kind of fun playing a character who was getting to know herself as I was getting to know the character, which is such a leg-up for a first season. I didn’t feel like I was fumbling with her, which was kind of an interesting thing for me. We’ll follow my pregnancy throughout the whole thing and kind of where that takes her romantically in her love life.

What story lines would you love to have down the road?
I don’t know! I mean a lot of my story line is kind of with my boyfriend throughout the series so I’m excited I get to have more scenes with Josh. I just can’t wait. The writers have been amazing and I’m just loving all the scripts they send our way. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

The cast has great chemistry, especially you and Jenna Elfman.
Oh, yeah! I was so thrilled to hear that she was playing Emily and the mom. She and I get some really great scenes together. I’m a huge fan of hers. I think she has impeccable comedic timing and I think she’s so funny on and off screen. Our two characters really butt heads throughout most of the series, which was really fun to play off each other. But at the end of the day, they’re kind of more similar than they aren’t. I think it’s going to be a lot more fun when they develop a friendship eventually down the line.

Josh Gad also co-created it. What’s it been like working with him?
I’m such a fan of his! I mean he is so, so funny and such a nice, nice man. He’s just so talented. I just can’t wait—I know the theatre world has embraced him and he’s gotten a lot of success off of the Book of Mormon—I just can’t wait for the rest of the world to kind of catch on to him. We just laugh all day long. Every time I do a scene with him I end up breaking because he’s just constantly adding little things. There will be little things, like he’ll say shit underneath his breath that isn’t even a main part of the show, but it will crack me up each and every time. He’s amazing.

Another co-creator, Jon Lovett, used to be a White House speechwriter for Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. Do you get a sense that anything is game?
Yeah! We are just so fortunate to have Jon as one of our co-creators. He was a writer for Clinton and for Obama. He’s such a talent. He’s so smart and so funny and witty. He broke into the political world and then decided that he wanted to break into the TV world and he’s doing that. It’s amazing because the show’s not political or about politics at all really. It’s about a family and they have to live at the most powerful address in the world, but at the end of the day it really is a family story. We don’t ever delve into politics. We don’t say what party we are a part of. We want everybody of all sides to be watching and loving it because at the end of the day we have more in common than different than one another. It’s kind of fun to see a president not for his politics, but to see what he’s like as a father and what he’s like as a husband and what that family would look like behind closed doors—if they were a really funny and dysfunctional family. [Laughs]

Has it been joked on set that Bull Pullman was the president in Independence Day too?
All the time! He gets it all the time. Yeah, but he’s such a good sport about it. He’s one of the nicest and down-to-earth men I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He’s just one of those rare gems.

You’ve mainly done film up to this point. What’s it been like to work on a television series?
I started out in TV but in Canada so nobody in America really knows about it. So I grew up doing TV but it was more drama in a period piece. So I was running around in aprons and milking cows and things. It was a very different genre, really. I love the steadiness of a television show. You’re working for a certain amount of time and with the same people. It’s very comforting and nice. This is definitely my first series that I’m doing down here so it’s been incredible. We kind of lucked out. We instantly became—I know it sounds pretty cheesy—but we instantly became a family. We all genuinely like spending time with one another and that’s down to the crew and executive producers and the writers and the cast. We all come to work every day thankful to be there and wanting to work together.

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