'The Newsroom' - Dazzling Dialogue Tests Series' Stars

Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and co. talk "Newsroom" backstories and learning to talk Sorkin.

By Scott Huver
|  Friday, Jun 22, 2012  |  Updated 9:12 AM PDT
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Jeff Daniels, Jane Fonda and writer/producer Aaron Sorkin turn the camera on the business of broadcast news with "The Newsroom."

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“The Newsroom” marks “The West Wing” wordsmith Aaron Sorkin’s much-heralded return to series television after a successful side trip penning the Oscar-winning screenplay for “The Social Network." And this time he’s using his signature whip-smart dialogue to depict the high stakes dramas at a fictional cable news network where acerbic but out-of-touch anchorman Will McAvoy finds himself re-energized in his approach to breaking stories when his risky, principled ex-lover MacKenzie MacHale is suddenly named his executive producer.

PopcornBiz has the sound bytes from the series' stars that tell the story:

Jeff Daniels (“Will McAvoy”)

The Backstory: “Aaron never said, 'it's based on so and so...' It was always Will McAvoy. It was easier that way. They've done a lot of research on the setting, on the environment. I've been in a lot of newsrooms over the years plugging movies, so I was aware, and it was just written so well that it was better to create your own guy and have this kind of fictionalized version of what it is and see if we can't do it well enough that you can believe that we drop in the middle of the guys that really exist.”

Speaking Sorkin Style:
“He's just a singular voice. When you read this you know that it was written by Aaron Sorkin and no one else. The cast that they hired come from the theater and that's dialogue-driven. We see a monologue and go 'Okay – I'll have it in an hour or so.'”

Emily Mortimer (“Mackenzie MacHale”)

The Backstory: “My character is the executive producer on the show. She's been brought in to shake things up on News Night. She's not only worked with Will before, but she's been his girlfriend before – and all we know is that three years before the show begins something rather dramatic happened and they haven't seen each other since. She's been called in to produce his show and he's furious about it, but can't do anything to get rid of her, so they're stuck together."

Newsflash: “Great writers understand that sexual tension is best depicted in the way that people talk to each other. Shakespeare understood that. Those great filmmakers of the '30's understood it. And so you depict that sexual tension through the words that people throw at each other, and the people who use words the best are people in politics and journalists, because they spend all day long trying to persuade other people on their point of views. To see those kinds of people who are used to talking fast and funny go at each other in that kind of romantic comedy banter is just the perfect combination.”

Sam Waterson (“Charlie Skinner”)

The Backstory: “He has a mission that's established in the first show, which is to embrace this program that he thinks is getting lazy and – before he becomes completely senile and overwhelmed with cirrhosis of the liver – to see news the way that he thinks it could be, the way that he thinks it has been and the way that he thinks it should be.”

Newsflash: “What I wasn't aware of was that event piles on event that piles on event and we watch and then we forget. One of the things that these ten episodes remind us of is in the two-year period it covers is what an enormous amount of events happen. I guess I'd forgotten that and I think that a lot of people forget that.”

Speaking Sorkin Style:
“I think drawing analogies between Aaron Sorkin and Shakespeare would sound awfully pretentious, but does he write rhythmically, does he have an unbelievable ear for the way that people talk. Does he know everything about how sentence structure conveys meaning? Is he a master of storytelling and all of that stuff? Yes.”

Olivia Munn (“Sloan Sabbith”)

The Backstory: “She's the financial analyst for the show. She's extremely educated and she's strong. She's passionate, but when it comes to her personal life she's socially awkward. She knows that and doesn't really care because she has more important things to deal with, which is the economy. It was really fun to play because she's someone who wasn't hiding away, wearing big, baggy clothes and putting on a turtleneck all the time. It was a woman who says, 'I'm a woman and it doesn't really matter how you look at me because I have a brain.' I think that's a really important message that young girls and woman should have as they get older and they decide what they want to do, that you don't have to be one or the other.”

Speaking Sorkin Style: “It's a difference cadence than mine, so I definitely have to bury it in my brain – but I got Sorkin speed! I'm actually the only one who has to be told to slow down from Sorkin. I was like, 'Wow, I can talk fast – that's nice.'”

Thomas Sadowski (“Don Keefer”)

The Backstory: “Don is the former executive producer of Will McAvoy's show, and he quits on Will after Will sort of engages in one of his many tirades. Don goes on to produce his own ten o'clock show on the network, but he's kept around the first couple episodes as Mackenzie is taking over to help sort of ease the transition. Don is a pragmatist and he would love nothing more than to jump on the donkey and tilt the windmill with the rest of them, but he understands that there's really no point to delivering news to nobody. He's always a rating point away from losing his job and you have to sometime appeal to the masses in order to deliver the information that they need.

Speaking Sorkin Style:
“Working with Aaron Sorkin like sitting in with Mingus. You're just working with a cat who's operating on a different level. You've got to find a way to jibe with the speed he's going at and how he's working it.”

Alison Pill (“Maggie Jordan”)

The Backstory:
“I feel very close to Maggie. I think for a lot of overachieving women in their twenties, it's an awkward time because you're trying to figure out a lot of things at one time as a girl, which makes it even harder. You're working in what is ostensibly a man's field, combining that with moving to New York after school and just living and sharing a one bedroom, all of that stuff, making no money and trying to figure out how you're going to make it all work, on top of which there's relationship stuff. On top of all that there's the bigger goal, which is to change the world for the better and how you deal with implementing those dreams of improving on what your foremothers have done.”

Speaking Sorkin Style: “I had watched every episode of 'The West Wing' I don't know how many times. I'd seen 'Sports Night,' 'Studio 60' and I'd grown up with his movies like, 'The American President.' I feel like it's in my bones.”

John Gallagher, Jr. (“Jim Haper”)


The Backstory:
“He's a young news man who's risen through the ranks very quickly for his age. As a result he's a major workaholic and a bit of a news junkie and a bit of an adrenaline junkie even. He's been embedded in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan, he's covered wars, and I think as a result of that he absolutely fails at basic day-to-day social interactions. I love the idea that there's a character that can be so kind of comfortable and confident in one zone and then absolutely out of his element in another one. Jim is doing his job well and making sure that he doesn't make any mistakes and disappoint anyone, and also try to have a social awakening, realizing that he's never really been in love, and he starts to fall pretty quickly for Maggie.”

Speaking Sorkin Style: “Even a small line of Aaron's will be very strategic, so you do have to get every word right because it does affect the balance of the language of the line. The scariest part was getting word perfect on it, but once you get past that and you actually start speaking it, there's a musicality to it and there's a rhythm.”

'The Newsroom,' which also features Dev Patel, Terry Crews and Jane Fonda, debuts on HBO on June 24.

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