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John Gallagher Jr. on The Newsroom, the Koch Brothers, and Will-They-Won’t-Theys

At the end of The Newsroom’s first season, Jim and Maggie — the highly anxious junior staffers who are very obviously in love — had just kissed next to a Sex and the City tour bus, admitting their mutual feelings and presumably bringing an end to their yearlong will-they-won’t-they charade. Except not: The show then made Jim and Maggie return to their respective relationships, and last night’s season premiere picked up right where they left off — with a delusional Maggie and a heartbroken Jim, who sends himself to New Hampshire rather than have to deal with his feelings. Vulture spoke with John Gallagher Jr., who plays the unhappy Jim, about Maggie, Aaron Sorkin’s relationship values, and falling down a Koch brothers k-hole.

So, poor Jim. It’s becoming very sad.
[Laughs.] Totally.

Do you worry about him?
I do. I think you see in the start of season two, it gets
real in a way that we only touched upon in season one. You think, “Oh, will they, won’t they, how sweet, how sad.” But then season two starts and you go, “Oh, this guy is really, really aching. He actually is quite sick and heartbroken.” So I do worry about him, but I like the fact that he tries his best to do something healthy and pro-active by getting out of the newsroom for a little bit. That actually, as you see, kicks of a chain reaction of negative events. So the irony is that he tries his best to take care of himself, and his work, and ultimately the fate of a lot of his co-workers ends up being jeopardized by everything that follows.

Self-preservation doesn’t really seem to be an instinct for him, though.
No. I think he’s a total workaholic, that’s really where his priorities lie. I always imagine that he’s a bit of a late-bloomer — he’s just now, in his late-twenties, actually starting to think about relationships as a viable thing that he wants in his life. I always imagine that he just worked through college, graduated, went right into news, went right into trying to do embedded journalism, and sacrificed social life. I actually don’t think he’s very good at those sorts of things.

I watch him and I think, Oh, you haven’t learned that nice guys finish last.
Totally, he tries and tries to do that, thinking that it’s the nice thing to do, and that’s something that you see him come up against in season two.

How long do think the Jim and Maggie back-and-forth can last?
It’s hard to say. There’s obviously a long television history of those tightrope acts, but I think after a certain point, people start to lose their trust in you if you’re not dealing with it realistically. So I guess the trick is, as long as it’s seeming real, you can draw those things out for a pretty long time. If you make sure that it feels believable, like that it’s actually actions that people would take and responses that they would have, rather than having the puppetmaster doing whatever he can to keep two people apart.

Based on Aaron Sorkin’s previous shows, I don’t have a lot of faith here.
[Laughs.] Sure, sure.

I’m thinking of Josh and Donna, and Sports Night too, oh God. Do you think we should be concerned?
I don’t know what to tell you. If there’s one thing I feel like Aaron did, as far as my perspective this season, he really defied a lot of expectations. I am a fan of his, I’ve watched all those other things, so I can imagine how this is gonna play out. But what I learned in season two is that I really did not know, and with each new script, I was really surprised by how some of the events unfold. So I feel like it could go either way. I tend to feel like it’s so painfully obvious that Jim and Maggie are destined for each other that I hold out hope, for sure, that it’s gonna happen sooner rather than later.

That’s reassuring.
Yeah, I feel that way. They’re just so made for each other — they’re the same person, basically.

Jim gets sent to New Hampshire, which means that you’re out alone in the world. Did you miss everybody?
I really did. I gotta be honest with you: I had terrible separation anxiety the first month or two of shooting. I found out I got to work with Grace Gummer, who becomes my frenemy on the road, and working with her made all of that okay. But the first two episodes, I would call Emily Mortimer and be like
What’s going on over there? What’s happening? Hamish Linklater, an incredible actor, comes on and plays the person who covers for me when I’m gone, and I started getting this fear like, [Mopey voice.] “Maybe he really will take over for me.” You start feeling a lot like your character. I missed everyone.

Are you a political news junkie? Or did you have to study for the Romney story line?
I really am no expert at all. I try to pay as much attention as the next person, but I often find myself more distracted than I’d like to be. I’m the person at the dinner party that feels like they can’t contribute quite as much as the next person, but I can tell you everything about Mad Men and Walking Dead. But one thing that’s good about the show, I feel better informed from a lot of the stories that are dealt with on the show. One thing that happens on the Newsroom is that every time a real story does get incorporated into the show, there’s always an angle that’s provided that hasn’t really been dealt with yet. There’s always something Aaron pulls out that we might not have heard about MSNBC or CNN.

Do you remember anything specific that the show taught you?
Something I maybe didn’t want to know about, something I maybe wanted to put my head in the sand about because it freaked me out so bad, was the Koch Brothers. I had obviously heard about them before working on the Newsroom, but the amount of research I did on them didn’t really start until they started popping up on season one. I went on a trip one right where I did all this reading and YouTubing …

Oh no, you fell down a Koch Brothers k-hole?
I did, and I barely climbed out alive. I almost felt like I climbed with white hair, like that kid at the end of Sweeney Todd. I’d been traumatized for life a little bit. A lot of those ins and outs about that stuff gets controlled, and the power, and the money, that’s something that absolutely freaks me out to no end. And I certainly don’t know everything about it, but I know more than I did when I started the Newsroom.

I often wonder if you all watch the current news and try to guess what will be on the show.
It’s a strange thing because I forget to do that. I watch the news in a different way now, mostly in the way that I feel more informed about how it’s made. But as far as watching the news and thinking, “Oh, we’re probably going to talk about that,” it’s a sensitive place, because the last thing I want to do when I’m hearing about people’s live — because, typically, big news stories tend to involve people getting hurt, or something bad happening to some one’s life — so the last thing I want to do is think about how that’s going to make a good opportunity for the show that I’m on. I tend not to really connect the two.

John Gallagher Jr. on Newsroom, Koch Brothers