Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Sorkin's Newsroom bites the bulletin (+video)

The Newsroom marks the return of West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin to television. The show's stars, Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer, talk to Russell Baillie.

The cast for the new Aaron Sorkin series 'The Newsroom' includes Jeff Daniels (third from right) and Emily Mortimer (second from right). Photo / AP
The cast for the new Aaron Sorkin series 'The Newsroom' includes Jeff Daniels (third from right) and Emily Mortimer (second from right). Photo / AP

He's McAvoy, she's McHale. He's the network posterboy anchorman his audience like for his neutrality and affability. She's the back-from-warzone-producer who thinks he's coasting - and that he's not the guy she loved back when they were together before some undisclosed betrayal split them up.

Welcome to The Newsroom's leading couple - Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy and Emily Mortimer as the alliterative MacKenzie McHale.

Their reunion, a professional one at least, gives Aaron Sorkin's otherwise serious new show its romantic comedy. They could be an update of Holly Hunter and William Hurt in James L. Brooks' Broadcast News or even Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year.

In the latter, Hepburn's feisty reporter character was a diplomat's daughter - while McHale's English accent but American citizenship is explained by being the US-born daughter of a British ambassador to the United Nations.

The London-born Mortimer (the daughter of late Rumpole of the Bailey author Sir John Mortimer, QC) laughs that her McHale was meant to be all-American. She just couldn't handle the fast, ornate, speechifying Sorkin dialogue and a new accent as well.

"I was American when I got the part. In my own accent it's hard enough so I finally got up the courage in one of the rehearsals and I just said to Aaron 'is there any reason this character can't be British?' And I thought he would just look daggers at me but he was probably as relieved as I was at the possibility."

Her plummy tones, she says, offset her character who is much given to rants about what is to be American when she's not debating journalistic ideals with McAvoy.

"If she's English it confuses the issue completely and it's 'who is this lunatic?' and, in a way, you can get away with more."

For Daniels, McAvoy represents more than just a chance to stretch his stage-seasoned chops and to prove once again he's not just the guy who made Jim Carrey look smart in Dumb and Dumber among a long and varied film career.

It is, he says, "the role of his life". Why's that?

"The challenge of it. There is a lot comedy you have to do and not get caught being funny. It has to come out of what these guys are doing and saying and thinking. That's different to just yukking and chicken wings and being funny."

Performing Sorkin's lines in a studio, he says, was something like doing a stage play.

"There is a cadence to it and a pace to it and there is a reason they hired theatre actors, the first eight people on the call sheet. They were smart to do that.

"You have got to know what you are doing. You've got to have craft to do Aaron."

Mortimer agrees her highly verbal character made The Newsroom daunting. She remembers taking her first nap in her trailer near the end of the five months of shooting. All the rest of her on-set downtime was spent learning lines for the next scene.

"I hadn't ever sat down. I had just been pacing up and down, up and down with this script in my hands, trying desperately to get the words in, thinking 'holy cow I had better not f*** this up'.

"But when everything works and it all fits into place you open your mouth and it is like singing. It was very, very challenging and sphincter-clenching."

Mortimer says she sees a connection on taking on the role in a writer-powered production not long after the passing of her father, himself a creator of a famously eloquent character on the page and small screen.

"I think he would have loved [the show] and I think it isn't a coincidence him going out of the world just a year or so before this job presented itself to me. I am sure that was in my head somewhere but not consciously. With TV, the writer is God and it's a hymn to writing in a way and that was my father's medium. I don't think it's a coincidence I was really drawn to it."

On the day TimeOut talks to Daniels, the news comes through that Carrey has pulled out of a proposed Dumb and Dumber reunion.

Daniels tries hard to sound disappointed but you get the impression that, playing one half of The Newsroom's smart and smarter couple, he has far more rewarding things to do for a while.

What: The Newsroom starring Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and created by Aaron Sorkin.
When and where: Sky is screening the first episode of the series The Newsroom for free through iSKY.co.nz and Sky's On Demand service from July 8 until July 16 before the series starts on SoHo next month.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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