STAGE TO SCREENS: Jeff Daniels Is the Anchor of HBO's "The Newsroom"

By Christopher Wallenberg
13 Jul 2012

Daniels on "The Newsroom."
Photo by Melissa Moseley

The reaction to the show so far has been pretty polarizing so far…
JD: Y'think?

Just a little. Some people like it, and others loathe it. The negative reviews have been sharply critical of what they see as a sanctimonious and self-righteous tone, that there's too much speechifying and pontificating. Or that Sorkin is injecting his own politics into it. What is your response to those critiques?
JD: Well, like a lot of actors, I stopped reading reviews years ago. I really have. Good or bad. My wife collects 'em, and if there's something incredibly great, then go ahead and read me that passage. But other than that, hit the delete button. Look, they're talking about the show. So that's a good thing. Love it, hate it, I could care less. They're talking about the show, and that's good. And you know, art is supposed to leave people talking about it. You're supposed to walk away from whatever art you've just witnessed, and it's supposed to stay with you. So I'll take that. If you loathe it, okay. But at least we're still engaging you, we're still pissing you off. I think part of the problem with Aaron's stuff is that — and he'll tell you this… He goes, "I like seeing things that I know were written." So he admits to writing a heightened, stylized kind of dialogue. Our job is to make it look like it's falling out of smart people's heads the moment they think of it. Now, you can either buy that or not. If you don't buy it, then don't watch. As far as the critics go, they're not writing for us. It took a long time to learn that. You certainly hope they like it. But they're writing for their readers. They're writing whether you should see it or not, whether you should spend your money on it. That's different than an acting critique. If Meryl Streep writes a review, then I'll pay attention. Not to be disparaging to critics. That's their job — to like things and not like things.

Do you think the show has come under more scrutiny and taken such a beating in the press because it's about the media and the news business itself?
JD: Well, there are a couple of expressions. One is: We are knocking at the temple door. And I don't know if this applies, but in movies, you know, you never shit in your own front yard. It seems to me that it's probably hitting a little close to home — for some, not all. What's been interesting, though, is the missives that have flying back and forth amongst the different critics and media people. [The New Yorker television critic] Emily Nussbaum goes on a nut about it. Then [New Yorker film critic] David Denby goes after Emily Nussbaum. And here comes Dan Rather. Then David Carr in the New York Times writes a piece bringing CNN into it. People are talking about it and discussing it. And anybody who's ever spent any time in this business knows that you cannot and will not please everyone. But we found a need and we hit a nerve all at the same time.