Lately, Gary Cole’s television career is a revolving game of politics.
First, the longtime actor played the hapless Vice President Bob Russell for three seasons on The West Wing. A decade after first appearing on Aaron Sorkin’s celebrated White House drama, he joined HBO’s Veep as Kent Davidson, earning his first Primetime Emmy nomination. And last year, the actor was notably enlisted to play a controversial politician on a 2016 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit inspired by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
That particular episode, which was ripped from the headlines surrounding Trump, was ultimately shelved by NBC after first being delayed until after the election and later pulled from the schedule when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. While that hour of TV is yet to air -- and likely won’t, despite creator Dick Wolf’s suggestion it might debut in the spring -- The Good Fight is addressing the controversy in a new episode debuting Sunday, March 12 on CBS All Access.
And at the center of both TV worlds is Cole, who reprises his role as ballistics expert turned Diane Lockhart’s (Christine Baranski) husband, Kurt McVeigh. on The Good Wife spinoff, which will see Lockhart and Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) defending a TV writer, who releases an episode about a Trump-like character’s alleged sexual assault after it was shelved by his network. In the same episode, McVeigh and Lockhart attempt to find common ground in their estranged marriage.
“It’s hard to discern reality from fiction,” Cole tells ET about the meta experience of playing a character on one show that inspired an episode on another. “But I chuckled when the SVU episode was pulled because as soon as [Trump] won, I knew you’d probably never see that show ever again -- at least not for eight years or four years.”
Ice-T, who plays Det. Fin Tutuola on SVU, recently revealed to Vanity Fair that the episode focuses on a “guy who was running for president -- he was very Trump-ish, and girls were coming out of the woodwork saying he was raping them … But at the end of the day, it comes out that he was innocent.” (And while Ice-T says it was not one of the long-running drama’s “best shows,” Cole has not seen it himself to comment one way or another.)
While the episode ran parallel to the 2016 presidential election, Cole clarifies that Trump was not the source of inspiration for his character -- only the situation. “I didn’t want to lean into any physicality or even a hint of a sound quality of voice or anything like that,” he says, adding: “They only borrow the circumstances. In this case, it was clearly representing the president -- although at that time he was not the president and in the story, obviously, he’s not the president -- but we knew who we were talking about.”
While Good Fight co-creator Michelle King insists to Variety that their episode is not a shot at NBC, it’s hard to ignore that the CBS All Access series is willing to tackle a controversial area that another network shied away from. “It was very much a generic network and the fear was that any network or entertainment conglomerate could end up being frightened by this administration,” she said.
But acknowledging that the current political climate “is going to infiltrate everything” audiences see, Cole supports any writer, including Michelle and Robert King, who wants to address it head-on. “I commend them for it,” he says. “It’s as it should be. To me, everything should be fair game. Writers will choose to tackle things how they want to tackle them.”