SK: You mostly performed on Broadway, minus a few guest roles here and there, but what was your first reaction when you were approached with the Newsroom gig?
Thomas: I was thrilled! You know, it's funny… I was working with Alison Pill at the time on Broadway. I think it was the second time we worked together. We were both approached about [Newsroom] and went in to audition on the same day. We sort of held each other's hands over the next couple of weeks as we waited for the process to play itself out. To go through it with a really good friend and somebody you respect and admire as much as Alison was really cool. I was thrilled for her and when the news came down that I was hired also, I was ecstatic!
SK: I could imagine working for Aaron Sorkin is an amazing thing to do. What was it like the first time you met him?
Thomas: I wasn't sure what to expect. At the time, I had just finished working with Stockard Channing and I called up Stockard once I got hired and said "Hey, I'm going to be working with your guy…" and she said, "Oh great, he's just the sweetest guy in the world. He's a great guy, super-intelligent. You're really going to love working for him. Don't even worry about it!" So I went in a little at ease. I was prepared for him to be funny and charismatic and intelligent. As lovely a person as he is, it's always good when you get an opportunity to meet somebody like that who has reached such a high level in their career and who is also such a good person on the top of it too. It's just great.
SK: Many people refer to him as a wordsmith, so I'm sure he takes his scripts very seriously. I've heard rumors that he likes the cast to get every single word correct and if you don't, you have to retake it. Is that true?
Thomas: Yeah, I mean, that is true and rightfully so. Aaron spends a lot of time and energy picking each specific word that he's using. There are no words that accidentally show up in an Aaron Sorkin script. He treats us with respect and the choices we're making. He asks for the same respect for his work and that ends up building an incredible, respectable work environment. If you come in ready to respect the work he has put in and respect the fact that he is an incredibly intelligent and incredibly gifted writer, and not just throwing anything out there by accident, he's going to treat you with that sort of respect too. When we screw up and what we're saying changes the intention of the line -- yeah, he will come up very gently, very graciously and just remind you what he actually wrote, and it's like, "Oh yeah great… Sorry, no problem…" then you go and get it. But he doesn't spend a lot of time, it's not like he sits on set cracking the whip about every single word. I don't want that picture to be painted, that's just not true. In fact, the majority of the time, he's off working. The responsibility to get every word perfect is the respect we build as a company. We expect that out of each other, and our directors and script coordinators expect that out of us. We hold ourselves to a very high standard, getting every word right. It takes some time, but we get there.
SK: Do you think that the majority of the cast having performed on Broadway previously helps enable the cast to get almost get every word right or intention correct?
Thomas: Absolutely, there's a respect for the written word that comes from being a theater actor that I don't know necessarily translates or is as prevalent when it comes to film and television. Theater being more of a literary art form, and television film being more of a visual medium. I think that those of us who come from the theater love working with words and we love working with writers. So yeah, we've grown up sort of with that as our focus. When I'm going to come in to work on the script with a writer, it's about what he wants to say and what I'm going to say… You know, in the theater, words are so much of our cueing system -- like light cues, sound cues, blocking cues, and set-move cues. All that stuff is based on words that the stage manager calls out as a cue and we have to be very, very conscious of that. We carry that over into working on Newsroom, as well.
SK: The script is so fast-paced and very fact-driven. Is it ever hard to keep up with it?
Thomas: (Laughs) It is incredibly hard to keep up with it… (laughs) It is so hard to keep up with it!
SK: Sometimes I have to rewind my DVR just to keep up with you.
Thomas: (Laughs) I know, you can imagine how it's going in my head! You almost have to reach this Zen-like state of focus where… you know, we have 80-85 pages to shoot in nine days and to compress in to like 59 minutes of television and it can be incredibly overwhelming. Fortunately, we had an opportunity to work on the pilot. Then, we took a little bit of a break before we got picked up at the theater, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. We had a little more time to shoot the pilot than we do on a normal episode... When we got picked up and ready to shoot again, we came back with a different mindset. We had been able to work out the muscles we needed to get worked out, in order to do it every day. It's incredibly difficult, but it's so fun when it's going off without a hitch. It's so fun!
SK: Shooting 80- to 90-page scripts in nine days is crazy! Do you guys have any downtime, do you sleep during that time?!
Thomas: You know, it just depends on the person. We all handle it differently but yeah, that's an extraordinary work load. Shooting that numbers of pages is what people usually do in a month, and we do it in less than two weeks. There isn't a lot of down time… In the down time we do have things we're still working on. On my days off, when I wasn't shooting, Olivia and I would be together running lines or I would be back down at set running lines with Allison or hanging out. Even in between shoots, we're all sitting around with our pages in our hands and running lines with Jeff or various people that are around. So we are always working, we're going, going. It's cool, exciting and thrilling to be part of that.
SK: When I told my friends that I was interviewing you, a lot of them asked me if you could hook them up with Olivia Munn — which clearly is a no — but what's it like working with her?
Thomas: I love working with Olivia! She is so talented, so smart and so easy to get along with. The thing that people don't really know about Olivia is how unbelievably hard she works and how generous she is as a person. It's a thrill to work with her. She knows how to work her a** off but simultaneously keep it light. When working with Olivia, you're going to have a good time but you're also going to get a lot accomplished and it's awesome to work with people like that.
SK: So let's talk about your character a little bit more. There's a little bit of a love triangle going on between your character and Maggie and Jim. Can you give us any hits of what's to come from that?
Thomas: (Laughs) No, I'm not spoiling anything!
SK: (Laughs) Come on!
Thomas: There is definitely a love triangle and I think, up to this point, Don has now become aware of what's going on and he sort of lets people know that he's aware of what's going on… It will be interesting to see what he's going to do about it, how he's going to handle it, how other people are going to handle it, and how Maggie and Jim are going to respond to the fact that, frankly, the emotional affair that they're having is out in the open… if that brings any change in the way they handle themselves or anything like that. I haven't seen any of these episodes! I mean, I shot them like six months ago, so I'm just really excited to see what happens, too!
SK: Are there any behind-the-scenes romances going on that we might hear about?
Thomas: Behind the scenes, you mean from us and the cast? No, not all! That's sort of the amazing thing about it. It's such a family. Alison and I have been working together off Broadway and on Broadway for years and she's like a sister to me. I adore her and have such respect for her as a person… And I'm great friends with her fiance! Then Olivia is with her man, and then, you know, I'm married (laughs). Happily! And so are Jeff and Emily… we're all pretty much spoken for -- and happily spoken for -- and it' sort of exciting because there is none of that to get in the way of what we're doing out there. We just to come to work as friends who respect each other a lot and have a great time working together, and then we go home to the people we love and who support us. I wish there was something I could give but there's just not. It's unfortunately boring that way.
SK: Last question: How do you think you are similar to and different from your character ?
Thomas: That's a tough question because I think it depends on how you perceive my character. I mean, I don't perceive my character as being a bad guy but I know a lot of people do. I think I'm very similar to Don in the sense that I love what I do for a living, I'm incredibly focused and I love to work. In terms of how I'm different from Don, I think that there's so many ways… but I think that Don is much more intelligent and capable than I am. I sort of envy that about the character I get to play, but there are a lot of ways that I am different, both good and bad.
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