Jeff Daniels on The Newsroom

US actor on what attracted him to explore the world of journalism

Interview, Time In

It’s a far cry from Dumb & Dumber, but US actor Jeff Daniels looks at ease as egotistical news anchor Will McAvoy in HBO’s latest project, The Newsroom. Written by award-winning screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing), the fast-paced (and even faster-talking) drama uses real-life case studies and events, such as the BP oil spill, to explore how newsrooms report their content, as well as how it translates into ratings. Here the 57-year-old actor sheds some light on the series, now airing on OSN.

What drew you to The Newsroom and the role of Will?
Television news is a great environment for drama. It is high stakes – what these people are doing matters, what they say on camera every night is important. And HBO and Aaron Sorkin are producing a show that matters and is relevant right now. Also, you just get bored with roles that are repetitive, and I was really looking to get out. I’d had enough – acting was boring me, creatively. I felt that it had been a good run and I was looking to do something else.

What changed your mind about leaving the film business?
Over the past two years, I started to notice that TV was where the writers were going – TV was becoming king, the writers were respected on television in a way that they aren’t on film. Any big-budget film these days gets developed to death, with three or four writers. I don’t come from that world – I come from theatre where you have a single writer, with a singular vision, and you don’t change a word. So I said to myself: ‘Before you bail, let’s chase television, and see if you can get around some good writing and get interested again.’ I found out that Aaron Sorkin had this show, and I chased it from day one.

What do you like about Will?
I love how smart he is – I wish I were that smart. And I love that on one hand, he’s brilliant at being a true journalist, who can dive-bomb through an interview to the truth, and in the same moment, turn to the people upstairs and say ‘What are the ratings?’ He has an ego, but he also wants people to like him, and there aren’t a lot of people who like him.

Do you view TV news differently now, having played Will?
Oh yes. I have a greater appreciation, either side of the aisle, for what these guys do, because I know what they’re up against. I know what’s being whispered in their ear in the middle of an answer, I know what
the meetings were that morning. I know they’re going to hit Sarah Palin really hard because their Twitter feeds will explode. I know when they’re taking a point of view that their base audience will appreciate, and that it’s difficult for them to go against that, because they risk losing their audience. I also know that where these guys really earn their money is breaking news – they stay on the air and they keep talking, they keep the ball in the air no matter what.
The Newsroom airs every Monday at 10pm on OSN First HD.

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