It’s time to reconsider The Newsroom’s Don, introduced as Maggie’s patronizing boyfriend and the would-be blowhard who got plucked from News Night to chase bigger ratings producing for another program. He has since become one of the show’s most sympathetic characters: Don’s stuck peddling the soft news while Will and his team get to play Don Quixote, and he’s only now sobered up to the workplace foreplay happening between Maggie and Jim. Vulture spoke with Thomas Sadoski, a Broadway veteran who last starred in Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, about Don’s slow evolution, why Jim and Maggie might not get together, and how he reacts to the critics.
Don’s a hard-news guy who just missed out on the rebirth of News Night. His girlfriend is openly flirting with Jim. I feel bad for him.
First of all, thank you. You and [director] Greg Mottola are probably the only two people who walk the planet who have sympathy for Don. Greg used to come up to me when we were shooting and put his arm around me and say, “Team Don, man. Team Don.” Yeah, Don’s sort of not allowed to play with the cool kids, is he? Will tortured him for sixteen weeks, and then all of a sudden Will’s a completely different human being and everyone’s following after him as if he’s the second coming, and Don’s left saying, “But, wait a minute, how is it possible that everyone has forgotten how big of a prick this guy was?” The thing that people often overlook about him is that he’s incredibly good at his job. He was promoted up the chain of command and given an extraordinary amount of responsibility in a very short amount of time. He’s even said, “I’m equipped to do the show you guys are doing now.” He’s thinking, I want to play on this team. But also, What the hell is happening? Is my girlfriend having an emotional affair?
It seems inevitable that Maggie and Jim will get together, or come very close to it.
Is that so inevitable? I don’t know. How many people do you know that you thought would be perfectly aligned, and then they get together and it’s just a mess? I don’t know that [Maggie and Jim] are necessarily an inevitability because I think there’s something to the fight, something to Don and Maggie having fought for their relationship. I know that most people aren’t a big fan of that idea, and I’m very well aware of the fact that I’m considered to be the person, or the character, who is holding up the one thing that people want to have happen on the show. It’s oh, so joyful.
The way Don proved to Maggie that Jim was sleeping with Lisa probably didn’t win him any points with viewers.
It was a really passive-aggressive but simultaneously gentle shot across the bow to everyone involved, as if to say, “Listen, I’m actually not as stupid as you think I am, and I do know what’s going on here, and it’s kind of fucked up.” Don’s sort of hoping everyone’s moral compass, which they’re constantly parading around in terms of the news, will eventually catch up to themselves. He’s hoping they say, “You know what, maybe this isn’t the way we get to go about handling this relationship.” Is it the gutsiest move in the world on Don’s part? No. But I think there’s something sort of tragically beautiful about a guy who is so disconnected in his ability to deal with people that that is the way he has to let people know.
In the last two episodes, we’ve started to see Don come to terms with both his professional and personal predicaments.
There’s an evolution that is going on with Don; it’s almost glacial. Guys like that don’t change overnight. There has to be a consistent humbling that comes into these guys in order to really open up their eyes.
Your background is on Broadway and theater. How has the transition to TV been?
It’s such a gentle transition for a theater actor because Aaron Sorkin at his core is a brilliant playwright, who just happens to do televised theater. I think that’s where a lot of criticism of his work comes from — it’s theatrical in a way that, I think, some people who are fans of television or critics of television don’t really either appreciate or like.
What has it been like for the cast, reading those early reviews? On Twitter, the actors are a little defensive, and with good reason.
Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to avoid the vitriol that came out in regards to the show when we first started. But listen, you’re talking to a guy who’s worked with Neil LaBute. I’m used to work that I’m in causing a stir and getting a very specific reaction. I don’t think anybody who dislikes our show is any less intelligent or any less worthwhile than anyone who does. I’m proud of it. I obviously have a dog in this fight, so it’s hard for me to be objective, but I appreciate honest criticism. I don’t appreciate takedown pieces or criticism for the sake of trying to prove how smart and clever you can be with the amount of awful things you can say about a person. What it comes down to is this: We as a group, meaning from the top down, Scott Rudin to Aaron to Jeff, all of our directors, the entirety of the cast and most of the crew, we’re all nerds. Like, really big nerds. We’re used to having the cool kids kick the shit out of us. Frankly, I’m actually okay with it. I know HBO is proud of the size of our audience because we’ve been renewed. People who want to hate on us are going to hate on us. At least they watched.