— -- Actress Melissa Fitzgerald's journey to Washington, D.C., was far from typical.
For years, Fitzgerald starred as Carol Fitzpatrick, assistant to press secretary C.J. Cregg (played by Allison Janney), on the hit TV show “The West Wing.” Although “Carol” lived in the nation’s capital, Fitzgerald's life was in Hollywood, where she spent her time starring in the TV show and producing documentaries.
But then in 2011, fellow "West Wing" actor Martin Sheen invited Fitzgerald to speak with him at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) Conference in Washington, D.C.
Fitzgerald told ABC News she had “no plans to move at the time.” However, as she began learning about the “incredible work” of NADCP and its then-recently launched division Justice for Vets, which provides legal resources and treatment to veterans, Fitzgerald found that the organization's work resonated with her.
Two years later, Fitzgerald learned there was a senior director position with Justice for Vets available.
“I don’t know why, but I [told West Huddleston, the then-CEO of NADCP] if I were a veteran I’d throw my hat in the ring,” Fitzgerald said. “A few days later [Huddleston] called and said, ‘Were you serious?’ and I said,‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘When can you start?’”
Now having lived in the D.C. area for several years, Fitzgerald can attest to the show’s accuracy about the city.
“I do think 'The West Wing' did a really great job of depicting life here,” Fitzgerald said.
Moreover, Fitzgerald notes that the show’s portrayal of a life of public service helped to inspire her own. “I think that show is really a love letter to public service,” she said.
Fitzgerald says that while her jobs may seem different, there are more similarities between acting and non-profit work than one might think.
“I think acting is collaborative work. It takes a team to do the work,” Fitzgerald said. “And I don’t think it’s different here.”
And she hasn’t completely left her Hollywood life behind. Just last month, Fitzgerald reunited with a number of her "West Wing" co-stars to launch a PSA for Justice for Vets.
Fitzgerald isn’t the only actor to leave Hollywood for the Hill. Kal Penn from “House” and the “Harold and Kumar” film series went to work for President Obama in 2009. Fred Thompson, known for his appearances on TV shows including “Law & Order,” served in the Senate for almost a decade. And of course President Ronald Reagan was an accomplished actor prior to his two terms in the White House.