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That nice guy from your favourite television show
Nikhil Taneja  11th Oct 2014

Joshua Malina

oshua Malina is that guy from your favourite TV shows — The West Wing, The Big Bang Theory, Scandal. Malina speaks to Guardian20 about his film and TV career, in his first ever India interview.

Q. I have to begin by asking you this: have you seen your never-ending IMDB page? It's quite insane.

A. Yeah, I have. And I think two things when I look at my IMDB page. One, I think about how lucky I've been. And I'm very, very grateful for the people who've been willing to hire me and for Aaron Sorkin, who's played a huge part in my career. And the other thing I sometimes think is, wow, look how many times I've had a job end. That's 60 times I've been working and then out of work! And I think, why on earth am I in this profession where there are 60 different jobs in your career.

Q. How do you look back on your two decades as an actor?

A. I'd like to think that I'm a better actor. Though I always wanted to be an actor and I did theatre growing up, once I moved to L.A. to pursue film and TV, I really didn't know what I was doing. It was just the confidence of youth where I thought, I'll just figure this out, and I had to figure it out in front of the camera. So there are probably things early in my career that I wouldn't dare to go back and watch. So, just with the experience of acting all these years, I hope that I've improved and that I've learnt some things. When I think of it, somehow I just got very lucky that I've been able to work with people like Aaron, Shonda Rhimes, Alison Janney, Martin Sheen, Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, and just watching people of that calibre has been an acting school of its own.

Q. A few years after you started, in 1998, you did Sports Night, where "Sorkinese" started from. What do you remember of that time from when TV writing really began to change?

A. At that time, I mainly remember the excitement of getting a new script every week and thinking, I get to do that on TV. I can't believe he's getting away with this! I'd open a script, and think, you don't have three-page monologues in TV shows, not in half hour TV and certainly not in the third episode!

Q. What does it mean being on The West Wing, one of the most respected shows of all time, and on one of the most watched shows on TV today, Scandal?

A. You know, I've had people come up to me and say that they watched The West Wing as teenagers and then went on to do political science at college and are now working for Congressmen. So it's just one of those things that knocks you out. I didn't even aspire or think I'd ever be part of something that touched people or affected people on that level and having had an effect on the course of their life. So, in that sense, I've been beyond, beyond fortunate to have stumbled into Aaron Sorkin's orbit. And there are not too many people like Shonda [Rhimes; creator of Scandal] either. For somebody who's creating and exceeding at the level that she is, she is still very approachable, warm and very maternal; she always wants to make sure the cast is being taken care of, and it is touching to see how involved she is. She's a very, very good boss to work for, and it's also exciting, you know, because, her incredible track record is the reason Scandal got a chance to grow. It was a slow starter and the network gave it some time to see what it turns to because of Shonda, and that was certainly to the benefit of me and everybody else involved in the show.

Q. Has it been difficult for you to break out of the amiable, guy-next-door roles that Sorkin wrote for you?

A. You know, Aaron wrote such strong characters of a type for me that this is generally what I'm thought of as, and instead of being upset about it or being too concerned, usually I'm thankful that anybody tends to think of me for anything. I can't ever complain about being typecast as an Aaron Sorkin type. That's a good problem to have. But yes, you usually jump at opportunities to show other sides too. Recently, I did an episode of Law and Order SVU where I was asked to play this guy who may or may not be abusing kids and I thought, 'Wow, I get to play sick and twisted!'

Q. You know, betraying the gladiators on Scandal may have been the most evil thing you ever did on TV. Was that empowering? Do you think Olivia and David can truly ever team up?

A. That's funny. Yeah, that was a time when it looked like I was really, really evil and yeah, I loooved that. I got people on the streets and people on Twitter absolutely hating on me. And I wanted to do a dance of joy, I was so happy. I was only disappointed that it turned out that I was really actually kind of a good guy. And I think Olivia and David can team up when they have a common enemy or when their interests align over a specific issue, but David would be foolish to ever fully trust her.

Q. Do you every get frustrated with David Rosen, your character in Scandal? He's always been set up to fail because Olivia has to come out on top.

A. Yeah, I guess there is a little frustration in it. But I think David and I share a hardheadedness and stubbornness. Like, I'll always read the next episode firm in the belief that this might be the one time where I come out on top. But I really like David's storyline in season four; I love the fact that it's a lot about his career this season. He's back in the thick of things and he's fighting the good fight. So I still want to believe that by the time this story has been told, David would've had his victory, though I don't know if I can ever truly hope to beat Olivia Pope.

Q. How did you first connect with David? Was there a scene or moment that particularly spoke to you?

A. I like that he has a single focus, and if he thinks there's an issue of right or wrong, he will dig in and he'll just hit his head against the wall over and over, because that is needed in the service of justice. I like the scenes where he's butting heads with Olivia. Yeah, I like that he has tunnel vision.

Q. And then of course, there's this evil Twitter persona you have, where you seek out confrontation. You seem like a nice guy to speak with, so where did that persona come about?

A. Yeah, I would say I'm much kinder than that Twitter guy. Umm, Twitter's a stage for me, it's an opportunity to let my edgier, comic side out, and it's a safe place to do because I don't have to look anybody in the eye. I like to provoke people comically, and stick the hornet's nest that is Twitter to see if someone gets overly upset about whatever little grenade I've thrown out there. Scandal fans, in particular, are very interactive, and they are happy to tell you, good or bad, what they think of you and of the episode. I have a very thick skin, and I don't get my feelings too hurt and I'm hoping that's how people see me too. Because usually I am 15% serious with anything I say on Twitter.

Q. How do you maintain your enthusiasm for TV and acting after all these years?

A. You know, when I'm working I'm just really grateful to have a job. I still get a thrill when I walk on a new set. My heart starts beating a little faster when I show up at a new job, work on a new thing, meet the new people. In essence, this enthusiasm is childish and it might speak of my arrested maturity, maybe, but I'm honestly doing the things that I'd have told you as a 10-year-old are my favourite things to do. I like acting and the fact that I have managed to prolong my love for it for almost another 40 years at this point, is, at one level, maybe when viewed from the outside, a little sad, but from my point of view, It's like, "Wow! I'm still doing that thing that's my hobby and I'm making a living at it!" Stepping into the Oval Office set every day, and conferring with the President of the United States is a nice, fun escape.

 
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