There’s nothing particularly “Hollywood” about Newsroom star Thomas Sadoski, save for the slick Ray Ban aviators he removes once we’re inside Victor’s Delicatessen in the Hollywood Hills, his favorite low-key spot for grabbing a cup of matzo ball soup or what he calls a “New York quality” Pastrami sandwich. His black hoodie is half-zipped over a plain T-shirt and jeans; his face, smooth and clean-shaven. He looks like a dude you might bump into at a flea market in Brooklyn—not the star of a series that averaged 2.1 million viewers and earned two Golden Globe nominations in its first year. As we sit down to lunch, he tells me he’s just wrapped six months of shooting the show’s second season, where he plays brutish-yet-sympathetic TV producer Don Keefer, and 14-hour days weren’t unusual. He’s exhausted, understandably—but he isn’t complaining.
Sadoski’s big break should have come 13 years ago. He’d been cast in the romantic comedy Loser, a film that boasted a wildly successful director (Amy Heckerling of Fast Times at Ridgemont High), a major Hollywood studio (Sony) and an A-list star (Jason Biggs). Despite its ill-fated name, Loser had the makings of a box office winner, and for Sadoski—a little-known theater actor at the time—it also had the potential to pave the way for a lucrative acting career. “This is going to be huge for you,” promised industry vets.
But then…the movie bombed. Critics called it “lame,” “offensive,” “a missed opportunity,” and just like that, Sadoski’s dreams of Hollywood stardom came to a screeching halt. “I got to see firsthand what happens when your ‘big Hollywood movie’ tanks. It felt like the end of the world,” he says. “I remember getting the call from my agent telling me they were letting me go. I was devastated. I called my manager and said, ‘You guys aren’t going to let me go, right?’ And she was like ‘No! No, don’t worry about it!'”
Three weeks later, his manager called. “We’re letting you go,” she said.
During our conversation, Sadoski, 37, returns again and again to those post-Loser years spent, as he calls it, “off the map.” He’d left Hollywood for New York, where he cobbled together a living with small theater gigs that often paid just $100 a week. “Fortunately I come from a really blue-collar, working-class family, so I knew how to survive,” he says. “I went back to restaurant jobs and my parents were working their fingers to the bone to provide whatever assistance they could. At the same time, those years were the best years of my career. It was so important for me to do that.”
A series of off-Broadway jobs eventually led to a major role in the Broadway play “reasons to be pretty,” which earned Sadoski a Tony nomination in 2009. Two years later, he went on to star in another Broadway production, “The House of Blue Leaves.” One afternoon during rehearsals, he received an unexpected call from his agent. Aaron Sorkin, the mastermind behind The West Wing, was putting together a new series for HBO. He’d seen “reasons to be pretty” and wanted Sadoski to read for a part.
On the day of the audition, Sadoski sat in the waiting room alongside Sam Waterston, Olivia Munn, Allison Pill and John Gallagher Jr. All five were eventually cast in the series. “I went into that audition with one goal: to not embarrass myself in front of Aaron Sorkin,” Sadoski says. “I thought, maybe somewhere down the line he’ll remember me for something. Then weeks went by, and I got the call that I’d been hired. It was amazing. It was beautiful.”
In person, Sadoski speaks with the same conviction and guarded sensitivity that characterizes his Newsroom alter ego Don, who was first introduced to viewers as the hard-nosed foil to Jeff Daniels’ idealistic Will McAvoy. Eventually, though, Don’s complexities surfaced, and by the end of season one, audiences didn’t know whether to love him or loathe him. In true Sorkin fashion, the style of the show’s writing is extremely fast-paced, regular dialogue on speed, but Sadoski maintains that’s one of the best parts of the job. “You get into this marathon runner’s mentality and you just keep pushing, pushing, pushing,” he says. “All of a sudden you wake up it’s like, ‘Jesus Christ! It’s been six f——- months!'”
Of course, his immutable passion is largely rooted in the years he spent just trying to make it. Now that he has, he refuses to screw things up. “Here I am with a level of success that frankly I never thought that I would attain,” he says, polishing off the last of his BLT. “And I don’t take it for granted. I show up for work early, I stay late, and I’m always prepared because that’s what I was taught to do. If it all blows up in my face and, like, I end up being a cook again in five years, then at least I know I gave it my best shot. Struggle taught me that I can stand on my own two feet.”