Don Keefer is not a douchebag — he’s just misunderstood! At least that’s what we’re starting to believe, a conviction aided by the fact that the actor who plays him couldn’t be further from the abrasive personality of his character. Theatre veteran Thomas Sadoski (last seen on Broadway opposite Stockard Channing in Other Desert Cities) knows that his character on HBO’s media brawl The Newsroom is a little rough on the edges, but after all, what can you expect? Don is a creation of character master Aaron Sorkin, who himself has offered Sadoski plenty of creative challenges when it comes to playing the gruff, discourteous Don.
We went straight to the source to grill Sadoski on what goes into making a character like Don, who presently finds himself at the center of a love triangle with Maggie (Alison Pill) and Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.). Hollywood.com spoke with Sadoski on the show’s romantic entanglements, his inspiration for Don (hint: it’s a chef!), and what comes next for ACN’s grumpiest producer.
HOLLYWOOD.COM: Just last year, you were on Broadway with Alison Pill in The House of Blue Leaves. How did you react when you found out you were both cast in The Newsroom?
THOMAS SADOSKI: We actually auditioned on the same day! The waiting room that we were in, to meet with Aaron [Sorkin] and Greg [Mottola], was me and Alison, Sam [Waterston], and Olivia Munn. We were all in the waiting room together, and all of us ended up getting hired. But Alison and I both found out that we were getting this appointment [and] going in roughly at the same time, and then over the next couple of weeks, as they made up their minds and decided who they were going to cast, we were simultaneously trying to check in with each other and not talk about it at all, because we were both so excited and so nervous. When Alison found out that she got hired, of course we were jumping up and down, and then a couple of days later they called up and told me I had gotten cast. Alison has been a friend and a colleague of mine a number of times. I have all the love and respect in the world for her as a human being and as an actor, and it was a really great moment to share with a really great friend.
A lot of people are rooting for Maggie and Jim, obviously. What do your family and friends think? Are they rooting for Maggie and Jim, or are they loyal to Don?
[laughs] It’s funny because there are some family members who desperately want Don to come around and work it out, and then there are other friends who are totally hedging on me. They’re like, ‘Yeah, you know, it’s great, I think you guys would be really good for each other if you could figure it out….’ They really don’t want to answer the question. They’re so evasive. And look, I get it. Right now I’m the guy who’s standing in the way of the thing that everybody wants to happen in the show.
There was a moment when I thought we might see Don and Sloan get together. Could a Don-Sloan hook-up happen down the line?
You’d have to talk to Aaron about that. I think that there is something really interesting about the struggle to make this relationship work that Don and Maggie are both engaged in, and I think that as he becomes more and more aware of the fact that his girlfriend is in fact having an emotional affair, things are going to shift and things are going to change.
Tell me about Don’s bromance with Elliot.
I think the best description for that relationship is a complete and total bromance. I think that these are two guys who know exactly who the other is. Elliot even says to Don at one point, “Please get back together with Maggie so you can go back to being the prick that I am used to, rather than the bonus prick that I get when you guys are broken up.” They know exactly who each other is, and they care immensely about each other, and they want the best from and for each other, and I think [that makes it] a great bromance.
Every week we sort of peel back another layer to Don, and he becomes more sympathetic. What other parts of Don have yet to be discovered?
I wish I knew! One of the exciting things about working with Aaron is that he holds his cards really close to his chest in terms of who he thinks these characters are and where they’ve come from, and you sort of get to find out as he does. I’m excited to see what more there is to Don Keefer. There’s some more stuff that’s revealed as the season goes on. You’ll see some more, hopefully, growth.
What inspiration goes into Don? Are there people or producers you’ve worked with in the past whom you’ve put into the character?
It’s tricky because there’s such a negative perception towards Don that I don’t want to mention any names and injure the innocent. [laughs] I think that Don carries himself with this sort of old school swagger of not being the person who’s going to be overly panicked by anything that happens around him, who’s going to remain cool even in the midst of everything that’s going down. I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain, and I pulled some of that “no bulls**t,” calm-in-the-middle-of-the-hurricane swagger, from him. But that being said, two weeks ago you have Don attempting to dive through a door, so perhaps he’s not as calm and centered and focused as he likes to tell himself he is.
What kind of notes did Aaron give you for the character? Was there anything he said specifically about Don that continues to resonate with you?
The thing with the character of Don is that it was originally three different parts. After the table read we did in New York, Aaron combined them to make this one character of Don. Originally, the character of Don was Will’s old executive producer, and that’s all he was, and then there was another character who was Maggie’s boyfriend, and that’s all he was… so Don kind of became this amalgam of like three different people. Aaron has been very clear to me all along in terms of his belief of who the character is. I expressed some concerns to Aaron, ‘Am I being too much of a prick?’ And I think Aaron’s response was right on. It was that these people are obsessed and myopically focused on their work, and they are utter failures in terms of social convention. He’s not a bad guy. You need to take into perspective all of the things that are going on around him, and he’s trying to do the best that he can do. Aaron was very clear that he didn’t want Don to become dismissible, and so I worked really, really hard at trying to find those moments of humanity early on and grow them so that he can’t just be easily, off-handedly dismissed as, “Oh, he’s just the dick.”
Do you think it’d be valid to say that Don is a young Will?
I think that’s really smart. I frankly think that Charlie, Will and Don are three generations of the same character. They’re all three of them unrepentant, and as Don and Will continue to grow up, they will sort of grow more towards Charlie, and I think that there’s something really interesting about watching that. Here are these three guys with three very different struggles who are cut from the same cloth in terms of their beliefs about what news is and how it can be, but are hamstrung in three various different ways.
Do you have a favorite line of Don’s?
There’s one that I remember from a couple episodes ago, where Don’s standing in the newsroom and it’s just sort of tangential — I think the camera’s going past me as I’m saying it — but I say, “I’m gonna put somebody’s head through a f**king pyramid,” which I really loved. That was literally at the last second. Aaron came up to me as we were getting ready to shoot that shot [and said], “Uhhh, you’re gonna put somebody’s head through a f**king pyramid. Go with that.” I got a kick out of that. There’s some fun stuff coming up in a couple episodes when we get into the Casey Anthony thing. Spoiler alert.
Looking forward, is there anything you want to see Don do? Would he ever be on the air?
That thought terrifies me as an actor. I can’t even imagine what that would do to the character! There’s a lot of things I would love to see Don do, but I’m going to trust in my writer and trust that Aaron is going to lead me to the best places.
If you were an employee in that newsroom, how would you do?
Me? Oh, I wouldn’t last a day!
Follow Marc on Twitter @MarcSnetiker
[Photo Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO]