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Actress McElhone: ‘I didn’t have a choice in the gutsiest thing I ever did’

Actress McElhone: ‘I didn’t have a choice in the gutsiest thing I ever did’

Natascha McElhone has two jobs: She’s both an actress and the widowed mother of three. She’s never c
Actress McElhone: ‘I didn’t have a choice in the gutsiest thing I ever did’
Kiefer Sutherland and Natascha McElhone in "Designated Survivor." (ABC)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Natascha McElhone has two jobs: She’s both an actress and the widowed mother of three. She’s never conflicted about which one takes precedence over the other. “Any acting job doesn’t even come close,” she says in a noisy coffee bar here.

“You’re creating three people’s foundation for the rest of their lives. There’s nothing more important than that where you feel more responsible, I suppose. On a movie, on a TV show, there are so many component parts. I have a healthy ego, but it’s not big enough to think that anything rides on me. Ultimately I’m dispensable, but to my kids I’m not.”

Eight years ago McElhone was pregnant with her third son when her husband of 10 years died suddenly of heart problems. That thrust her into high-alert in the single parenting role, a part she hadn’t prepared for.

The actress who starred in “The Truman Show,” “Californication” and “Love’s Labor Lost,” finds herself in a role about another a woman ill-prepared for a momentous task.

She stars as America’s first lady in ABC’s “Designated Survivor.” The drama, premiering Wednesday, features Kiefer Sutherland as her husband, a minor cabinet member who becomes the president when the official presidential hierarchy is wiped out in a vicious attack. As the instantaneous diplomat and mother of two, McElhone seems made for the part (though she’s actually British).

“What’s been such a blessing about being in this profession, being a widowed mother, it’s remarkable that you can earn enough money to support yourself for a year by working three months,” she says.

“I don’t know any other job where you can do that, or none that I could do. So that has been an extraordinary set of circumstances. So when I have a day when I feel stretched and spread thin, I think about all the people in my position who have none of the resources I have, and who are broke and on welfare and truly don’t know where the next penny is coming from,” she says.

,McElhone manages to maintain both her jobs by bringing the children, now 16, 13, and 7, with her and working during their summer vacation. “I’m not for a second saying that motherhood is more important than making a mark in the world and being a creator and having a voice and being a communicator,” she says.

“I think for some people it is, and for some people it isn’t.”

It was her boys that helped her function through her loss. “They were my — whatever you want to call it — religion, prayer, sense of purpose.

“If you haven’t slept for several nights, it just doesn’t matter. There has to be breakfast on the table. They have to be ready for school. They mustn’t know any different. They’re not interested in whether you slept or not, or if you’re feeling grief-stricken. You don’t give them that. You give them the tree that is so well-rooted that it just doesn’t move and they can crush against it.”

Though she was unprepared, she says, “I didn’t have a choice in the gutsiest thing I ever did, but I think as much as I could, I met that challenge and things are OK, the boat’s afloat.”

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