Thomas Sadoski: 'The Newsroom's' Surprise Star Returns For Season 2
July 14th, 2013 10:00am EDT
There's no shortage of known stars on HBO's The Newsroom. Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer are front and center, deservedly so. Sam Waterston is an acting legend. Jane Fonda has a special guest role.
And then there's Thomas Sadoski. Much like his character, news producer Don Keefer, is out of sight when there's a broadcast on the air, he's been quietly doing some of the show's best work. As he's peeled back the layers on Don to reveal more than just the guy that bailed on Will McAvoy, Sadoski has become one of the top five reasons to watch The Newsroom. He's delivering top-shelf performances, even as TV viewers are just now learning his name.
Yet he's not a newcomer. What you don't know about Sadoski is that he has more than enough experience to belong with the likes of Daniels, Mortimer, Waterston and Fonda. Though his television exposure is fairly limited - episodes of each of the Law & Order series, a guest spot on Ugly Betty and eight installments of As The World Turns - he's been a mainstay in the stage world, where he's been found for almost two decades. He's been off and on Broadway, read the words of William Shakespeare, Kenneth Lonergan and Neil LaBute, and racked up a Tony nomination, an Obie Award and a Lucille Lortel Award. If you're a TV fan, you might not know what all that means, but it all amounts to serious accomplishment.
So how, then, does a theater veteran make the transition to being a series regular on primetime television? How does he translate the years of facing a live audience into now playing in front of a half-dozen cameras? What happened to bring him there?
"This was the first one that came calling and it just also happened to be the one that was my dream job," Sadoski told BFTV on Thursday, just days before The Newsroom's season premiere. "I spent a lot time working in theater in New York, 15-plus years, doing the occasional guest star [role] on Law & Order or Ugly Betty. It wasn't for lack of trying that I wasn't ending up with TV shows.
"Aaron [Sorkin] sort of set up from the very beginning that he wanted to come in to the theater and he wanted to pull theater actors for his show. He wanted people who had a facility with the language, that he could trust to take his work seriously. When he came down and was in New York, I guess I came across his field of vision."
"For me, the transition has been aided greatly by the fact that Aaron is a playwright first and foremost," he explained, "and that I'm working with so many great theater actors who I've worked with in the past or whose work I know and trust."
Indeed, The Newsroom's cast has an impressive stage pedigree: Daniels is another Tony nominee who has also written more than a dozen plays of his own. Waterston is classically trained and still active in the stage world. John Gallagher, Jr., who plays Don's romantic rival Jim Harper, originated a role in Spring Awakening and starred in the Green Day-inspired musical American Idiot. And Don's girlfriend, Maggie Jordan, is played by Alison Pill, who shared the stage with Sadoski in two different plays, including the 2009 Broadway production of LaBute's reasons to be pretty, for which he snagged his Tony nomination. These are theater people, who also happen to be more than capable of entertaining us on TV every Sunday.
And that makes a world of difference when your chief writer is Aaron Sorkin, who began as a playwright, and whose voice is so specific and so unique that it's often been compared to stage greats like David Mamet. "Aaron writes in such a specific rhythm that you do have to work it to get it into your bones, particularly early on in the season," said Sadoski, who is more than game for the added effort. "You want to work hard at it. You want to be out there giving your absolute best. We have this cast that operates at a really high level. Everyone is working really hard to meet the standards that the writing has set for us to meet."
He's also inspired by the show's leading man. "You have Jeff doing this extraordinary work all the time," he added. "Jeff doesn't take any time off. And that sets the tone for us."
But Daniels isn't the only one reaching great heights. Sadoski gave perhaps the most revelatory performance of The Newsroom's first season, because we weren't expecting it - either from the character or the actor. When audiences first met Don, he was finding a way to duck meeting Maggie's parents and leaving News Night along with a majority of the staff. Not exactly an endearing introduction, and Don's cynical point of view made him frustrating at best. Why is he still here? we wondered. And then it became clear, as we met another Don, who was under pressure to succeed, stymied with his relationship, and sometimes the words came out wrong. He wasn't a bad guy, just a guy in a bad way. By the time he unleashed a long-overdue tirade while trapped on an airplane, we found ourselves literally cheering for him.
And who was this guy playing him, the actor from Connecticut that we'd never heard of before? Who had the chops to take Don on a complete, one hundred and eighty degree journey from loathed to liked? Who could handle that long transition in a way that it was gradual, and believable, and not making excuses for Don's past mistakes? Who could play the good, the bad and everything in between? All the other characters of The Newsroom were known quantities - you knew the white hats from the black ones - except for Don, and Sadoski made him who he is. He sold the moments where Don wasn't likeable as much as the ones where he was. He showed us everything that was going through Don's head and heart, bringing him to life as a full person, not just an ex-producer or a boyfriend or that guy who had to play the antagonist. The reason why Don Keefer is a series regular on The Newsroom is because Thomas Sadoski has made it impossible for him not to be there.
And he's not done. Sadoski promises that the growth we saw in Don will persist as we move into the show's sophomore season. "The arc that was established last year, that arc is going to continue," he revealed. "The sort of great project with my character last year was to humanize him. When we first met Don, we met Don in crisis. And then as the regular days stretched out in front of him, we started to see a more relaxed Don."
"As the season goes on, I got to do some great work with Marcia Gay Harden," he continued, referring to the actress who has a recurring guest role as Rebecca Halliday, a lawyer defending News Night's network, ACN - and is seen early on taking Will to task in a deposition. "The last few episodes saw us spending a bit of time together, which was really exciting, and I'm proud of the work we managed to get done there. There's a lot of the work this season that I'm happy with."
The hot-button topic for Newsroom fans is Don's romance with Maggie; while they're still technically together, she shared a kiss with Jim last season, and Don had a moment with Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), too. It's been clear from the pilot that the show is angling to couple Jim and Maggie together, as are many viewers, so how does Sadoski weigh in on the romantic drama? Could he possibly be rooting against his own character's relationship? "As a fan, I do sort of want what's best for everybody involved," he said with a laugh, "and I'm not entirely sure what that means for Maggie and for Don. It plays itself out really early in the season. [You] won't have to wait long."
Season two is set to be another exciting and thought-provoking one, once again pulling from significant events in the recent past, including the 2012 Presidential race between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Yet as we settle in for another nine episodes, it's also a good point to reflect on what's already been done. Amongst all the other things that are great about The Newsroom, we've had the pleasure of discovering a great actor in Sadoski, fearless enough to play the character people hated, talented enough to change quite a few minds on that subject, and whose years of stage experience make him particularly adept with the complex and beautiful language he gets to deliver every week. Of all the many wonderful actors who have been a part of Aaron Sorkin series over the last fifteen years, Sadoski already stands out as one of the best.
But what makes him just slightly more remarkable is that, like his character, he remains relatively unheralded - and he's content to stay that way. Here is a veteran actor who simply does his job every day to the best of his ability, who prefers that people get to know him through his work, and who shies away from praise. Sadoski doesn't believe that he's necessarily accomplished anything great. He doesn't even think there's a moment where he felt like he made it as an actor.
"I've been doing this for awhile now - I've been a professional for 17 years - and I don't know that there's ever really a moment," he reflected. "Just the other day, I had that realization of what the last few years have been like for me. I've won an Obie Award. I've done two seasons of a TV show that I'm proud to be a part of. I've been on an international tour of Shakespeare that was directed by Sam Mendes. When I put it in context, that's a pretty good four years. I realize how incredibly blessed I am to be in that position."
But, he added, "I don't want to sit in those moments too long. I want to get back to work."
With the return of The Newsroom, Sadoski should be working for a long time to come. He may never be recognized as one, and he might not need to be, but he's certainly established himself as a star.
The Newsroom premieres its second season tonight on HBO. You can also keep up with Thomas by following him on Twitter (@ThomasSadoski).
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.
Photo Credits: Melissa Moseley/HBO