"Newsroom" Star Emily Mortimer: Americans Are Dangerously Uninformed
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On “The Newsroom,” Aaron Sorkin’s new series set behind the scenes of a crusading cable news show, Emily Mortimer plays Mackenzie MacHale, a seasoned, idealistic journalist hell-bent on bringing Americans a news program that will actually inform them. That means joining forces with an equally strong-willed news anchor (Jeff Daniels), who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend. Mortimer has appeared mostly in films, including “Lovely & Amazing,” “Match Point” and “Hugo,” though one of her rare forays into TV resulted in her hilarious, unforgettable story line as the woman with Avian Bone Syndrome on “30 Rock.” As befits an Aaron Sorkin heroine, Mortimer is a wonderful talker, all energetic, run-on sentences and emphatic curse words. She spoke with us about her politics, the show’s romantic-comedy appeal, and impersonating Groucho Marx.
Were you a fan of Aaron Sorkin already? Had you watched his shows?
I had watched bits of “The West Wing” and of course I thought it was fantastic. And I’d seen “The Social Network” and “Moneyball,” and I thought “Moneyball” was just phenomenal, one of the best movies of the year. It’s such a truism to talk about Aaron’s “way with words,” but I was a huge fan. But I felt like “Newsroom” was something a little bit different from other things I’d seen of his, in that there was this romantic element to it between my character and Jeff [Daniels]‘s character, which gets more and more as the series goes on. And that was something that I was very drawn to. As a child I watched Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movies without really knowing what they were, but loving them, and I also love this show called “Moonlighting,” which you may not have heard of …
I can’t even tell you how much I love “Moonlighting” and how much I talk about it and how much it, like, explains everything that is appealing about Bruce Willis.
I was so in love with him! I was obsessed with him, and her. And I used to not know how I was going to get through the week once it was over. I think I was about 12 or 13 when it was on in England and I was just like, “I don’t know if I can survive the week without it.” There are very few romantic comedies these days that work. And I feel Sorkin understands what George Cukor and Billy Wilder and all those people who did it so brilliantly in those days did, which is that the best way of depicting sexual tension is the way people talk to each other, the words they use to talk to each other. And if you set something in a world where people talk and it’s fast and funny anyway, like in the world of the news or politics, then you have a recipe for an incredible kind of banter. And so that was what I really responded to, that made me feel like, oh my God, I can be in something like “Moonlighting.” [Laughing] Don’t ever tell [Sorkin] I compared him to “Moonlighting.”
“Moonlighting” is a wonderful and seminal show. I don’t think he’d be embarrassed. One of the sort of screwball elements in the second episode is when your character mistakenly sends an email to the whole staff. It’s almost farcical. I’m not sure if she would’ve made that kind of error …
Well, that’s what I think Aaron is attracted to: Characters who are extremely smart and brilliant at what they do and then kind of go crazy, in like intense, insane ways. When these sorts of people fuck up, they fuck up large. And I also think that there’s a theme through the series about the separation between young people, who understand technology and the age of the Internet, and the older generation that just haven’t got a handle on it and can’t quite be bothered to get a handle on it.