'Designated Survivor': Jamie Clayton on the Shifts in Sasha and Tom's Relationship

Meredith Jacobs
Q&A

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 3 of Designated Survivor.]

Just because her brother-in-law is the president of the United States didn't mean Sasha didn't speak up against Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) in Designated Survivor Season 3.

Jamie Clayton joined the cast as Tom's transgender sister-in-law, Sasha Booker, who was drawn into life in D.C. after his opponent dragged her into the public eye. Once back in the States — she was living in Paris — she and Tom didn't always see eye-to-eye, but the season ended with a sweet moment: he brought her up on stage with him for his speech after winning the election.

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TV Insider spoke with Clayton to get her thoughts on her character as well as Sasha and Tom's conflict and what she thinks her and her sister's relationship was like.

I have to say that I love Sasha's apartment that we briefly see when Tom calls her to come to D.C. and I also enjoyed watching her talk about art because I feel she brings this level of sophistication to the show we don't necessarily get when the focus is on politics. How did you approach that aspect?

Jamie Clayton: That's so fun. I'm glad that you felt that way. It was one of the things about the character that I really enjoyed because she's unlike any other character I've ever played, and I am glad that she was given that opportunity within the show's world to use that knowledge and where she comes from. They gave Tom such a great line. He's like, "I can't think of any other person who's more suited to do this than you," and she's like, "I don't really want to get up right now." Then she's like, "okay."

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And she gets to take the French couple on a tour of the White House. I honestly didn't know that the White House was filled with a rotating collection of art, so I did a little bit of research on that and specifically about the piece that she speaks of. I got to learn myself a little bit, which was nice.

We also saw this season touch on some really important issues, especially through Sasha, and I especially liked her telling Tom she didn't want to be "employed as a prop." And you mentioned you liked the writing for this character. What was important to you to address when dealing with some of the subject matters?

I took the part with the offer of two episodes, and I ended up doing six because they were really happy with what I was doing and what I was bringing. So, I think it was a collaborative effort in the sense that I was showing up and really wowing them, and so they were really willing to go there.

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I didn't know what they were going to be addressing as I was getting the scripts, but every time I got one, I was like, "Oh, this is good, and she isn't —" They didn't use me, Jamie, as a prop. They actually used my talents and they let me touch on some really tough stuff. As an actor, those are the juicy bits that we want to sink our teeth into, so it was really great for me.

And I'm not going to lie, touching on those sorts of subject matters, like the bathroom situation and him saying that she could open up for him at the rally in Manhattan but then changing his mind when it turns out it's going to be Texas, those things hurt when I read them. But I knew that these are things that are happening, and so I was really proud to be able to bring those words onto the screen, so it was really nice.

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Moving on to Sasha and Tom's relationship, how would you describe it at the beginning of the season and at the end of it? They have that very honest conversation about how he feels about who she is.

It's interesting because that's a sort of familiar situation, just having a closeness in a sense to maybe a distant relative or a relative or friend you haven't seen in a while and you're not really sure. You have this relationship with this person, you can't just write them off, and so Sasha shows up for him because she cares about him and also her niece, but it's like, What do you really think about me? I've dealt with people not being able to deal with this for a while.

You see Sasha take such a big shift after she attends that big group session, and I think that Tom takes a bit of a shift, too. One of my favorite little moments that was just so sweet to me was at the end, when he waves her up on stage. He's like, "Come here, come here," and Sasha's just kind of like, "Wow, okay." And then all of a sudden she's onstage with Penny as he's there giving his big speech.

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I think that they both learned a lot about themselves and each other, and that's another thing that I really loved about the writing, the empathy in that and the willingness to learn about one another and not just saying, "I don't get that, and I don't have time for that."

So, what kind of president does Sasha think Tom is, both before she saw firsthand what happens in the White House and then after she's seen the decisions he's made?

What I told myself was that Sasha's been living in Paris, working at the museum. I've got friends in Paris, and I've been there four or five times now, and I know that when I get there, I'm sort of in a bit of a bubble. It's just such a fantastic city, and it's easy to get caught up in the walking around and the eating and the shopping and life, so I think that with her job and maybe even with dating and all of those things, she wasn't necessarily paying much attention, especially after her sister passed away.

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It might have been a bit too tough, but then the circumstances are such that it's something that can't be ignored, and so she's got to pick up the phone because it's starting to affect her. When she first arrives, she sees this broken political system and innocent people being dragged into a campaign that don't have anything to do with politics, and by the end of it, I think that she sees that she has a way to help the system heal a little bit, and I love that she decides to take that opportunity.

Sasha and Penny's scenes were delightful, even though we only got a few scenes of them, but you could tell that having her around helps Tom's daughter. Can you talk about that relationship?

When their mother passed in Season 2, it was such a devastating swift loss, and I think that for anybody losing a parent, it's a tough thing no matter what age you are. But to be that young and to not have that presence in your life anymore when your father is so busy and when his attention is being demanded in every single direction, when Sasha shows up, we know it's a very critical moment in any young woman's life, that day that Sasha happens to arrive.

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Working with Mckenna (Grace) was an absolute joy. I've never worked with a young actor before, but she's just so fun. I was doing little projects with her between scenes with her school work and stuff, and she's so engaging and so fun and has such life to her, it made those scenes really natural and really easy to do. I'm really glad that you saw that because I was really hoping that people would see that we were spending some time together off-set between scenes, making little craft projects and things so that the chemistry would actually read.

How much do you know about what Sasha and Alex's relationship was like and what do you think Alex would have thought of everything we saw with Sasha and Tom this season?

I think that they had a fantastic relationship. Something that the writers told me was that Sasha had this dream of living in France for a really long time and the catalyst that finally pushed her to really do it was when Tom got into politics because she thought, "You're my sister, and I love you, but your life is now moving in a direction that I don't really want to get [into]."

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I think maybe Sasha knew on some level that it could come to what it came to and she wanted to leave, but I do think that she and her sister had a wonderful relationship. I think that they were very close and her death hit her really hard.

I think that her sister would have been devastated by what happened during the campaign because we saw her through her career as a lawyer fighting for humanitarian efforts and rights in previous seasons, and I think that she just would have thought it was abhorrent the way that the other party was dragging her through the mud to try to smear Tom in some way. I think she would've thought it was reprehensible.

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If there's another season and you're part of it, what would you like to see happen or explore for Sasha? Are there any characters you'd like her to interact with?

I had a little chat with the producers, with Neal and a couple of the writers, and they were so happy with the work that I was doing. again, that's why I was written into more episodes, which was so sweet. You saw that final episode where Tom brings her up on stage. They had told me that I was going to be there and they really wanted to cement that relationship and so I'm hoping that yes, there will be another season and Sasha will definitely be a part of it, hopefully a big part of it, but I would leave it up to the writers to do.

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I honestly trust them explicitly with just how well they did this season. They did joke with me about a few things that Sasha might get up to in the next season which could be really fun, but I trust them explicitly to have her be more involved in everything and have a personal life.

Designated Survivor, Season 3, Streaming now, Netflix