In the age of Twitter “Breaking News” feeds, the guidelines governing the standards, ethics and best practices for journalists have been manipulated to dissolve the public’s demand for immediacy and spectacle.
In HBO’s latest television drama, The Newsroom, show creator Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), takes us into the production of a nightly news program, just as its trusted anchorman, Will McAvoy — brilliantly acted by Jeff Daniels — is heading towards the ledge. In true Sorkin fashion, The Newsroom — like his shows Sports Night and West Wing before it — is a unconventional dialogue-heavy television narrative, that doesn’t shy away from prolonged monologues and controversial turns in conversation.
Talk of journalistic principles, politics and the media’s moral obligation to society rather than to the almighty Nielsen rating system is at the centre of this fast-paced drama. With a frustrated and time-worn McAvoy seeking a renegade career renaissance, his newsroom crew (played by Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston, Alison Pill, Dev Patel and John Gallagher Jr. amongst others) follow suit, and action transpires.
At the front of the charge for content over dollars is senior news producer Jim Harper. In the role of the steadfast idealist, Gallagher effortless wears Harper’s boy-next-door persona. “Jim is the kind of guy who I imagine was a great student, but didn’t have very many friends at school,” says the actor of his character. “He probably wrote an overly ambitious column for his high school newspaper, and got on everybody’s nerves because he watched All the President’s Men as a teenager, and became obsessed with investigative journalism.”
A Tony-Award winning actor/singer, Gallagher has made an easy transition from his acclaimed stage role as the excitable Moritz Stiefel in Spring Awakenings to playing a strong silent news man on screen. Seeming almost shy when we first meet, the 28-year-old’s reserved, but laid back personality finds its way into his character’s disposition in the form of subtle boyish charm, making Jim all the more likeable for it.
Below, FILLER talks to Gallagher about keeping up with the kinetic energy of Sorkin’s storyline, and his new found respect for the nightly news.
The Newsroom really takes a bite out of the media as an establishment. What’s your take on the state of journalistic practices today?
I’m by no means an expert on the subjects that The Newsroom tackles, but I have noticed that the 24 hour cable news cycle can have a way of putting stories that may not necessarily be important up front and in focus simply because they’ve become viral or are driving the ratings. Meanwhile stories that actually impact the way we live can get buried, and it’s a shame when you realize how many people watch cable news and take that reporting at face value.
Tell me a bit about your character, what motivates Jim to work in news?
He’s a young whiz kid, senior producer, who works along side Emily Mortimer’s character Mackenzie. He’s a workaholic news junkie who has no trepidation being embedded in Afghanistan to cover the war, but when it comes to basic day-to-day social interaction, he’s lost at sea.
The shows looks at journalistic ethics and good practices from a variety of angles via its characters, ranging from idealistic to corporate to political. Where does your character stand in the mix?
I see Jim as being equal parts idealist and realist, which is why he makes such a great partner to Mackenzie. At heart, they are both optimistic, and believe in a greater good when it comes to reporting the news, but where Mackenzie is unaware of consequence and willing to go out on a limb at any cost, Jim is there to reel her back in and offer a bigger more sensible perspective. He has his opinions, but knows when the best option available is to keep his mouth shut and do his job.
Sounds like he adds balance to the dynamic of the newsroom?
Jim functions as somewhat of a morale builder and care taker among the staffers. He rushes to Maggie’s aid when she suffers a panic attack at work. He comforts Neal and takes him to the hospital when he loses his temper and punches a computer. He’s less comfortable barking orders at the staff, who happen to be his same age, than he is supporting them and encouraging them to do the best work possible.
I can see that sense of comradery in your character’s relationship with Jeff Daniels’ Will character.
I think Jim and Will have a great deal of respect for each other. Both Will and Charlie Skinner recognize a great deal of themselves in young Jim. After he proves his dedication to honest and daring reporting of breaking news with the BP oil disaster, Jim is embraced by the senior staff at ACN. He is encouraged by Charlie to keep up the good work, and also to let his hair down and “be a damn news man.” I think Will also bonds with Jim because he sees that they’re both stuck enduring the hardships of working along side women they have feelings for.
We’re all wondering about that storyline…is Jim going to have an office romance?
From the pilot episode alone you get the sense that Jim and Maggie share an almost instant connection, and that connection grows as the season continues. Mackenzie predicts that Jim will fall in love with Maggie just from meeting her, and, whether or not Jim wants to admit it, her prediction quickly starts coming true. Office romances are rarely easy and almost never predictable in the way they unfold, and the ones depicted in The Newsroom are no exception to that rule.
Sounds very dramatic! And when it comes to drama, Aaron Sorkin is in a class of his own. What was it like working with Sorkin, and immersing yourself into his energetic, quick-paced world of drama.
Aaron Sorkin is brilliant at capturing the bigger picture of politics and worldwide news events, and placing them as the backdrop to the smaller picture of personal events in the lives of his characters. Every episode deals with a real news story from the past two years, and usually the way the audience is invited into those stories is through whatever is happening to the newsroom staff at that moment.
Which results in a lot of heavy conversations….
The banter between characters is almost always a battle of wits between very smart and very stubborn people, making it as informative and interesting, as it is entertaining and amusing.
Do you think of the nightly news and the journalists behind it a little differently now after working on The Newsroom ?
I certainly don’t watch a newscast in the same way that I used to now that I’ve learned a little bit more about what goes into putting on a nightly news show.
Switching from stage to screen, do you find your acting technique changes?
On camera an actor usually has to tone things down slightly because you’re under the microscope so to speak. I didn’t find that to be too challenging since I’ve been told over the years — by several theater directors — to be bigger, louder and more exaggerated. I think my impulse is usually to keep things somewhat quiet and intimate. Even so, there are some great screwball comedy moments on The Newsroom.
One of the first things I do after my entrance in the pilot is fall down, so there are theatrical elements thrown into the mix as Aaron Sorkin did start off as a playwright.
Your own stage career is very impressive. Music is obviously something you have a natural talent and passion for. Would you ever contemplate recording an album and perhaps doing a little touring?
Absolutely. Recording an album and touring with it is something that has been on my to do list for quite a few years, and I do feel that it’s long overdue.Styling by Claire Magruder Grooming by Joanna Pensinger, Exclusive Artist Management Shot on location at Prima & its surrounding Lower East Side Neighbourhood. Special thanks to Hamid Rashidzada and the staff at Prima.