New England Native Sam Waterston Gets Political with Miss Sloane

The former Law & Order star opens up about his new film with Jessica Chastain, growing up in Massachusetts, and President-elect Donald Trump.

Miss Sloane

From Left: Raoul Bhaneja, Allison Pill, Sam Waterston, and Michael Stuhlbarg; Photo by Kerry Hayes / EuropaCorp

Sam Waterston has never shied away from talking about politics over the years, which is why he was extremely interested in signing on for his role in the new political thriller Miss Sloane. The Massachusetts native and Yale alum plays the head of a firm backed by the gun lobby who goes to war with star Jessica Chastain’s character, an ex-employee who’s spearheading a campaign to pass gun control legislation. Ahead, the former Law & Order actor talks working with Chastain, growing up in Massachusetts, and his thoughts on President-elect Donald Trump.

What piqued your interested about Miss Sloane?

I’ve been doing my little part about advocacy for campaign finance reform for a long, long time. I thought that money in politics was corrosive for a long, long time, and this movie was about that. It turns out, though, that the movie, while it is about that, is about gun control, is about lobbying and all, I think the really fascinating part of the movie is the price a person pays when they give their whole life over to winning. In Jessica Chastain’s case, [her character] gets to have an epiphany, which some of these people don’t ever get to have.

From Jessica Chastain and Jake Lacy to John Lithgow and Mark Strong, the film boasts such a talented cast. Was it fun working with them?

This is not a unique experience for me. I’ve been really very blessed to work with wonderful people a lot. I’m doing this show Grace and Frankie right now with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Martin Sheen. Go find a better ensemble to work with than that. It’s always wonderful to be working with tip-top people.

Miss Sloane

Photo by Kerry Hayes / EuropaCorp

Having performed with so many great actor over the years, did you ever receive any memorable career advice from a famous former co-star?

Katharine Hepburn’s approach to her work left an indelible impression on me. When Jessica Chastain shows up for work ready to go and completely invested in her part and totally responsive to what’s going on around her, I think, “Oh yeah, that’s like Katharine Hepburn.” That stuff goes back a long way and it really does stick with you. The first big movie I ever made was the Great Gatsby and, in terms with how to deal with being in the spotlight, Robert Redford, he would let you understand things about the world you were in.

As a Massachusetts native, how did growing up in the area influence how you view art and politics?

How many hours do you have? [laughs] This is almost couch material. I can’t really measure the extent to which Massachusetts had an influence on me. Until I went to college, I really basically never left Massachusetts. Massachusetts and Rhode Island, those are the two places I spent most of my time. Now I live in Connecticut. I’m a New Englander through and through. That’s the river I’ve been swimming in all my life, so it’s really hard for me to be objective about how it affected me. It did affect me and I love Massachusetts. We still go there in the summer, we go to a place on Buzzards Bay that’s been in my mother’s family since right after the Civil War. Our roots go deep there. My children and my grandchildren all feel it too.

You’ve spoken out a lot about politics and once tried to get a moderate, bipartisan presidential ticket together in 2008 with the Unity08 movement.

Yeah, that worked out well.

I thought it was a nice sentiment, though.

Oh, me too. I don’t think it was a bad idea at all, it just ran into the propellor blades with the way things are set up… Surely in this very big country with so many millions of qualified people, we should be hearing from more voices than the ones we had to choose from in this last election. That battle goes on, but your readers should understand that the Federal Election Commission is peopled with Republicans and Democrats. They may have a lot of things they disagree about, but one thing they agree about is they don’t want anybody else on their turf. It’s really constricting and it should be more open. That’s what we tried to do in 2008 and then we almost got our dream come true in Obama, but the Republicans would not accept him because he was the opposition. His positions were actually very moderate and if it had just said Republican by his name, a whole lot of things Republicans would’ve recognized as their own ideas.

What are your thoughts on President-elect Donald Trump and his impact on American politics in 2016?

If you want to know what’s going on in politics, just follow the money because Donald Trump is a phenomenon himself. There’s a lot to be said about him and all of that. I think he’s pretty alarming. The basic things about favoring the very wealthy over the common interest is something that has been going on for a long, long time. He’s not bringing in a whole, brand new idea. He’s just bringing in that same old idea with different clothes.

Miss Sloane hits theaters on December 9.

This interview has been edited and condensed.