Thomas Sadoski owes a lot to a fictional warehouse worker with relationship problems.
The 36-year-old actor may now be known to millions of television viewers as the irascible producer Don Keefer on HBO's “The Newsroom.” But it was his work on the stage that "introduced" him to "Newsroom" creator Aaron Sorkin.
Sadoski started his career as the understudy to a then-unknown Mark Ruffalo in Kenneth Lonergan’s 1998 off-Broadway breakout success, “This Is Our Youth.”
But his big break came 10 years later when he was cast in Neil LaBute’s off-Broadway play, “reasons to be pretty,” playing a clueless guy who commits the unpardonable sin of referring to the face of his girlfriend — played by "Newsroom" co-star Alison Pill — as "regular." In 2009, the play (sans Pill) moved to Broadway, where Sadoski picked up a Tony nod and unknowingly caught Sorkin's attention.
He continued to work on the stage, with notable roles in the Broadway revival of John Guare's "The House of Blue Leaves" and Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities" in 2011.
Like so many New York stage actors, Sadoski’s introduction to TV acting came courtesy of Dick Wolf. “I hit the trifecta on ‘Law & Order: I did the original recipe, extra crispy and the Colonel’s special,” he joked. “My longest arc was a drug dealer on “As the World Turns” for seven episodes.”
That changed in 2011 when he was cast in Sorkin’s return to episodic television, “The Newsroom.” TheWrap spoke with Sadoski about moving from theater to television, working with Sorkin, and making his L.A.-stage debut in Michael Golamco’s “Build,” which premieres at the Geffen Playhouse on Oct. 24.
How did you become part of “The Newsroom?”
Aaron Sorkin had seen “reasons to be pretty,” and at the time I was doing “The House of Blue Leaves” on Broadway, which Scott Rudin was producing. Actually, both Alison Pill and I both were doing it. I got a call: “Aaron would like you to read for this part.”
Pill came in and was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m auditioning for the new Aaron Sorkin series!” And I was like, “Oh my God, I just got the same call!”
I went in and read; it went well. A couple of weeks went by, and it was the opening night of “House of Blue Leaves,” and my agent and manager grabbed me, pulled me into a corner and told me: “We got the call, you’re going to get the offer on Sorkin’s new series.”
Originally Don Keefer was only Will McAvoy’s former producer and not Maggie’s boyfriend. But Alison and I came in together, we showed up early and were sitting together talking because we were old friends, and suddenly we looked up and there was Sorkin and Rudin and like half the people from HBO. We thought we were being too loud and inappropriate. But a few days later we found out they liked our chemistry, and we were off.
You and Alison Pill had been in two plays together, did that make the set less intimidating?
The thing that was so exciting about working on “The Newsroom” is that we’re all theater rats. The first day of rehearsal in L.A., Aaron got up and said, “You’re going to look around this room and notice we are front-loaded with an extraordinary amount of Broadway theater talent. That is not by accident.”
Who is responsible for all the inside theater jokes? Sarah Bernhardt? Annie Oakley? Momma Rose?
Those are all Aaron. You have to remember he was a musical theater major. There’s one in every episode, and for whoever gets it, it’s like getting the ring in the pudding.
What’s the difference between working with a playwright in theater and the writers on an HBO show?
In theater, we get to spend so much more time working very specifically and very subtly on a framework; we get to really manicure our frame. And once that very manicured frame is put together, you have a great deal of space inside it to work as an actor from show to show.
With “The Newsroom,” we don’t have as much time to put that framework together as a collaborative group. You’re out there, and you’re going to put 10 takes down and the director and the editor are going to get together, and they are going to manicure the finished product.
There have been reports that communication between Sorkin and his writing staff was less than ideal. As an actor, do you have as much freedom to interact with Sorkin as you would with a playwright?
My thinking is this: You don’t tell Ansel Adams how to shoot Yosemite.
I had a line in the pilot that he changed, and it was a little bit sticky for me. I got the changes and I was like, “Hmm, I like the old one better. But I have no idea how to say this to Aaron Sorkin.” So, in a fit of foolish bombast, I sat down and wrote this email to him and said, “Hey man, I really love the changes, but there’s one sentence that you changed, a word and a tense, that now tells a different story and I think if we use this repetition that you had in there initially, it sharpens the edge. What do you think?”
And he wrote right back to me 10 minutes later: “Great idea. Love it. Keep it. Go.” And I never did it again.
He’s an incredibly gracious collaborator, but it requires something very specific to work with him.
Why follow your big break with an intimate new play at the Geffen?
Theater is all I really know, and it’s all I really trust as an artist at this point. It’s my artistic home, and it’s where I’m comfortable.
I operated through the entirety of shooting the first season of “The Newsroom” in this daze and in this very sort of persistent nagging image that at any given moment somebody was going to come walking around the corner and be like, “I’m sorry, we’ve realized we’ve made a terrible mistake, nobody knows who you are, and you need to get the hell out of here.” So I feel very blessed to have made it through the season and to have been asked to come back for a second one.
I had time, and I didn’t want to do nothing with it — and I didn’t trust that there was going to be any film or television work that would come my way. So when this opportunity presented itself, I said “Yeah, absolutely.” I want to be in the theater world out here because, frankly, I can’t live without it. I can’t imagine my life without doing theater.