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article imageJohn Gallagher, Jr: the cold, hard facts on ‘Olive Kitteridge' Special

By Earl Dittman     Feb 12, 2015 in Entertainment
Best known for his turns in 'The Newsroom' and 'American Idiot,' the Tony winner talks about his role in 'Olive Kitteridge.' The über-cool actor also warms up about missing LA, which former character is most like him, his upcoming album and the weather.
With another massive snowstorm forecasted to hit New York City later in the day, on this particularly frigid February morning, stage (Spring Awakenings, American Idiot), film (The Heart Machine, Short Term 12) and television (The Newsroom, The West Wing) star John Gallagher, Jr. has wisely opted to spend the rest of his day within the confines of his Big Apple abode. Traditionally, the 30-year-old actor, singer and songwriter says he doesn't normally mind the Eastern Seaboard's bitterly cold winters. However, this year's non-stop Artic blasts have left John with a sense of longing for the perpetual sunshine of Southern California.
"The last couple of weeks have been pretty relentless with some of the worst weather, but I do, usually, like the cold," the charming, witty and ultra-talented Wilmington, Delaware-native offers. "Because I grew up on the East Coast, I really enjoy the seasons. But, I have to say, I got really, really spoiled filming The Newsroom in Los Angeles. I got to spend half of each year, for the last three years, out there. I kind of got to hibernate, because I would go west for the winters to shoot the shows. This being the first year that we are not filming, I feel like there is something in my body that's like, 'Okay, I'm ready for that break that we got for the past three years. Let's get out of here. It's freezing'...I guess I am having a little LA and Newsroom withdrawal."
John Gallagher  Jr. as Jim Harper in Season One of  The Newsroom
John Gallagher, Jr. as Jim Harper in Season One of 'The Newsroom'
These days, John Gallagher, Jr. is not the only person missing and jonesing for The Newsroom, the award-winning HBO series that took a behind-the-scenes look inside the inner sanctum of a highly-rated cable-news program at the fictional ACN Network. Devotees of the Aaron Sorkin series and Gallagher (who portrayed the lovelorn Jim Harper) were also left feeling a wee bit cold when The Newsroom went off the air in December, at the end of its third season. Fortuitously, for fans of Gallagher, as he was ending his tenure as part of the ACN staff, John would emerge as a member of the stellar cast of the stunning and brilliantly-conceived four-part, Lisa Cholodenko-directed HBO Miniseries Olive Kitteridge.
Based on Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, Olive Kitteridge tells the poignantly sweet, acerbically funny and devastatingly tragic story of a seemingly placid New England town wrought with illicit affairs, crime and tragedy, told through the lens of Olive (Francis McDormand), whose wicked wit and harsh demeanor mask a warm but troubled heart and staunch moral center. The story, which spans 25 years, focuses on her relationships with her husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins), the good-hearted and kindly town pharmacist and their son, and Christopher – played by Gallagher – a character that resents his mother's approach to parenting and other members of their community.
From the moment he finished reading the script, Gallagher says he fell head over heals for the Jane Anderson-penned screenplay. However, after delivering a disastrous first audition, John says he wasn’t quite sure he was going to land the coveted role. Even if he did secure the gig, initially, the sometimes diffident Gallagher goes on to admit he wasn’t completely convinced he was the right actor to play the part of Christopher Kitteridge
"I loved the script, immediately, because it was so compelling," he remembers. "I hadn't read the book, so it was really my first view into that wonderful town, the setting and those wonderful characters. I read the script really fast. The producers weren't so sure about me, in the beginning...I think they were trying to figure out what kind of age they wanted to cast, because the character ages like fifteen-something years throughout the story. So, I went in and I actually read for both roles. I read for Christopher, and I also read for the role of Kevin Coulson. Kevin definitely didn't feel right. But, then, you have somebody like Corey Michael Smith come in, who was just perfect. He just absolutely understood that role. When I actually went in and auditioned, I was really sick. I remember I had a cold. Thank goodness, they gave me another chance, like a week later, to go back in and try it again, to read for the role. That's when I found out that I had been cast.
John Gallagher  Jr. as Christopher Kitteridge and Corey Michael Smith as Kevin Coulson in a scene fr...
John Gallagher, Jr. as Christopher Kitteridge and Corey Michael Smith as Kevin Coulson in a scene from 'Olive Kitteridge'
"After that first read of the script, though, it was one of those things, where – and I don't know for whatever reason – I just didn't think I was even right for Christopher, because I never think I'm right for anything," Gallagher says with a laugh. "I always think, 'No, No, I'm not right for this. I'll go in and I'll audition and they'll see that I'm all wrong.' I don't know how to do it, which to some degree, can be kind of silly sometimes. Although, I didn't think immediately, 'I know exactly what to do with this role. I'm totally capable,’ I did really feel that I understood it, because the characters were written which such basic pathos and emotion that felt very palpable in every scene. The more I delved into the story, the more the role felt right. What I loved about it is that all those characters are so rich and real and deep. There are so many characters in that story that we all just know. That kind of leapt off the page. The way that Jay Anderson adapted the book into that screenplay – it was something really special. It made you feel, as a reader, that this town was coming to life in your head. Ultimately, it all came together for me in a great way.”
Francis McDormand in  Olive Kitteridge
Francis McDormand in 'Olive Kitteridge'
Delivering one of the most gripping and intense performances of his career, Gallagher effortlessly brings the complex character of Christopher Kitteridge to life onscreen in Olive Kitteridge, particularly in his highly-emotional scenes with leading lady Francis McDormand (who scored a SAG for her portrayal). Not only did John get the chance to flex his dramatic muscles in his two-character sequences with the Academy Award-winning actress, but he also became fast friends with one of his longtime idols.
"Those scenes with Francis felt a little bit like they were from a play,” Gallagher recalls. “In film or on TV, you don't always get like nice long scenes to really lean into and really work off the other actor. Francis and I got so lucky that we had a couple of those scenes that were eight or nine pages long, which for television is quite lengthy. In particular, the scenes where it was just the two of us. We had a couple of those fight scenes in the kitchen, the one in the house and the other one in Brooklyn, a couple of years later. They are really long scenes. If you look at them, the way they escalate is so natural and well thought-out. Each word is really pushing this desperate argument between two people who really love each other, but there is so much pain and anger stored up between them. I just liked the emotional content of the scenes and how difficult they are at an emotional level. It was a riveting feeling to be there and be a part of that.
“Honestly, I felt so lucky to show up to work and do these scenes with Francis,” he continues. “She's just phenomenal talent, just unbelievable. And, she's one of the kindest, smartest people I've ever met. I have been such a fan of hers for years. When I found out that I was going to get to do the role, I was so excited. You always get a little nervous working with your idol. Right off the bat, meeting her for the first time, she made me feel like family. It was an incredible experience.”
From his time on stage – as Mortiz in Spring Awakening to Johnny/Jesus of Suburbia in American Idiot – throughout his television and acting career (which began on Law & Order), Gallagher has portrayed a myriad of diverse characters. While each of the characters he has inhabited contains a part of himself, there must be one that he feels a particular kinship with? Maybe Jim from The Newsroom? Possibly Christopher from Olive Kitteridge? When asked which of the characters he's played is most like the real John Gallagher, Jr., the terminally affable actor offers a surprising answer.
"I'm kind of a strange composite of all those people...that would look a little something like me,” John says jokingly. “Gosh, I don't know which one is like me? Sometimes...there are definitely parts of me in each of them. That’s because you are always looking for a way in with the character, and you're always really trying to feel like, 'I want to make this real. I want to make this believable. I want to make this natural but also compelling.' At the same time, you do look for ways in that are related to you. You kind of involve your instincts.
John Gallagher  Jr. as Mason in  Short Term 12
John Gallagher, Jr. as Mason in 'Short Term 12'
“For what it's worth – and I wouldn't never go out on a limb and say that I am really like this guy, because the character is such a great person – I played this part in this movie Short Term 12, that I did a couple of years ago, and I kind of relate to him,” he confesses. “However, that guy, Mason, is a bit of a saint. He has a lot more patience than I have, that's for sure. And, he's much more of a selfless person. That was the role where I felt like, 'I really know how to do this. I can totally do that.' I might not have some of the traits in spades the way that this guy has them, but I feel like my heart really got it. I felt like, 'Ah, I really understand this guy. I really know the way into this.' A lot of friends of mine, who saw the movie, were like, 'This is my favorite thing. You got it, it really feels like you brought a lot of yourself into it.' That's one that feels pretty close to the way that I feel as a person. I would like to be a little more like him. Sometimes you do that, you play a part, and you think, 'Oh man, I just kind of fooled the world being that guy. I wish I could feel a little bit more like him in real life.'"
Immensely self-reflective, Gallagher – who won the Tony Award for his role in Spring Awakening – says he’s been able to take away a little something from each of his characters that has assisted him in becoming the actor, and more importantly, the man he is today.
"When I was doing all of the press interviews for Short Term 12 – talking about the script and in the particular the character I was playing – The Newsroom had just come out and then Short Term 12, and there was a feeling among some of the people that I was talking to, they were like, 'You must be the nicest guy in the world, because you are playing these sweet and nice characters. It was tremendously flattering, and I hope that that's true," he says with a laugh. “I really think you do get to kind of learn things from these characters, which is one of the benefits of the art-form. I feel like you try to learn something from each person that you play and the way that you find your way into playing them. I do enjoy that. I do like learning little life and morality lessons. And, you look forward to play more roles, that even if you are playing someone on paper who seems like a bad or heartless person, that you may be able to learn some kind of life lesson that will hopefully make you a stronger, better person."
John Gallagher  Jr.
John Gallagher, Jr.
Next up for Gallagher is the Dan Trachtenberg-directed drama Valencia, currently in post-production. Also starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, Valencia is the story of a young woman, who after waking up from a car accident, finds herself in the basement of a man who says he's saved her life from a chemical attack that has left the outside uninhabitable.
John Gallagher  Jr. - the musician and the man
John Gallagher, Jr. - the musician and the man
John is also planning to finally release his long-awaited first solo album as an accomplished singer and songwriter. He jokes it's a passion project that should have seen the light of day long ago.
“By this summer, I am really hoping to get it out there, because it's a thing that I tell everybody now that I have been threatening to put out a record for years now,” he laughingly admits. “It's in the bag. It's been mixed, mastered and it's ready to go, I've just been trying to figure out the ideal way to get it out there. I'm either just going to kind of self-release it, put it on iTunes myself or track down a label and see if someone wants to help me put it out, so I can help it to find a wider audience. Sadly, it's true, its release date day keeps kind of being pushed back, but most of it is finding the best way to get it out to people. I'm really excited. I can't wait to share it with everyone. It's getting embarrassing now that I recorded a couple of years ago, and I am still trying to get my act together. Since it’s already snowing and sleeting outside, I guess I have something to work on – getting my album out – while I’m trying to stay warm...gosh, I guess I really do miss LA. Go figure.”
Olive Kitteridge is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
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