NISKAYUNA — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand never served on a town board. Neither did her senior New York colleague, Sen. Chuck Schumer.
So holding a town board seat may not be the route to a U.S. Senate seat. But Niskayuna Town Board member Denise Murphy McGraw can nevertheless say she’s been a U.S. senator — or at least that she’s played one on TV.
The veteran Niskayuna town official was cast as a senator for a couple of days recently when the HBO political series “Succession” was filming in Albany, using the Empire State Plaza and environs as a stand-in for locations in Washington, D.C.
“It was fun. it was a great experience. It’s a great opportunity for the Capital Region,” McGraw said after finishing filming two scenes.
McGraw, a staunch Democrat who has been on the Town Board for a decade, has no previous acting experience, but responded when a friend last week forwarded her a social media open casting call announcement, which said the series was looking for people to play politicians.
“Succession” follows the powerful Roy family — Logan Roy and his four children — who control one of the biggest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world. It tracks their lives as they contemplate what the future will hold for them once their aging father begins to step back from the company.
The show is now filming its second season, which will start airing in August.
“Set in New York, ‘Succession’ explores themes of power, politics, money, and family,” according to HBO’s description.
Why Albany? The state capital has monumental government buildings, it’s a cheaper place to film than Washington, and companies that film in the state qualify for a significant tax credit as a reward for the economic activity they generate.
McGraw, a partner in a government relations firm in downtown Albany, was game to try out for a role. “After laughing about it w/ (husband) David McGraw, I sent in a shot from the role I’ve been playing for the last 10 years, Councilwoman McGraw. I was cast immediately as ‘a senator,’” she recounted in a Face-book post.
McGraw said she arrived at the Capital Center in downtown Albany at 7:30 that morning, had her hair and makeup done, filled out paperwork and waited with others, some of them professional actors. “Finally, after hours of sitting around, I was selected for the first group to be escorted to the exotic shooting location — Hearing Room C of the Legislative Office Building (where I spend many of my days in real life).”
“I played the pivotal role of ‘woman walking from the second-floor elevators to the Document Room,’ ” she recounted. “In my scene were all the principals of the show, including Fisher Stevens, and more important to me, my friend Shelby Schneider. I was thrilled.
“After doing about 12 takes, listening to the [Screen Actors Guild] actors discuss their previous roles and the rules about lunch overtime pay, I received a text saying I was cast for a second day,” she continued.
On Tuesday, she arrived at 6:30 a.m. for hair and makeup. With the exterior of the Legislative Office Building standing in for the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, she was given a paper bag to play a senator with a carryout lunch. McGraw then did five takes of a scene as Academy Award-winning actress Holly Hunter got out of a Chevy Suburban. And that was it.
A cryptic initial Facebook post on about “Senator McGraw” prompted contacts from reporters, colleagues and friends wondering whether someone in higher office should be worried. But asked whether the role had given her any ideas, McGraw answered with an emphatic “No.”
“While ‘Senator McGraw’ will remain firmly just a fictional TV character, I am gratified by the response to the thought of her,” she wrote on Facebook.