‘Designated Survivor’ Cast Reveals They Changed Finale Because of Donald Trump

Designated Survivor is coming back for another explosive season. You can expect more conspiracy theories, new love interests, and there’s even a new advisor joining the cast. But the second season is coming at a crazy time.

So many things have happened politically in real life that was shot for the show months before. “What’s interesting is that we would be shooting an episode about something and then it would hit,” explained Italia Ricci to The Cheat Sheet. “Something would happen and mirror it which was really eerie. That’s happened three times this season already so we didn’t take it from the headlines. It’s sort of that we predicted the headline.”

In the panel, at the Tribeca TV Festival, the cast revealed that this also affected their finale last season. “At the end of last season we did have to slightly change the ending because it was too close to home,” revealed Maggie Q on the panel. “We were shooting it or we had the script and what was happening in the news happened exactly in the script and then we had to drop the ending as we shot it.”

So what else has been going on behind the scenes? The Cheat Sheet caught up with Kal Penn, Maggie Q, Italia Ricci, and Paulo Costanzo to find out. Here are eight things the cast revealed along with other Designated Survivor secrets.

1. Kal Penn says Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders are fantastic examples of what not to do

Seth Wright stands among a group of well-dressed people at a formal event.

Kal Penn as Seth Wright in Designated Survivor | ABC

Q: You’re working on a political drama. You worked in politics — how does that affect your approach to this character?

Kal Penn: So working in the real White House was an honor and it was incredibly special. I think President Obama managed to get a lot of great things done for people. Working on Designated Survivor is totally separate from that so obviously we’re a pretty far-fetched drama, to begin with. Right? Thankfully we’ve never had the pilot episode happen in real life where the entire government gets wiped out so that’s a good thing obviously, but I think the show–we want the show to appeal to everybody. The show, particularly right now … you can turn on the news, everybody’s got their own political beliefs. The thing I like about a show like this is that it’s not about the real world politics.

Q: You play a character that is in the position where Sean Spicer was, and I think a lot of people wouldn’t know what a press secretary was before him and this administration. So how has that affected your thoughts on your character’s position?

Kal Penn: When you’re crafting Seth and kind of doing the research for Seth we’re focused on the rational actors who have been press secretary. So you know [Joshua] Earnest and some of President Bush’s press secretaries, President Clinton’s if you go back. And regardless of party affiliation if you look at the role of press secretary and the interactions between the press and the White House — that’s sort of what I studied. I think Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders are fantastic examples of what not to do if you want to be an effective press secretary so I don’t really need to follow what they do very much.

2. Some real-life coincidences still make it into this season

Kal Penn stands inside an office with a bookshelf with Aaron.

Many were surprised over the coincidences between the show and real-world politics. | ABC

Q: The show has tackled a lot of things that have seemed pretty recent like the leak on Wikileaks. Is there anything coming in the second season that will also be very similar to real life?

Kal Penn: Definitely one in the second episode where we shot things and then six weeks go by and something happens in the real world — like are we allowed to air that? If everyone’s going to think that this was based on reality and in fact it’s one of those rare instances where we made fiction and six months later something happened for real.

Q: Does that make you hesitate at all when you see coincidences like that happen? Does it make you anxious for it to come out or worried how it’s going to be taken by either side politically?

Kal Penn: I think the audience knows we’re making TV and it’s fiction first and foremost. But every so often you’ll have little overlaps with reality which are interesting.

Q: Does fake news ever come up in the upcoming season?

Kal Penn: Our show lives in a little bubble. I’ve been actually trying to figure out — and the writers haven’t totally decided this yet — but where we fall in [the] line of real presidents. So [there’s a] big picture of George Washington in the Oval Office obviously. I think there [have] been some references to Lincoln and Kennedy. So at some point … but we haven’t addressed Bush, Clinton, Obama, or Trump so I don’t know where the Kirkman administration fits in. At some point, reality is going to jump to the fiction of our fake administration. I just don’t think they [have] decided where our show lives yet.

3. Hannah might be getting a new love interest and Maggie Q isn’t totally happy about that

Maggie Q wears black clothes and stands in front of a gray background.

Hannah Wells in Designated Survivor | ABC

Q: In the first season, a big part of the season you were kind of out on the fray doing your own thing as a detective. What was that like and is the same kind of dynamic going to happen going into the second season?

Maggie Q: Yes and yes. My character is sort of on an island as you experienced in Season 1 and I guess her job is so far from what they do in the show. There’s very little that we have in terms of interaction. I’m going to have more to do in the White House because I’m still working for the president but really I’m kind of still on my own island which I enjoy. [laughs]

Q: Why do you enjoy that?

Maggie Q: I enjoy it because I get to work with all the guest stars and I’m out. I’m not always in the studio. I’m out and it keeps it really interesting for me.

Q: We know that Hannah’s boyfriend is Senator Wheeler and you said that you kind of had a problem with her still grieving. Do we get more of that backstory in the second season?

Maggie Q: No I think we’re done with that and they’re bringing someone else into her life that they sort of hope for her. And as I was saying to [another reporter], I had concerns about it being too early but I guess we come back in this premiere episode tonight I think six months after we left off. So it’s been almost a year.

4. The show is trying to show an ideal government not reflect our real one

President Kirkman stands at a podium speaking to a crowd.

President Kirkman stands at a podium speaking to a crowd. | ABC

Q: How does it feel in such a hot political climate to be making a show basically about this? Is it therapeutic? Stressful?

Maggie Q: I think it’s all of those things you know because I think there’s a way in which we wish our politics were going. I think that’s true for any country but certainly, the United States right now and I think there’s also in that exploratory sort of nature in what we’re doing on the show, you almost want to present that ideal way that we wish things were going down. And I think that’s what we’re doing as well because we, in my opinion, don’t have leadership right now. And so when I look at a leader and what a leader does I think what Keifer’s [Sutherland] doing is excellent.

Q: What do you love about his character as a leader?

Maggie Q: I always like unlikely heroes. For me, it’s always … I’m always rooting for that guy.

5. Maggie Q thinks television’s diversity might be more about available jobs

Hannah Wells looks on.

Hannah Wells looks on. | ABC

Q: In the first season you did a lot of detective work as your character. Then it started getting more physical. Is it going to be more action-packed in the second season?

Maggie Q: It is and it isn’t because we still have to stay in reality and I think more the action is circumstantial than anything. But there’s going to be some, yeah.

Q: The Emmys just happened and diversity was a big part, and there was a lot of historical firsts like Riz Ahmed’s win. Do you feel like the industry is actually getting better with diversity? Or was there some cynicism in it?

Maggie Q: I hope that it is. I think some of it has to do with the fact that there are more jobs available because the industry has opened up with streaming in a way that the opportunities have doubled, tripled, quadrupled in a very short period of time. So I do believe that there is some coming to in what minorities represent and should be represented, especially if we’re representing the population of the United States. It makes no sense not to be diverse, but at the same time I am careful about my optimism in that are they really giving us those jobs, or is it just more jobs and we have a window?

6. Italia Ricci says the show is getting another powerful woman

Emma stands in a striped blazer and holds her phone.

Italia Ricci as Emma Rhodes | ABC

Q: Your character — for the first season she had this love interest thing going on with Aaron. But by the end, she’s suspecting him then she’s kind of pushing him away. Is that still going to be her strategy or will she try to get closer to him?

Italia Ricci: I think by the end of the season it was pretty clear that he was put into a bad situation so it wasn’t necessarily that he was a bad guy. I think that she, as far as trusting and not trusting somebody, is based on her loyalty to Kirkman and I feel like her feelings for Aaron never became more important than that. So she sort of stands or serves at the pleasure of the president and her love life is never going to take priority over that.

Q: Your character in the first season was able to tackle sexism with the email debacle. Do you think that theme is still going to happen with your character or other stories are going to be told?

Italia Ricci: I don’t think so but there’s always that because you know Emily is sort of the only girl. But now we bring in Kendra Daynes played by Zoe McLellan and she’s awesome. And she’s this powerhouse lawyer so I’m excited for fans to get to see that.

7. This season ‘grew some balls’

Lyor standing inside an office wearing a suit and glasses.

Lyor | ABC

Q: Now there’s a new addition with Lyor so how that’s going to affect your character’s work?

Italia Ricci: She’s just got another kid to babysit.

Q: How would you describe the second season and what’s the biggest thing that you’re looking forward to fans reacting to?

Italia Ricci: It’s a whole different dynamic change. The energy’s better, the look of the show’s a little edgier. It’s kind of like Season 2 grew some balls.

8. Paulo Costanzo quickly talks about Lyor and Kirkman’s differences

Tom Kirkman sits with his hands on his desk in front of the American Flag.

Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman | ABC

Q: Your character obviously has a strong point of view on how to approach politics. Do you think he’s right or do you think Kirkman as the president is more right?

Paulo Costanzo: I think there’s no right or wrong necessarily. I think Lyor’s points are right to him and I think whatever the president chooses to do ultimately just becomes the choice.

Follow Nicole Weaver on Twitter @nikkibernice 

Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!