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

By Christopher Wallenberg
27 Aug 2013

Gallagher in Spring Awakening.

The film manages to create this really believable real-world milieu that feels very lived in. Was that something that drew you to the film?
JG: Yeah, that was there from the script — just the detail and the kind of compassion and the simplicity. And exactly, like you just said, the way that it really created this believable world, which is something that I didn't know a ton about to begin with. I didn't know a lot about the foster care system. So it was very enlightening to learn a lot about that.

And I'm drawn to films that really can transport you to someplace and take you there and make you believe it and make you want to spend time within those walls to get to know all those characters. It's not the easiest feat to accomplish. And this film just really transports you. The way that the film begins is really just — it hits the ground running. And in indie cinema, a lot of the times the dialogue has a sort of less-is-more approach. In a lot of smaller films, you watch people not quite know what to say to each other. But then you have a film like "Short Term 12," which begins with a monologue, essentially. It begins with a guy telling a story. And I just love good stories and storytelling. And there was something really special about reading a script that started with a page-and-a-half of somebody telling a story. That really excited me.

And Destin loosely based the script on his own real-life experiences working at a foster care facility?
JG: Destin worked at a foster care facility for two years. And he said, in so many words, that it was one of the hardest and most intense things that he's ever done in his life, and it was also one of the most life-changing and rewarding and inspiring things.

Were there any illuminating anecdotes that he shared with you that helped you in working on the film or in understanding your character?
JG: Well, he brought in a friend of his from the facility where he worked, who still works there to this day. Who has made basically a life, a career out of working in the foster care system. And he was able to come in and talk to the cast and kind of show us the ropes and give us a rundown about how the day-to-day experience really goes down in a place like that. So that was really valuable. I also got to go to a foster care facility in California and shadow a "line staff" member, someone that does what my character Mason does in real life, and he gave me some pointers. And being able to walk around and to meet kids who are actually living in a place like this was really inspiring and I think ultimately very informative to what I ended up doing with this character.

How specifically was it informative in terms of figuring out how to play Mason and bring that character to life?
JG: One thing that I found amazing about the situation was that this guy that I was following around and shadowing, he had such a great command of the kids. He really has their respect. But he was also really funny and kind of a joker and made them laugh and disarmed them and distracted them from being trapped in their heads and being trapped with their painful emotions. He told me that you can't even imagine what some of these kids have been through. So anything you can do to keep it fun, keep it light, that's really important. Being there, it really clicked for me — why humor and entertainment and being able to make fun of yourself was an important tactic, a coping mechanism, to not only gain the respect of these kids but to also brighten their day a little bit.