STAGE TO SCREENS: Tony Winner John Gallagher, Jr. on "The Newsroom" and Playing the Good Guy Roles

By Christopher Wallenberg
27 Aug 2013

Gallagher on "The Newsroom."
Photo by Melissa Moseley

And what about the character of Mason? What drew you to him and what did you think you could bring to the role?
JG: I just loved that Destin had written such an unapologetically good guy. He's just such a virtuous person. He's been through a lot in his life. And he could have come out on the other end of it very damaged and very internal and probably very angry. But he got a second chance at life early on by being adopted by foster parents. And it's changed his whole outlook and his whole perspective. He's just such a natural caretaker. And in high-stakes drama, especially in film, I think you get a lot of selfish characters because that is what keeps drama going. That's what kind of keeps the stakes high.

And I love that Destin was able to create a story with so much drama and such high stakes but have one of the main characters be just ultimately selfless. And I also thought that was amazing — and not easy to do. For Mason, ultimately, the only thing that he really ever said that he needs is for his girlfriend to start healing. So even the thing that he needs is actually a very selfless and nurturing and nourishing thing. I love that about him. And, you know, I'd love to learn from that. I'd love to be more like that in my life. And anytime you can learn something about yourself from a character, that's just the ultimate bonus as an actor. Patience and selflessness are both qualities that I want to try to bring more of into my life, and I have the character to thank for it.

There's so much great stage talent working on "The Newsroom" — from you and Alison Pill to Thomas Sadoski and Jeff Daniels. Do you think actors who have lots of experience working in theatre do particularly well in speaking the rhythms of Sorkin's dialogue and working with his word-dense, breakneck-paced style?
JG: Yeah, I thought that — until I got there and saw how amazing Dev Patel and Olivia Munn were in their roles and with speaking certain dialogue. And neither one of them have spent any time onstage. I think it does help, for me at least, that I have a history in learning a lot of dialogue, because you have to learn a lot of it when you do something on stage. So your muscle is kind of stretched and warmed up to jump in and learn a ton of dialogue. And you have to constantly learn and relearn dialogue every day working on an Aaron Sorkin show. So it was something that I felt a little bit conditioned for. And I think that it probably is not a coincidence that so many theatre actors end up on a show like that. And, you know, we have Alan Poul and Scott Rudin producing "The Newsroom," and they happen to be huge theatre fans. They see a ton of theatre and are familiar with all those actors.

What adjustments did you have to make to working in television and acting in front of a camera on a regular basis for the first time?
JG: I've always been a fan of the quieter, stiller moments. And most shows that I've done on stage — almost all of them — I'm pretty sure I've been given a note at one time or another from my director to be louder and to be bigger. So adjusting my acting to more of a quiet, kind of naturalistic, on-camera type of performance is something that didn't take a lot of work. It was something that I kind of fell into naturally. I think it was a place where I'm very comfortable. Especially with Aaron's dialogue. You don't have to do that much. If you just kind of back off and let it happen, it does a lot of the work for you, because it's such masterful writing.