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

By Christopher Wallenberg
27 Aug 2013

John Gallagher, Jr. and Emily Mortimer on "The Newsroom."
Photo by Melissa Moseley

The show took a bit of a beating last season from critics and certain quarters of TV fanatics. What did you make of that backlash from critics and online commentators with certain aspects of the show in its first season?
JG: I think that that has to exist. I think that a version of "The Newsroom" that people aren't talking about or people aren't debating would actually be a really boring show. And I think it would do a disservice to what the show is all about. Which is about striving for something better. And what does that mean to different people that have different opinions and different perspectives? So there are some people who love it very passionately, and then there are people who dislike it very passionately. And I welcome all views. I think if it gets people talking, that's one of the most important things.

Critics have responded more enthusiastically to the show so far this season. Are you pleased with that reaction? And in your view, how do you think the show got better or improved this season?
JG: I think Aaron made a big choice to make sure that the strength of the show is really geared towards the characters and the character development and the stories that were happening to the characters and the personal lives of the characters. Because ultimately, in terms of making good television, that's what it comes down to. You have to have good characters and characters that people care about.

So the formula got shaken up a little bit, I think, from Season 1 to Season 2. Season 1 was very episodic, in that every episode kind of revolved around one big watershed news moment. But Season 2 is actually much more of a slow burn, and you really get more time to spend with each of the individual characters. You get to learn a little bit about what's going on with them. And I think the juxtaposition of the fact that news is always breaking, it's always happening, and we're the people that are there to usher it into the homes viewers who are turning on their televisions every night. So let's focus on them and what it is like for them to chase a good story. So from my eye at least, that's what the shift has been. And I think that some people are responding a lot more positively to that this time around.



Has the show given you insight into how a newsroom really works and how news is created and disseminated and how producers come to decisions about what gets on the air or not?
JG: A little bit. But I certainly would have no clue how to hold my own in that environment, even with some of the research that I've done and some of the lessons that I've learned from hearing stories of what it's actually like on the inside. But I watch it the news differently now. I definitely pay attention to the news in a different way. I think more about how it gets to us. If something starts as information and then it turns into information that comes to you via a news outlet, what happens to it in that process? And who are all the people that are working on it? Because it takes a village, obviously, for something like that to get off the ground. So my respect for journalists exists on a different plane than it used to. It's definitely gone up for the people who devote their lives to that line of work. It's a really intense thing to do.

Gallagher on "The Newsroom."
photo by Melissa Moseley

This season's storyline about the fictional investigation into Operation Genoa seems to be grappling with those issues — that sometimes the news media gets it right and sometimes they get it wrong.
JG: Yeah, it touches on the risks of breaking a really big news story and the responsibility that entails. Because it's easy to get it wrong sometimes. And owning up to that and trying to stay trustworthy and responsible is a daily struggle for all of these people. So I think that the [Genoa] storyline definitely touches upon some of those intricacies. Journalists are human beings, and they try and try again. And sometimes they succeed, and then just like anyone else they fail at times as well.

So are Jim and Maggie, those two crazy kids, finally gonna get together at some point?
JG: You know, I have no idea. I'd like to see it happen. But who knows? I think they're on different trajectories right now. I think they're getting to know themselves. And whether that means that knowing themselves better to make them better suited to be able to be good partners for each other in the future, I don't know. But I definitely wouldn't give up hope.

So what do you have coming up next? Will there be any new stage roles in your near future?
JG: I have no idea. I have no clue. I recently wrote a play [Slainte] and had a reading of it in June at New York Stage and Film's Powerhouse theatre program at Vassar College. That was the last thing that I did that in any way was involved in theatre. I didn't play a part in it. I just wrote it. And it was really overwhelming and really rewarding. My dream would be to see a production of it done someday. But I'm obviously very eager to get back on stage myself. I don't know when or where.

What's the play about — the one that you wrote?
JG: It's in the tradition of movies like "The Big Chill" and "Diner." It's basically about a group of friends in their mid-to-late 20s having various levels of existential crisis and trying to figure out what's next for them. The story is centered on a group of unemployed actors who really stepping back and taking a second look at their lives under the magnifying glass and seeing what changes they need to make. And it kind of wrestles with varying ideas of what success means to different people. But ultimately it's a story about a group of friends.

Christopher Wallenberg is a Brooklyn-based arts and entertainment reporter and regular contributor to the Boston Globe, Playbill and American Theatre magazine. He can be reached at chriswallenberg@gmail.com.