Note: This interview was taken by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Sunday Guardian. An edited version of the interview can be found here: http://goo.gl/mQzMDo
If you know me well, you’d know the story of how I became a writer, because I must have told it to you a million times. If you don’t know me, quick recap: I was in engineering college, and I saw Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and after getting my engineering degree and getting a couple of jobs, I left it all to go to Mumbai to make a TV show because Aaron Sorkin had corrupted me forever.
Obviously, after Studio 60, I dived into Sorkin’s filmography, and Sports Night and The West Wing are the two other shows that further made reinstated my faith in writing, and inspired me towards taking it up myself. I have loved all actors from Sorkin’s shows – Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford in particular, but if there’s one actor I had a certain fondness for, it was Joshua Malina, who played Jeremy Goodwin on The Sports Night and Will Bailey on The West Wing.
The thing I always loved about Joshua was that he played these amiable, everyday guys, who connected with you on a human level because they were people just like you. I became a huge fan of Joshua over time. (And when I saw him in A Few Good Men, I was bowled over!!!) I started watching Scandal for him too. And of course, his hilarious twitter persona (@joshmalina) never fails to make my day because of his quirky tweets, and trolls!
Last month, I got the opportunity of speaking with Joshua, and the one hour interview that I had with him turned out to be one of the most fun interviews I’ve done. Joshua is just as amiable a guy as his on screen avatars, and even more so, maybe! He is way too self-deprecating, completely at odds with his Twitter avatar, and just loves to converse with you, rather than doing an ‘interview. He congratulates you when he likes your question, and laughs hard when he finds something funny. I’ve now become a fan of his as a person too, and I hope we get to see him back with Sorkin or another cult, unforgettable role!
Since the unedited interview is long, I’ve divided it into the following segments:
2. ON SORKINESE, THE WEST WING AND SPORTS NIGHT
3. ON THE CREATIVITY OF AARON SORKIN & SHONDA RHIMES
4. ON SCANDAL
5. ON BEING A PRANKSTER AND A TWITTER TROLL
6. ON CURRENT TELEVISION AND HIS FUTURE
So you can skip to the part you want to, or go through the entire interview and be regaled by his hilarious answers:
“Sometimes I think why on earth am I in this profession where there are 60 different jobs in your career.”
Joshua Malina is that guy you’ve seen in your favourite TV shows, from The West Wing to The Big Bang Theory to Scandal. He’s also starred in some of the recent classics, from A Few Good Men to In The Line of Fire. One of the most sought after TV actors, Malina talks to Nikhil Taneja about being an Aaron Sorkin regular, working on Scandal, the most watched TV drama today, and why its awesome being an actor on TV, in his first ever India interview.
I have to begin by asking you this: Have you seen your never-ending IMDB page? It’s quite insane.
(laughs) Yeah, I have. And I think two things when I look at my IMDB page. One, I think about how lucky I’ve been. And I’m very, very grateful for the people who’ve been willing to hire me (chuckles) and for Aaron Sorkin, who’s played a huge part in my career. And the other thing I sometimes think is, ‘Wow, look how many times I’ve had a job end’ (chuckles). That’s 60 times I’ve been working and then out of work! And I think why on earth am I in this profession where there are 60 different jobs in your career.
You started out in television with Aaron Sorkin and you are now working with one of the other greats, Shonda Rhimes. How do you look back on your 20 years as an actor, having worked with all-time greats such as these?
That’s a great question. I think… I’d like to think that I’m a better actor. Because I think, though I always wanted to be an actor and I did theatre growing up – as well as an year in a play of Aaron’s – once I moved to LA to pursue film and TV, I really didn’t do what I was doing. I was learning on the job. Nobody trained me and I never took an ‘acting for camera’ class. It was one of those things… it was just the confidence of youth where I thought, ‘I’ll just figure this out’, and I had to figure it out in front of the camera. So there are probably things early in my career that I wouldn’t dare to go back and watch (chuckles).
So, I feel, just with the experience of acting all these years, I hope that I’ve improved and that I’ve learnt some things, and probably, most of what I’ve learnt has been a result of working with really good people. That’s the other thing; when I look at the list of things I’ve done, somehow I just got very lucky that I’ve been able to work with people like Aaron and Shonda Rhimes; and Alison Janney, Martin Sheen, Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, and just watching people of that calibre has been an acting school of its own.
Over the course of your career, has it been difficult for you to break out of the amiable, guy-next-door roles that Sorkin wrote for you?
That’s also a great question. Yeah, definitely, Aaron wrote such strong characters of a type for me that is generally what I’m thought of as, and instead of being upset about it or being too concerned, usually I’m thankful that anybody tends to think of me for anything (chuckles). I can’t ever complain about being typecast as an Aaron Sorkin type. That’s a good problem to have. But yes, you usually jump at opportunities to show other sides too. Recently, I did an episode of Law and Order SVU here I was asked to play this guy who may or may not be abusing kids and I thought, ‘Wow, I get to play sick and twisted!’
When did you realise that comedy was something you are naturally inclined towards?
That’s a good question. I would say always. As a kid, that’s what I was drawn to, and as a young adult, in college, that’s always I was drawn to. But then, in a way, my career has gone the other way more than I would have anticipated, which is that Aaron has helped me create a career as a dramatic actor that I did hope for but I didn’t expect would happen. I always thought I would be more of a sort of sitcom-y type of comic actor. And so, sometimes, I want to swing the other way and go, ‘Actually I’m a comedian, I can do the comic stuff.’ You know, as an actor, you don’t necessarily get to really guide the way that your career goes, it sort of takes you along with it.
2. ON SORKINESE, THE WEST WING AND SPORTS NIGHT
“During Sports Night, I’d often think, ‘You don’t have 3 page monologues in TV shows, not in half hour TV and certainly not in the third episode!’”
In these 20 years or so, TV has gone through a massive change. Sorkin was the one who brought about a revolution in network TV with The West Wing, and so, you’ve been at the forefront of this change, in a way. How do you reflect back on that?
Hmm… yes, you are right. At that time, I was an actor who was hungry to get some opportunities and who didn’t get too many of them until Aaron, who was, admittedly a personal friend of mine, created Jeremy Goodwin for me, and eventually created Will Bailey for me. In a way, I was very lucky because I had access and opportunities to some of the best material going way back. Now-a-days, there’s much more really, really good quality TV on, so I guess your odds are a lot better. I still think Aaron is a kind of his own; I won’t say there are a lot of Aaron Sorkins walking around, but there is a lot of very, very high quality TV and great writing on TV. And I do think some of the credit goes to him for helping up the game, and helping show potential for finding an audience for really quality TV. It’s really like the golden age of TV. Now, you really think twice sometimes before you go the movies, because you can stay home and watch incredibly good stuff. You don’t need to go to the movies and see a 75 or 100 million dollar budget project to see something that’s really, really good.
A few years after you started, in 1998, you did Sports Night, where ‘Sorkinese’ started from. What do you remember of that time from where TV writing really began to change?
Yeah, it’s usually only in retrospect that you go, ‘Oh, that was ahead of its time’ or that things were changing then. I mainly remember the excitement of getting a new script of Sports Night every week and thinking, ‘I get to do that on TV. I can’t believe he’s getting away with this!’ I opened the script for The Hungry and the Hunted, which was episode 3, and I’d see a three page monologue and I’d think, ‘You don’t have 3 page monologues in TV shows, not in half hour TV and certainly not in the third episode (chuckles)!’
So, I was, to some extent, aware that something special was going on and that Aaron was being given latitude to do new things, and to push boundaries. So, yeah, maybe I was more aware of it than I think, because he was just doing stuff that you didn’t see a lot. But at that time, there was just concern that, you know, ‘Are people ready for this?’ and how will it be greeted. Sports Night was a battle when it came to ratings and every week we’d look at the ratings and think, ‘Okay, we are going to be on for another week’. We still did 45 episodes but it was never easy. But it did give way to The West Wing and that was the one that really clicked, and people were then willing to take in the kind of material Aaron was putting out.
I’ve felt very curious about this: Would you say actors from Sorkin shows find it difficult to adjust to other work after having worked on such high quality material?
(Laughs) Well, I certainly had jobs where it was all too clear to me, that I was not working on an Aaron Sorkin show. But anybody who thinks that they’re gonna have a level of that kind of quality material in every job they get is just not being realistic. I think Scandal is a show where I love getting every script too. I think Scandal’s writing is great and clever and smart and fast. There certainly have been jobs in between where I’ve thought, ‘Okay, I’m not in Sorkin Land anymore.’ You just said yourself, you have to approach them as if they just cannot be as good.
What would you say it was about Sorkin’s writing that stood the test of time?
Well, I know him very well and have known him a long time, and he himself is very, very sharp, very smart, very articulate. He has a way of writing his own views into his shows. Usually, all his characters have his own hyper articulateness, so you get great characters who just know how to express themselves in a way that, as a viewer, or as an actor playing that part, make you wish that you could operate on that same level. The dialogue is so clever and so smart and on the money, and I think, emotionally too, what’s going on beneath all the words, just really works. It’s just a special gift that he has.
I’m going to ask you another question that I’ve always wanted to ask of an actor who’s worked as an Aaron Sorkin series regular. Do you think that working on an Aaron Sorkin show actually makes you a better person because of the higher morality that it strives for?
(chuckles) You know, it certainly pushes you in that way. I mean, The West Wing, in particular, really pushed you to care about its politics. It had its own specific lesson every episode that spoke to the greater yearnings and the better nature of people. So yeah, I really think his shows are inspiring and his writing is inspiring, and uhh, yeah, yeah, it pushes you to, maybe, chase that idealism a little bit.
So why aren’t you working with Aaron Sorkin again, then?
(Laughs) Well here’s the truth, then. The real person to ask this is Aaron. Because I’m completely shameless. Every time he has something new, I send him an email, or if I run into him, I tell him upfront, “I’m right here, I’m free and I like doing stuff.” I always thank him in every interview to appear in everything he writes (laughs). I can understand that maybe he wants to take a little break from me and the rest of us and show the audiences some new faces. But one thing is for sure, every time I even hear that he might be writing a new project, I will send him an email and remind him that we are friends (chuckles) and that I would like to appear in the new things he does.
How often do the cast of The Sports Night or The West Wing have reunions?
Not as often as we’d like. Usually, it’s more often trading emails or hopping on the phone. Whenever Josh Charles is in town, I’ll see him. Likewise, when I was at New York filming that episode of SVU, Josh and I got together like 3 times. So, if during work your schedules sort of happily coincide or relapse, you try and catch up. But actually keeping the group together is so hard to do because everyone’s married now, or has kids, so it’s difficult to arrange. But sometimes happy coincidences happen and someone shows up, like Mary McCormack just did an episode of Scandal, so I got to meet her. Dule Hill was in a Broadway show last summer so I went and saw it and we hung out afterwards, so things like that happen.
You know how, when old friends meet, there’s always this one thing everyone fondly recollects or can’t stop talking about. What’s that in your case?
(Chuckles) That’s funny. When I was with Peter Krause and Josh Charles, and actually, even when I saw Felicity recently, we were reminiscing the fact that (laughs), that when we had free time on the sets, we would play a sport we invented called ‘Chair football’, where we would take these rolling chairs from the office set – because there were chairs *everywhere* – and we played very, very violent version of tackle chair football. That’s as much fun as we’ve ever had (chuckles)
Do you ever get happy about how, if Sorkin’s not cast you, he’s not cast anyone else either?
(Laughs) Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Aaron Sorkin’s been really blocking everyone, but he’s actually letting everyone do all those sorts of different things, I have to say. On a serious note, you know, I feel so very proud of my friends, when I see them lead and excel. Josh Charles was just nominated at the Emmys, for example, and it is just so great.
So what would you say has been the legacy of The West Wing and Sports Night for you, personally?
You know I’ve had people come over to me all the time since the shows. For example, there was a particular episode in Sports Night called ‘April is the Cruelest Month,’ which I think of as the passover episode. My character Jeremy’s storyline in the show is that he’s Jewish and he’s putting together passover theatre at work, and they are going to do the exodus story for the colleagues of Sports Night, whether they were Jewish or not. One of the things I noticed from it is that a lot of Jewish people would come up to me, and tell me that were very, very touched by the fact that it was this kind of a substantially Jewish story being told in the episode, and it just made me realise, again, how Aaron was doing these things that most people don’t do, and that it was getting through to people.
And that happened to me on The West Wing all the time too, and has been happening for years, even till recent days. Like you just said to me, when you started the interview, that his writing from the shows I’ve been lucky enough to be part of, sort of inspired you to go on and become a writer, and I’ve had people come up to me and say that they watched The West Wing as teenagers, and then went to school, majored in Political Science and now they’re working for Congressmen, and it’s all because of Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing. So it’s just one of those things that knocks you out! I didn’t even aspire to or think I’d ever be part of something that touched people or affected people on that level. As an actor, most of my career, I’ve been more concerned with just trying to keep working (chuckles), much less hoping to be part of something, where someone’s going to walk up to you and say, ‘This affected the course of my life.’ So, in that sense, I’ve been beyond, beyond fortunate to have stumbled into Aaron Sorkin’s orbit.
3. ON THE CREATIVITY OF AARON SORKIN & SHONDA RHIMES
“They both write scripts that are really too long for the hour that we have to broadcast it, so you really have no option but to speak quickly.”
And in contrast, what does it mean to be working on a Shonda Rhimes show, one of the most loved shows on TV today?
Yeah, there are not too many people like Shonda either. I’ve had a chance to work with a couple of these real biggies of TV like Aaron and Shonda. And it would be interesting, she’s going to have her own three hour block on Thursday nights on prime time network TV, and I don’t think anyone’s ever done that before. And it’s a very nice experience, I have to say, for somebody who’s creating and exceeding at the level that she is, that she is still very approachable and very warm and very maternal. The kind of things she brings up, and just the fact that she wants to make sure that the cast is being taken care of, are touching, because she’s so involved.
She is a very, very good boss to work for, and it’s also exciting, that thanks to her and the level she’s at, Scandal got a chance to grow. A lot of shows get pulled after one, two or three episodes for not performing and Scandal was a slow starter, and I think one of the reasons that the network gave it a chance is that Shonda Rhimes has an incredible track record. So instead of being too eager to pull it or cancel it or remove it, they said ‘Let’s give her some time, let’s see what this turns into,’ and that was certainly to the benefit of me and everybody else involved in the show (chuckles).
How do you compare the creative process of an Aaron Sorkin show to Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal, which is one of the only hit 24 episode-long series on TV today?
Actually, yes, I’d say that there are many similarities. Shonda and Aaron are both very dialogue heavy. They both like characters who are very articulate and speak very quickly; they also write scripts that are really too long for the hour that we have to broadcast it, so you really have no option but to speak quickly. They both have unmatched focus and dedication that they bring to their writing and their vision.
And so, I have a similar approach to both shows, which is to have ultimate respect for the script. When the script arrives, I’m not one of those actors who’s thinking if we can change this or that or ‘How about if I say this?’ The script is like The Bible for me, and I’m a character who says exactly those things and I have to somehow find a way to make that work. Whether it’s The West Wing or Scandal, I take it all equally seriously. I just try to click forth with the excellent material simply and straight-forwardly. I just, kind of, live in the moment.
Although, as you say, both Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes have many a similarity, and have both been equally successful on network TV, Aaron’s writing has always polarised people, whereas, Shonda’s writing has by and large been accepted happily by the majority. Why do you think that is?
That’s a tough one. That’s a very good question. Because, as we spoke, they certainly have similarities in the dialogue and the articulateness and the way they go about it all. (pauses) Yeah, that’s a tough one. I have to think about that. What’s – what’s your take on that?
Well, I’d like to believe it’s to do with the moral centre that Sorkin offers. There’s a sort of idealism in all of Aaaron Sorkin’s shows that not all people agree with. Idealism is something so uncommon in today’s world that whenever Sorkin offers that worldview to them, they just do not accept it. Shonda Rhimes sort of shows people a mirror of themselves, while Sorkin shows them an aspiration.
Well, that’s very well put. Yeah, yeah, you’re right. Although, Shonda, in a way, is not always so cynical either. If you look at Grey’s Anatomy, there’s a lot of romance there, and Aaron’s a romantic as well. So, I do think they’ve a tendency to overlap in their similarity more than in their difference, but yeah, you’re right. Aaron’s really created a very aspirational take on Washington DC, whereas, Shonda’s is more, I guess, lurid and dark and out there.
Since you’re a writer yourself, what have you picked from both Aaron Sorkin & Shonda Rhimas as a writer that you someday hope to incorporate in your own writing?
Well, one is the focus and dedication that they have and that they bring to their writing and to their vision, even if it’s not in the zone of what you’ve seen before. So if Aaron was, 15 years ago, doing 3 page monologues, that inspires me to really write my vision of something. But by the same standard, you also have to earn that a little bit as a writer. So if you are a relatively new or untested writer, and if you come in with something that’s wildly off the wall, you’re maybe going to have a harder time somewhere trying to find a balance of writing in the realm of what network TV and the broadcasters are looking for, and still trying to be true to your vision and your characters in the same way that Shonda and Aaron do.
4. ON SCANDAL
“David and I share a hard headedness and stubbornness. Like I’ll always read the next Scandal episode firm in the belief that this might be the one time where I come out on top (chuckles)”
How did you first connect with David? Was there a scene or moment that particularly spoke to you?
I like that he has a single focus, and if he thinks there’s an issue of right or wrong, he will dig in and he’ll just hit his head against the wall over and over, because that is needed in the service of justice. I like the scenes where he’s butting heads with Olivia, I like when he has this wall of evidence and he would peep down into the rabbit hole of trying to figure things out, maybe not showering, maybe not eating the way he should and living the case. Yeah, I like that he has tunnel vision.
You know, betraying The Gladiators on Scandal may have been the most evil thing you ever did on TV. Was that empowering?
(laughs) That’s funny. Yeah, that was a time when it looked like I was really, really evil and yeah, I loooved that. I got people on the streets and people on Twitter absolutely hating on me. And I wanted to do a dance of joy, I was so happy. I was only disappointed that it turned out that I was really actually kind of a good guy.
Do you every get frustrated with your character of David Rosen in Scandal? He’s always been set up to fail because Olivia always has to come out on top.
Yeah, I guess there is a little frustration in it. But I think David and I share a hard headedness and stubbornness. Like I’ll always read the next episode firm in the belief that this might be the one time where I come out on top (chuckles). But I really like David’s storyline in Season 4; I love the fact that it’s a lot about his career this season. He’s back in the thick of things and he’s fighting the good fight. So I still want to believe that by the time this story has been told, David would’ve had his victory, though I don’t know if I can ever truly hope to beat Olivia Pope.
Do you think Olivia and David can truly ever team up?
I think Olivia and David can team up if their interests align over a specific issue at a specific time, but David would be foolish to ever fully trust her. I think she’s certainly shown herself not to be somebody who you can let your guard down around. But sometimes you’ll have common enemies, or you will have a common interest, and that’s when they can work together.
Where does that leave David Rosen in Season 4?
I don’t think I can say too much about season 4, but I can say that so far I really like David’s storyline. A lot of it is about his career, which of course, in Scandal’s first three seasons, has had its ups and downs. He’s had a lot of failure, he’s even left his job at one point to become a teacher, and he’s kind of right back in the thick of it as the fourth season begins, and like always, he’s fighting the good fight. And I’m really enjoying that and I think people are going to enjoy seeing where season 4 takes him professionally.
5. ON BEING A PRANKSTER AND A TWITTER TROLL
“Stick the hornet’s nest that is Twitter to see if someone gets overly upset about whatever little grenade I’ve thrown out there. I’m much kinder than that guy.”
You are infamous as being a pretty great prankster. So what goes on behind the scenes at Scandal?
(laughs) That is true, yeah. I’ve done a lot of pranks but I feel that I have to stop talking about these things because its making it harder and harder for me to keep doing these things. It’s got the spotlight on me. And things have now turned a corner where now it’s like everybody’s plotting against me. Last year, when we were shooting the show and I was in the middle of a scene, Tom Verica, who’s our producer and one of our directors, actually ran out with a huge cream pie and smashed it over my head! And I felt, ‘Wow, I’ve really, made enemies on this set. I’ve got people attacking me during the workday on camera.’ So I have to start going underground and plotting a comeback.
I find this contradiction in your career, where you’re supposed to be this famous prankster but everyone loves casting you. So either you’re not a great prankster or you are a really great actor. Which is it?
(Laughs) Well maybe it’s a combination! I don’t know how good I am or how bad I am, it’s a combination. The thing is, you work so long and for such long hours together that things can get intense and tiring. And you know, every Shakespeare play has its fool, and every TV show needs its fool too. Maybe I’m destined to play the fool.
What’s the best behind the scenes prank you’ve ever played?
Well, this is a story that I told before, but it’s a great one. When Jimmy Smits just joined The West Wing and Janel Moloney and I thought of this. I even think it may have been her idea and I don’t give her credit, but it was Valentine’s Day soon and Jimmy Smits had been on the show for a couple of weeks, so we sent him an enormous bouquet from Brad Whitford. I had stolen personalised stationary from Brad’s trailer so it really seemed like it had come from Brad because it said ‘From the desk of Bradley Whitford’ on it. I wrote a message on it and it was kind of (chuckles), well it was a little bit of a suggestive note from Brad to Jimmy, saying how much he enjoyed working with him and also, ‘I want you to be my valentine’ (laughs). And it was delivered on set from Brad to Jimmy, who actually believed that it came from Brad and I think it got a little bit uncomfortable because Brad had a girlfriend so I made sure he understood, later. But it was very, very funny.
Do you take a call on whether or not you should do a prank depending on the cast? For example, I’ve read how the cast of Scandal is a bunch of nice, decent people. Do you go ahead with your pranks anyway?
Yeahhh… nope. It makes it even more fun for me (laughs). I like to make things not so nice, like come on people, let’s be realistic here! I like being the mischievous devil in a group of otherwise very nice people who make the cast and crew of Scandal. And they really are a very nice lot, so someone’s obviously got to ruin it.
And then of course, there’s this evil Twitter persona you have, where you seek out confrontation and indulge in insult comedy. You seem like a nice guy to speak with, so how did that persona come about?
(Laughs) That’s funny. Yeah, I would say I’m much kinder than that Twitter guy. Umm, Twitter’s a stage for me, it’s an opportunity to let my edgier, comic side out, and it’s a safe place to do because I don’t have to look anybody in the eye (chuckles). I like to provoke people, and yeah, it probably says something not very nice about me. But I use it as a comic medium, and stick the hornet’s nest that is Twitter to see if someone gets overly upset about whatever little grenade I’ve thrown out there. Scandal fans, in particular, are very interactive, and they are happy to tell you, good or bad, what they think of you and of the episode. I have a very thick skin, and I don’t get my feelings too hurt and I’m hoping that’s how people see me too. Because usually I am 15% serious with anything I say on twitter.
What do your kids think about your Twitter persona?
Oh, they don’t pay attention to it. They don’t care about my career at all In fact, whatever I do, they just don’t care about it. They’re very funny themselves and occasionally they’ll say something and I’ll say, ‘Oh! I’m going to use that on Twitter’. So I use that and pretend that’s coming from me on Twitter and later, I tell them about it and they sometimes get a kick from it. But the rest of the time, they don’t look at my Twitter, they don’t want to know if I’m on a TV show, they don’t want to watch it, so, in that sense, they are very nicely unimpressed about anything about me.
Have you so far confronted anyone who you trolled on Twitter?
So far, not really. But I’m sure that day will come. I have a whole, ever-growing list of people I have to hide from if I ever work with them!
What Twitter trolling, would you say, you’re most proud of?
Oh, that’s hard to say. This one that I do, and I probably do it every six months because I can’t help myself, because it’s so funny that I always want to do it with new people. Where you just that – there’s this great little link that I’ll tweet every now and then and say, oh this is truly the worst person on Facebook. And then I put the link up, and then everybody clicks on it and it sends them back on their FB profile. So thousands of strangers think I’ve just called them out as being a horrible person, and I’ve just done it so many times that most people say oh here we go again (laughs) but it’s always these few hundreds of people who haven’t seen this before, and they go, you don’t even know anything about me, how dare you sir! And, I thoroughly enjoy that.
Are you planning to take this edgier persona outside of Twitter, to, say, a web series or a TV show?
Yeah, I would like to do that, absolutely. Like you pointed out, I haven’t really had characters who’ve had that persona. (Laughs) In fact, the characters I have played are so much nicer than the guy I am playing on Twitter or may be my real self too! But I do like the idea of doing an edgy comedy that really shows my less appealing comic side, so let’s hope it happens.
6. ON CURRENT TELEVISION AND HIS FUTURE
“My heart starts beating a little faster and I still get a thrill when I show up at a new job. That’s because I’m doing the things that I’d have told you as a 10 year old that are my favourite things to do.”
I also want to ask you about current TV. There’s a new trend on TV, where characters are bumped off every now and then. Earlier, the conflict would be heightened drama and now, someone’s just killed. Do you find it ridiculous or exciting?
Well, I’ve got two different answers. One is as a viewer, and as a viewer, I like the fact that the stakes are going to be raised to the point where you can’t be sure, on a lot of shows, about any characters surviving till the next episode. The stakes are so high on a show like Game of Thrones that you don’t know which characters to love, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next and as a viewer, I think that’s exciting. I like it, I like the raised stakes.
As an actor though, not so much (laughs). Especially on a show like Scandal, every episode I get, I search the end first to see whether David survives. ‘Okay, phew, he’s alive, now I can go back to see what the story is!’
You’ve not done any cable TV so far. Why is that? After Scandal ends, would you be willing to explore it?
That’s true. Well I certainly love watching cable shows – I’m a big fan of Veep of HBO and I’d love to be a part of an ensemble or a show like that. So, if that’s an opportunity that comes up I’d be certainly interested in pursuing it, or in something of that type. Also, as we spoke, I continue to write with a partner, so after Scandal ends, I’d love to concentrate on trying to getting a show made and on the air. I do get very excited about that prospect.
Do you think, with viewers moving towards cable TV in such a big way, network TV is going to last?
Well, yeah, it’s going to be challenging for sure, but I think if people like Shonda Rhimes, or a show like Scandal keep doing great, it will certainly last. This year, we’re on 9’o clock, and yet I know that Shonda just has a way of keeping it exciting with high stakes, and keeping it competitive with anything that’s on cable. So yeah, it is getting increasingly challenging to compete with the greater freedom you find on cable, but people like Shonda, for sure, can make things work.
Do you ever tire of working on network television with its 24-episode season shows, where you have to play the same character over several years?
You know, I think, my answer would be different from most other actors. For me, if I’m happy in a job – and I’m very happy in Scandal, for example – I’d sign a contract now that says that I’ll have to play this role and do this project for the next 15 years. ‘Where do I sign? I’ll do it!’ So, you know, I think most actors get iffier than I do in wanting to do other things. I just, frankly, enjoy the fact that we have a couple of months off and I can do a couple of episodes of this and that. I play a little recurring part in the Big Bang Theory between season – I think that gives me a nice outlet to do something completely different – but I really am very happy in playing David Rosen, for example, and the writers come up with enough variations and enough really interesting, twisted thoughts that I’d be happy to do something like this for years to come.
I love how you have this child-like enthusiasm about acting and television, after having done this for 20 years. What keeps you going at it?
That’s a very nice thing of you to say, and yes, I do feel that way, I have to say. I still get a thrill when I walk on a new set. And, you know, my heart starts beating a little faster when I show up at a new job, or work on a new thing and meet the new people. In essence, this enthusiasm is childish, yes, and it might speak to my arrested maturity maybe (chuckles), but in my life, I’m doing the things that I’d have told you as a 10 year old that are my favourite things to do. I loved acting, I loved doing plays back then, and the fact that somehow I managed to prolong that for another 40 years at this point, is, at one level, maybe when viewed from the outside, a little sad, but from my point of view (chuckles), it’s like, wow, I’m still doing that thing that’s my hobby, and I’m making a living at it! I’m married and I’ve got kids, I’m paying the bills, and so, I really do have the same enthusiasm. There’s something that is so much fun about going into work, and stepping into the Oval Office set, and conferring with the president of the United States. What a really nice, fun, escape!
So coming back to where we started, how will you keep yourself fresh as an actor to continue growing that insane IMDB biography?
In a way, staying fresh is a challenge, but for some reason, when I’m working I’m so grateful to have a job, that I’m just excited to get up and go do the thing. I do. The challenge and the fun of acting still just jazzes me up. It doesn’t get old to me. Being out of work gets old to me very quickly. That’s the challenge: How do you get up and take on a day when you don’t have a job to go to. When I actually do, I find I’m very energised by the opportunity to work and to act.
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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the October 11, 2014 issue.
Picture courtesy: Craig Sjodin. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
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