35 People You Might Not Realize Appeared on The West Wing


When Aaron Sorkin’s White House drama The West Wing made its debut, it instantly became known for its whip-smart dialogue, complex political plots, Martin Sheen’s tendency toward grandfatherly pontifications, and its endless series of walk and talks (the latter two of which key cast members mocked in a 2012 Funny or Die sketch). But what truly set the show apart and earned it more than 90 major awards during its seven-season run—including two Golden Globes and 26 Primetime Emmy Awards—was its stellar cast.

From bona fide celebrities like Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Stockard Channing, and Alan Alda to well-respected character actors like Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, John Spencer, and Richard Schiff to up-and-comers like Dulé Hill, Janel Maloney, and Elisabeth Moss, this Oval Office was jam-packed with talent. Which allowed the series to attract dozens of other A-list names over the years, including a host of Oscar nominees (Glenn Close, James Cromwell, Hal Holbrook, Marlee Matlin, and Karl Malden), small-screen legends (Ed O’Neill, Mark Harmon, John Goodman, Matthew Perry, John Laroquette, Patricia Richardson), and some fun cameos (Jon Bon Jovi, The Foo Fighters, Yo-Yo Ma … and David Hasselhoff). Here are 35 other people whose West Wing appearances you might not remember.


Modern Family star Ty Burrell had only ever appeared on television once before—in an episode of Law & Order, of course—when he went tête-à-tête with Sam Seaborn as a Rotarian arguing about a national seatbelt law in season three.


In the same year as her breakout role in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams appeared in The West Wing’s season four premiere as an Indiana farm girl who tries to help Toby, Josh, and Donna—who’ve managed to get themselves lost—get to their next stop on the campaign trail. And teaches them a little something about farm life along the way.


It’s hard to imagine Jane Lynch not making use of her comedic chops, but she went the serious route in 2000 and 2001 as a member of the White House Press Corps—and a thorn in C.J. Cregg’s side—in two separate episodes.


One could almost say that Clark Gregg got his Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. training in Sorkin’s fictional Oval Office. From 2001 to 2004, the man who would be Phil Coulson made eight appearances as no-nonsense FBI Special Agent Michael Casper.


Two-time Golden Globe nominee Evan Rachel Wood was already an acting vet at the age of 15 when she played Hogan Cregg, who has enlisted the help of aunt C.J. to go prom dress shopping. Instead, Hogan is more interested in grilling Simon Donovan (Mark Harmon), the Secret Service Agent who has been assigned to accompany them, about his job.


If you want to get a crash course in comedic timing, sharing a walk and talk with Bradley Whitford—even a brief one—is a pretty good start. And that’s exactly where Community star Danny Pudi got his. “That was actually my first TV role,” Pudi told Collider in 2012, “and it was the most terrifying. As you know, they did a lot of walk and talks, which are really difficult if you just have one or two lines because you have to be precise because they’re walking down a hallway. My whole exchange was I had to get to Brad Whitford and give him a piece of paper and say, ‘Guest list for the Cleveland event,’ as he was walking past this one entrance. So it was terrifying because it was all about hitting your marks.”


Nick Offerman’s Parks and Recreation alter ego Ron Swanson may have taken a picture of every steak he has ever eaten at Charles Mulligan’s Steakhouse, but in season one’s “The Crackpots and These Women” episode he plays Jerry, an animal rights activist intent on getting the White House to fund a near-billion-dollar “wolves-only highway” in honor of a recently deceased wolf named Pluie.


Ty Burrell wasn’t the only member of Modern Family clan to make an appearance on The West Wing: Ed O’Neill played Pennsylvania Governor Eric Baker in four episodes between 2004 and 2005. And Eric Stonestreet made a small appearance as “Staffer #1” in season two’s “Bad Moon Rising” episode.


Perhaps it’s a good thing that everyone’s favorite school principal, Mr. Belding, didn’t even get a character name when he appeared in season three’s “Bartlet for America” episode. He is simply known as C.E.O. Donor #2. (What would Zack and Kelly think?)


Ian McShane was hardly a stranger to American audiences when he played Nikolai Ivanovich, a Russian negotiator in 2002’s “Enemies Foreign and Domestic” episode (he played screenwriter Don Lockwood on Dallas’ 12th season). But it would be another two years before Al Swearengen—the f***ing c***sucker he played in Deadwood—turned him into a (four-letter) household name. And a Golden Globe nominee.


Dean Norris—a.k.a. Breaking Bad’s mineral-loving DEA Agent Hank Schrader—made his professional acting debut in 1981. Which gave him more than two decades to perfect his Head Badass in Charge persona, which he played to perfection as Steve Hodder, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, in two episodes—one in 2005, one in 2006—of The West Wing.


Felicity Huffman already spoke fluent Sorkinian when she made a one-off appearance in 2001. Prior to appearing as Ann Stark, a friend-turned-foe of Toby’s and Chief of Staff to the Senate Majority Leader, the Oscar nominee had spent two seasons starring in Sorkin’s first series, Sports Night.


When Admiral Percy Fitzwallace (John Amos) retired as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Terry O’Quinn—as General Nicholas Alexander—took over the title. He made seven appearances on the series between 2003 and 2004, his final one (in “The Birnam Wood”) airing a month after he first appeared as John Locke on Lost.


Six months after making his television debut on an episode of (you guessed it) Law & Order, John Gallagher Jr. (only then minus the Jr.) appeared in the same 2002 episode as Amy Adams, as a teenager trying to help Donna, Josh, and Toby find their way back to the official campaign trail. Which might make one think that when it came time for Sorkin to cast the role of Jim Harper on The Newsroom, Gallagher would be a shoo-in. But one would be incorrect. “Aaron did not remember that I had been on The West Wing,” Gallagher told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2013. “I never met him on set because we shot it on location in Pittsburgh and he was back in L.A. writing the rest of the season. So whenever people needed to get notes from him, everybody would gather around a cellphone and he would give out notes for the scene and whatnot. It wasn't until the end of Season 1 [of The Newsroom], he came on set one day, I heard him come on set and say, ‘Where's John Gallagher?’ and I thought, ‘Oh no, what did I do? I'm going to get fired.’ And he came up to me and said, ‘I can't believe I'm just now realizing you were our kid, you were our guy—Episode 1, Season 4 of The West Wing!’ He was very nice, and he said, ‘I'm so sorry I didn't put two and two together. You look a lot different.’ And I said, ‘I know, I had a very unfortunate haircut at that time.’”


Bring It On star Gabrielle Union played Meeshell Anders, an aspiring journalist who manages to catch Charlie’s eye, in season five’s “The Benign Prerogative.”


A year before he became Charlotte’s smarmy divorce lawyer-turned-doting husband (and series regular) Harry Goldenblatt on Sex and the City, Evan Handler was mixing things up in our nation’s capital for three episodes as Doug Wegland, a conservative political strategist intent on getting President Bartlet to veto an estate tax that came to be known as a “death tax.” Sorkin must have liked what he saw; Handler later landed a recurring role on another Sorkin series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Fun fact: Handler spent much of his screen time opposite Rob Lowe; the two actors would be reunited several years later on Californication, and share a kiss. “Evan and I had worked together before, on The West Wing,” Lowe recalled to Salon. “He too has written books, and we bonded over our appreciation for a good memoir and said our traditional actor’s goodbyes: ‘Loved working with you. Let’s do it again soon!’ I never imagined that when we did, we would be doing a big kiss that would make A Place in the Sun’s Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift proud (Clift more so, probably).”


Though the former Brat Packer went uncredited for his role in the season four finale, he didn’t go unnoticed. Martin Sheen’s eldest child played a younger version of his dear old dad in a bit of news footage.


Before she played Dr. Cuddy—House’s nemesis and sometime paramour on House—Lisa Edelstein played a different kind of professional during The West Wing’s first season: a $3000-per-night call girl by night and law student by day who is befriended by Sam.


In The West Wing’s fourth season, Taye Diggs played Wesley, a Secret Service Agent tasked with protecting President Bartlet’s daughter Zoe (Elisabeth Moss).


As if J.K. Simmons didn’t have enough on his plate in 2006—with recurring roles on Justice League and The Closer, a voice gig on The Simpsons , and big-screen parts in First Snow and The Astronaut Farmer—the veteran character actor made time to put in a single performance as Harry Ravitch, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman, in “Duck and Cover.”


Just a few months before she began her 275-plus episode run (and counting) as Sara Sidle on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Jorja Fox had a five-episode arc on The West Wing as Gina Toscano, a fresh-out-of-the-academy agent assigned to protect the President’s daughter Zoey.


Three years before he landed the role of Lieutenant-turned-Major-turned-Colonel-turned-Deputy Commissioner of Operations Cedric Daniels on The Wire, Lance Reddick was a D.C. police officer with no name in The West Wing’s first season.


Though Tobin Bell got his start in Hollywood in 1982—as an (uncredited) waiter in Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie­—his breakout role really came in 2004, when he took on the role of sadistic serial killer Jigsaw in the long-running Saw series. But in 2002, he played a character of a less nefarious variety: military adviser Colonel Whitcomb, who helped strategize to avoid a military coup in Venezuela.


Before she was a Pretty Little Liar or a bikini-clad Spring Breaker, Ashley Benson was just a 12-year-old little girl getting started in her career in the appropriately titled character of “Girl” in season four’s “Game On” episode.


In 2001, the same year that she starred in Ed Burns’ short-lived series The Fighting Fitzgeralds, Connie “Friday Night Lights” Britton spent four episodes as Connie Tate, a campaign consultant who played an integral part in President Bartlet’s reelection bid.


Desperate Housewives’ handsome neighborhood plumber with a past plays a former law school classmate of Sam’s who is being groomed for a Congressional run with, Sam promises, the full support of the White House behind him … until questions of racism arise.


Eric Balfour is one of those guys whose face you know, but name you may not. He’s been working steadily since landing his first gig on Kids Incorporated at the age of 14, including major roles on Six Feet Under, Conviction, 24, and Haven. His talent for playing the bad boy was on full display in The West Wing’s first season when he played a drunk frat boy who got a little too handsy with the President’s daughter. Panic buttons were pushed, faces were broken.


It’s probably just a coincidence that in 2000, the same year Andy Buckley made a single appearance as Congressman Mike Satchel in The West Wing’s first season, he also decided to give up acting professionally and return to his stockbroking roots. Which just may have made him an even more perfect fit to play the CFO (then CEO) of Dunder Mifflin on The Office when a casting director came calling.


If you’ve ever watched even a single episode of Homeland, you’ve likely heard Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) whining about terrorist and public enemy number one: Abu Nazir. Now flashback to 2004, during The West Wing’s fifth season, and you’ll see Homeland’s prime antagonist as a mysterious foreign operative who reaches out to Josh while he’s in Germany.


President Bartlet brings current Miami Heat assistant coach—and former NBA All-Star and Power Forward—Juwan Howard in as a ringer when a friendly game of basketball gets seriously competitive outside of the White House.


MST3K writer, actor, and Crow T. Robot voice/operator Trace Beaulieu made a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo as Cal, a White House staffer, during season two’s “Bad Moon Rising.”


With six seasons of Parenthood under his belt, Sam Jaegar is a seasoned television star. But when he appeared as Bill Kelley, a young journalist who happened to be on the receiving end of an informational slip-up on the part of C.J., he had only booked one television role previously. (Can you say Law & Order?)


Though he made his debut in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets in 1973, David Proval may be best known for playing steely-eyed gangster Richie Aprile in The Sopranos. In season one’s “Take This Sabbath Day,” Proval plays to his gentler side as Toby’s rabbi, and helps to advise him on matters of capital punishment.


In an acting career that spans more than 50 years and 150 credits, David Huddleston has rarely played the same character twice. (Compare his portrayal of Olson Johnson in Blazing Saddles to Grandpa Arnold on The Wonder Years to Jeffrey Lebowski in The Big Lebowski.) On The West Wing, he played tough-talking Republican Senator Max Lobell, an occasional ally to President Bartlet.


Venerable character actress Grace Zabriskie has accumulated nearly 150 credits in the past 27 years, perhaps most notably as Mrs. Ross, George’s would-be mother-in-law on Seinfeld, or Lois Henrickson, Bill Paxton’s mom, in Big Love. And in 2000, she made a memorable appearance early on in The West Wing’s second season (in a flashback), as the boss who gave C.J. the boot, clearing her path to the White House.