Sometimes you have to go back to move forward. The original cast of the critically acclaimed NBC political drama “The West Wing” recently reunited for the first time in 17 years for a special benefit stage presentation of a 2002 episode, which premieres Thursday on HBO Max.
The event will support When We All Vote, a new nonprofit, nonpartisan organization co-chaired by Michelle Obama. The goal is to encourage Americans to cast their ballot in the presidential election on Nov. 3. Voter turnout has decreased during recent years, and Hollywood is hoping to change that trend.
“The West Wing” cast members Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff and Dule Hill reprised their roles for the third-season episode titled “Hartsfield’s Landing.”
Jeff Mooring, who was a Spokane resident from 2007-18, also returned to his role as White House reporter Phil to deliver one line on the series that aired from 1999-2006. “It’s the testing of the Patriots that’s provoking the Chinese war games,” Mooring renders during his lone scene.
“They could have saved $15,000 by just using an extra for me, but they wanted everyone back so we could do this,” Mooring said while calling from his Virginia Beach, Virginia, home on Monday. “They flew me out first class and put me up at a great hotel with a food allotment so I could say one inconsequential line. But that’s Aaron Sorkin and ‘The West Wing.’
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to look back on a show like ‘The West Wing.’ It was great to go back for an episode about voting, since we need to bring out the vote.”
The show will include act breaks with guest appearances from Obama, Bill Clinton, Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Avett Brothers.
“That will help get the message out that everyone should vote no matter who they support,” Mooring said. “It’s great that ‘The West Wing’ is part of such a production.”
Mooring, 63, had the good fortune to be tabbed for acclaimed writer, producer and director Sorkin’s “The West Wing” and the under-heralded gem “Sports Night.”
“Aaron is a genius who has struggled getting the ideas on the page that most of us have,” Mooring said. “His attention to detail makes him shine. Where else do you go after you’re part of a show like ‘The West Wing?’”
How about Spokane? Mooring left Hollywood and acting for the Inland Northwest months after the show wrapped up after seven seasons, during which it won 27 Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards and a Peabody Award.
Mooring and his wife, Sandi Bullock Mooring (“That’s helped with dinner reservations,” Mooring cracked), moved to Spokane so they could be with his stepchildren and their kids, who live in Spokane Valley. “I had enough of auditioning for characters in films like ‘Ninja Number 6,’ ” Mooring said. “I remember thinking there are auditions for five other ninjas?”
“It was also time to be with my family. I really enjoyed life in Spokane, but it was a shock to the system since we arrived in the dead of winter. I remember someone told me to place a ball or something on my car antenna, because that would be the only way I would recognize my car in a blizzard. I thought they were exaggerating until my car was snowed in. We enjoyed living in Shadle. The people were very nice, and it’s so beautiful there. There’s nothing like the river.”
Mooring, who writes and directs, opened a production company, Quicksilver Media Spokane, but left since he believed that there wasn’t an avenue for his vocation.
“We had a building that was going to double as a walk-in art gallery on Division,” Mooring said. “The timing wasn’t right, and the theaters wouldn’t support new stuff. We had to leave, though I enjoyed living there immensely.”
Mooring has started his own production company, Quick Silver Arts, in Virginia Beach (he grew up in nearby Norfolk). Life below the Mason-Dixon Line is very different than it was in 1975 when Mooring left Virginia.
“It’s a strange and fascinating place to be,” Mooring said. “I’ve watched confederate statues come down. After they have been slapped with graffiti, the statues look like modern art. And then there are the Washington Redskins, who are no longer the Redskins. Much has changed.”
However, Mooring resides in a subdivision dubbed Bellamy’s Plantation. “Yes, it’s strange for a Black man to be living at a place called Plantation,” Mooring said.
“Real Man Wright,” a play Mooring wrote about architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was slated to be staged in Phoenix during the spring but was canceled due to the novel coronavirus.
There’s considerable interest in Mooring’s “Future Cast,” which is a half-hour news report sent to us from the year 2120. Mooring is building on a résumé, which is already impressive. The University of North Carolina School of the Arts alum’s credits start with “The Cosby Show.”
“That demystified everything,” Mooring said. “I learned how to do things from that show.”
Mooring impressed Sorkin enough that the Academy Award winner gifted him a bottle of Dom Perignon. “I’m not one to keep trophies, but I still have that box and bottle,” Mooring said. “That was so nice. Aaron wrote me some extra lines, and when I got back to my dressing room, the bottle was there.”
Mooring also has shared the stage with actors such as William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman and Peter Krause, and his other TV credits include “Amen,” “Murphy Brown” and “The Nanny.”
“It’s been incredible,” Mooring said. “I’ve worked with some incredibly talented actors. The funny thing is that it blew me away that Felicity Huffman was in a prison suit. Bill Cosby is behind bars, and Felicity did some time in jail. I must be the biggest jinx of them all. They say it comes in threes. If one person has to go to jail next, I’m afraid it’s going to be me.”
That would be a shocker since Mooring, who was joking, supports encouraging people to vote.
“It really is the least we can do as Americans,” Mooring said. “Everyone should get up and vote. Hopefully after people see ‘The West Wing’ reunion, they’ll do just that.”
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