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Martin Sheen - Actor, 'The West Wing'

Sunday, October 17, 2004; Page W07

How do you play a president? I think there's a danger in pontificating, and there's a danger of pretense. You know, I was told from the get-go the most important element of this president was my character -- me, Martin. How would I react? How would Martin react? They made him a Catholic because I'm Catholic. They made him a Notre Dame graduate because I'm nuts about Notre Dame. All these personal things became part of the equation so we could flesh out a human being. It's about being human. It's not about being president. I happen to play a president, but he's first a human being. The thrust of all my work and all my life, really, it's about being human.

It's a running gag: "Oh, if you were president. Would that we had you in the Oval Office." No, no. You don't want me. I'm the most unqualified person I know to run for president. That's not what I'm trained for. I'm an artist. I'm a pacifist. A president has to project an image that they are willing to kill for you, to protect the country or American interests; that's what this whole business is about now, Iraq and Afghanistan. And I'm not willing to do that, so I cannot personally ever serve in the White House.

(Photo by Susan Rubin)

I'm an actor; all we can do is ring the bell. We talk about civil rights, we talk about equality, we talk about a woman's right to choose, we talk about the environment, we talk about world peace. The show has no power. We can't solve anything. We sell products. We sell cars and credit cards. We're very much a part of the system.

I've learned an awful lot about how an administration can work. But ours has been wishful thinking. Our show is predicated on reality, but it is, in fact, fantasy. You know, we don't have any power except of imagination. Except maybe [the show] might inspire you, spark a public debate. That's the very best we can hope to do, and maybe do it in an entertaining fashion. The only thing that I can help do through the story is project an alternative to what we've got, and to say, Wouldn't it be interesting to discuss all these issues and make them great public debates and not just work out of arrogance?

-- Interview by Tyler Currie

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