On Sunday, Aaron Sorkin will pull back the curtain on the TV news media with his third crack at a show-within-a-show, The Newsroom. The HBO drama centers on News Night anchor Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, who together with his staff sets out to put on a non-politicized news show in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles as well as their own pasts. At the series’ Hollywood premiere, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with co-stars Thomas Sadoski and Emily Motimer, who play McAvoy’s producers, to discuss the show’s timeliness, the actors' inspiration and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
THR: What -- or who -- inspired the character that you play?
Thomas Sadoski: The script. It’s all there on the page and when you work with extraordinary actors and (the) extraordinary writer, directors and production staff and crew that that we have, the inspiration is coming from so many different angles. In terms of basing the character on anybody in particular, my sort of thinking was Anthony Bourdain, who I’m a big fan of. I wanted to take some of Anthony’s swagger and sort of no-bullshit approach to life and see if I could take some small semblance of that and put it into Don.
Emily Mortimer: I went and did a little bit of research at CNN and my girlfriend, whom I’ve known for many years, is now an EP in London, and I talked to her a lot. And I’ve realized from doing that that the thing that was concerning me was like, s--t, I have to order a lot of people around a newsroom and I’ve never been in control of anything in my life. I don’t know how to do that. I get shy asking people to make the barbeque a half an hour earlier or whatever, so to do that was a stretch. But then I realized that these people are doing a vocational job - you don’t get rich and famous by producing the news. And so they’re in it because they’re passionate about it, because they’re obsessed with it and that was my inspiration. Then I was like, "Ok, if there is a toughness or whatever, it’s not being tough for the sake of it, it’s because you just care so ferociously about what you’re doing and you want it to be right."
THR: What kind of research did you do for the role?
Sadoski: I’d love to tell you that I’ve done a ton of research but I didn’t. I didn’t have time. I was doing a play on Broadway right up until two days before we started shooting — with [co-star] Alison Pill, actually. And I got here and I just said to [producers] Greg Mottola and Alan Poul, "I’m throwing myself entirely at your mercy. You guys trailed and did all of this research, you just tell me where I’m going wrong and I’ll trust you guys." And it worked out really well, I think.
Mortimer: I was there [at CNN] for just a day, and it wasn’t something that was encouraged in a big way by the production. It was like, yes, we’re playing these people and doing these things, but these are fictional characters. I went into the newsroom and I saw these people and I was like, "They haven’t slept for four days and none of them looked nearly as put together." Everybody was like, "You’re not basing this on anyone but you." So I sort of let that go a little bit, which was freeing.
Rather than feature present day news events, Newsroom looks back in time. The pilot features the BP oil spill from two years ago. How are those decisions made?
Mortimer: That was Aaron’s brilliant way of dealing with fact of how do you write a show about the news when it can’t be current because you’re going to be screening the program six months, at least, after you’ve shot them. So what he decided to do is make it about the recent past. It starts two years ago and works its way forward and I think it became an asset to the show. We all remember those things but we haven’t yet had time to contextualize them and have the benefit of hindsight. We haven’t had the time to really understand the implications of these things and he does that for us. So I think it’s really wonderful for an audience to be able to look back at their own lives and think, "Where was I when that happened?"
THR: Can you speak to the timeliness of a series about a non-politicized news show?
Sadoski: It’s hard for me to imagine any discussion that means more to me right now than how our media is delivering information to us. With the sort of political fissure in our country and the cultural fissure… there is no conversation between the two sides. It’s just bickering and talking at each other. There is nothing more important right now than to have an objective voice in the middle that’s actually able to discern fact from fiction and deliver it without agenda. We don’t have that.
To a large extent we have PBS and we have NPR, but unfortunately they’ve been politicized by the Right -- and maybe to a certain extent, themselves, too. But they’re as close as we’ve got, and they’re not close enough. This is…it’s essential. There is nothing more essential to a democracy than a well-informed electorate. Our founding fathers knew that. We have to be having this conversation right now. It’s just a TV show, I’m not thinking of this (as) anything bigger or important than that, but if we can inspire a little bit of discussion, a little bit of debate and maybe move the needle a fraction, then we would have done some sort of service that is in desperate need of being done. I’m really proud to be a part of it.