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This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s special Emmy stand-alone issue.
Like many before her, Emily Mortimer scored her first Aaron Sorkin project with an impressive résumé already under her belt. Her long, film-heavy body of work, with noteworthy indie flicks Lovely and Amazing, Lars and the Real Girl and Woody Allen’s Match Point, included flirtations with television — like a brief, hilarious stint on 30 Rock. But Mortimer was not approached to play The Newsroom‘s deft and frenetic MacKenzie McHale, the yang to Jeff Daniels‘ Will McAvoy. She got the part the old-fashioned way: relentlessness.
The Hollywood Reporter: How did you land your role on Newsroom?
Emily Mortimer: I was told that Aaron Sorkin was going to be in New York, and he wanted to have lunch with me. Well, that sounds great. I’d like to have lunch with Aaron Sorkin. So I waited for this date to be made, and it never was. It’s a bit like when the handsome boy at the party gives you a look and then never looks at you again — you’re a little bit more intrigued. And so I started ringing my agent and managed to weasel a script of the Newsroom pilot from them and was totally engrossed. I became uncharacteristically, fiendishly ambitious about trying to get an audition. It took a lot of trying, but I got the part — but still haven’t had lunch with him.
THR: Has he told you why you never had lunch?
Mortimer: No, I’m too shy to ask!
THR: Newsroom took you from New York to Los Angeles. What’s the biggest difference in your life now, outside of work?
Mortimer: My husband [actor Alessandro Nivola] and I met and lived here before. For the English, Los Angeles is extremely exotic. You can’t believe that you’re sitting in a garden with an avocado tree and hummingbirds, and then there’s a f–ing helicopter like two feet above your head. And I love being in New York, but part of the excitement of New York is that you’re relieved you’re still alive at the end of the day. That’s the challenge. Whereas here, there’s no question of whether you’re going to be alive at the end of the day. You get in your car, you drive it somewhere, someone else parks it for you, and it’s all fine. There’s a funny thing that I started to realize after too many years here. It’s almost as if you could never die in L.A. If you eat your wheatgrass, you take your pill and go to your yoga and your shrink, you might not ever die. And then, of course, there’s a f–ing earthquake and it’s, “Oh, we’re going to f–ing die!” And that makes you freak. In New York, you see it all around: the grime, the dirt and the destruction.
THR: A Sorkin drama is a sharp departure from your other credits, which include a lot of indie films. What is your first thought when you get your Newsroom scripts?
Mortimer: There are certain things that you pray for. One is that your scenes are at the end of the schedule, so you have the whole nine days to learn them. And the other is that you go second during the day. It always amazes me when the directors come in and say, “I’m so sorry, I’m going to have to shoot you second.” What are you sorry about? Why would I ever want to go first? You just want as much practice as you can possibly f–ing get.
THR: What’s the hallmark of Sorkin dialogue?
Mortimer: Shakespeare was using a convention of the time when he wrote in iambic pentameter. Everybody was writing like that, but he would put his own amazing, genius spin on it. It’s like Sorkin has invented a whole style of his own, and it’s very particular to him. It’s like some sort of strange music you’re singing rather than speaking. I often get told I’m a terrible singer — people would pay me good money not to sing in public — but I feel like this is the closest I’ll ever come to that experience of singing in front of people. A lot of people ask, “Is it hard having to say every word as it’s written on the page?” And, interestingly, it isn’t. If you try to screw around with it, if you try to make it your own, you f– it up.
THR: Has being involved with this show changed the way you watch and read the news?
Mortimer: There was a time during the first season when I had a very weird reaction. I went from being sort of a news junkie to somebody who would walk past The New York Times on the doormat. I wouldn’t even pick it up because I felt sort of berated by it. There are real people in the world that do this job, and I’m trying to be one of them, and I’m probably not doing it at all well. But I’m able to pick up the newspaper again. I guess I realized from doing this job just how important it is telling your fellow citizens what’s going on in the world and what a responsibility it is for them.
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