TORONTO - As the ambitious and coldly calculating Elaine Barrish, Sigourney Weaver oozes a steely determination to get the job done in Bravo's new series "Political Animals."
This, despite the moral quagmire the failed presidential candidate-turned-secretary of state faces at every turn — including from within her own dysfunctional family.
Weaver says it's a juicy TV part she relished diving into, even as she juggles several weighty film and stage projects, including two expected "Avatar" sequels.
"One of the reasons I wanted to do the show was it portrayed a woman who is like a breath of fresh air, frankly, in the White House," Weaver says in a recent phone interview from New York, a few days after wrapping the series, which kicks off Sunday.
"She says what she thinks, she's not afraid to ask questions, she has a very strong moral compass, she never loses sight of the big picture and she doesn't play all these games that a lot of the entrenched politicians play. And she really hates these games."
Although "Political Animals" marks Weaver's first regular TV role, the movie veteran notes this is not her first taste of Washington's unsavoury elements.
The "Alien" star says she spent time on Capitol Hill when she was in college, and developed a hefty dose of cynicism in the process.
"I worked for a New Jersey congressman and I was put in charge of his gun control mail," recalls Weaver, a registered Democrat who has lobbied Congress on behalf of the arts, environment and human rights.
"And to my horror — because I was a fierce gun control person — I had to send out one letter to people who wanted gun control and another letter, similar but quite different, to the people who didn't want it. I think it's called 'straddling the fence.' So it made me a little cynical."
There's a healthy dose of skepticism and distrust among the embattled deal-makers of "Political Animals," which show creator Greg Berlanti has acknowledged is partly inspired by Hillary Clinton's own rocky road to national office.
Elaine's fractured inner circle includes her womanizing ex-husband Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds), whose massive popularity as former president of the United States drove Elaine's hard-fought campaign just shy of snagging the presidential primary.
The six-part series kicks off with Elaine conceding defeat to her scrappy rival Paul Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar), who ultimately takes office and appoints her secretary of state.
Then there's Elaine's drug-addicted gay son (Sebastian Stan), another straightlaced but ambitious son who serves as her righthand man (James Wolk) and a feisty former Vegas showgirl mother (Ellen Burstyn) with a tendency to speak her mind, even when reporters are around.
Complicating matters are Oval-office dealings that take place behind her back and a muckraking newspaper reporter who has uncovered a dark family secret Elaine is eager to suppress.
Weaver says none of this drama compares to the actual antagonism that seems to pervade the real Washington.
"One of the reasons I hope the show will be popular is frankly it's a lot less painful to watch a fictional political story on television than it is to watch these debates and these speeches. It just is too painful for us now because there is so little progress and yet we have so many problems. And problems that we need to work together to solve," she says.
"We do need more feminine energy in Washington, because as a mother, I looked around over my life and if you want to get something done you go to mothers. And they get it done. And so I feel that we need more mother energy in Washington."
Weaver says she hopes the series offers a glimpse of what could be: "Personally, I feel like I wanted to see someone getting it done who is a woman and I can't be alone in that feeling. How can that not be a good thing for us to see?"
On a professional note, Weaver says her venture into TV has allowed her to explore a character in a way she hasn't been able to do on the big screen.
She describes the film sets she's been on as as "very much a director's medium and it's a director's vision."
"There isn't a lot of extra stuff. And with TV, it changes its shape. There's a lot more detail about life than you ever get in movies," she says, noting "Political Animals" will jump around in time and include a look at Elaine's time as First Lady.
The movie star says she was "floored" to be offered the part because so many of her past roles have been women "sort of on the periphery of things." Weaver's varied film credits include "Working Girl," "The Ice Storm," "Galaxy Quest," "Dave" and "Ghostbusters."
These days, she says she's busy with a range of projects including upcoming rehearsals for a Christopher Durang play that will hit New York in October.
Then there is "Avatar" 2 and 3, the much-anticipated follow-ups to James Cameron's 3D spectacle. Weaver says she has yet to see a script but has spoken with the Canadian director about his plans for two sequels: "We would do that next year."
"Political Animals" kicks off Sunday with a 90-minute premiere on Bravo.