Joshua Malina is one of the stars of the smash TV show Scandal, set in Washington D.C. His fans have noted that several of his major projects have been set in the world of high-stakes politics, including In the Line of Fire, Bulworth, The American President, A Few Good Men, and of course The West Wing. On the latter three of those projects, he worked with writer Aaron Sorkin, as well as on the TV shows Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Malina is also one of the most openly Jewish actors in Hollywood, and participated in a national campaign for the Jewish Federations of North America in 2004. This month, Malina will speak at the Annual JUF Standard Club Dinner on "How to Remain a Mensch in Hollywood."
Below are excerpts from a conversation with Joshua Malina. You can hear the full podcast under the video section on jufnews.org, and hear his thoughts on Twitter, his webcast, his upcoming movie-and how his button-down screen image belies the poker-playing prankster beneath.
On his Jewish Scandal character, David Rosen:
In the universe of Scandal, which is a dark one, David is the only character with strong redeeming qualities. I take him to be a Jewish fellow, and that's one of the reasons he's got sound ethics and a less cloudy moral compass. I had a couple eating scenes… I always ask the props department, "Can it not be a cheeseburger?"
On Scandal's production company being named "Shondaland":
There is some interesting synchronicity in the fact that a woman named "Shonda" [Rhimes] has created a show called "Scandal." ("Shonda" means "scandal" in Yiddish.) Originally, the show was called "Damage Control." Maybe some Yiddish-speaking friend suggested, "Shonda, you really have to call it Scandal."
On deciding on an acting career:
My dad was a jack-of-all-trades, and that did include some theatrical producing. I grew up getting to see a lot of plays in New York on Broadway. I got a rare opportunity to see all sorts of theater. I knew from an early age that that's what I wanted to do.
On how he came to work so often with Aaron Sorkin:
Aaron, who is Jewish, went to high school with my cousins. When I graduated from college, I moved to New York, and my mother suggested that I call Aaron. Being a good Jewish boy, I thought, "Maybe I'll follow my mother's advice." Aaron had written a play, A Few Good Men, which debuted on Broadway. It was my first professional job.
On his many political roles:
As niches go, it's one that I like. I get to wear nice suits and appear to be intelligent.
On being a Jewish actor:
My prime identifier would either be "Jew" or "father." The truth is a combination of the two. If Scandal's official Twitter feed is wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, I want to make sure there's a Happy Chanukah involved as well. I'm in Hollywood. I can't claim to be, by numbers, in too much of a minority… so I just have fun with it. Being Jewish in my actual, day-to-day life is much more substantive and serious endeavor to me.
On Jewish roles:
I hope I will have more opportunity to act in things with Jewish substance. I have had some; there was a beautiful, funny episode of Sports Night in which my character attempts to organize a Passover seder for his colleagues. I have been inundated, 15 years later, and people will still mention that episode. There is an audience out there that appreciates something with Jewish substance.
On the spit-take that serves as his Twitter icon:
Jeremy Goodwin on Sports Night was an explicitly Jewish character. One of the ongoing plotlines had him dating a non-Jewish colleague. There is a scene where, in preparation for meeting Natalie's family, he is learning to enjoy eggnog- which is a foreign substance to him, as a Jew. He is unable to keep it down.
On being a Jewish son and father:
I'm a Jewish daddy now. It makes me thoughtful about the kind of Jewish home that my parents provided for me. The biggest decision that they made that influences the Jew I am now is that they sent me to Orthodox yeshiva, Westchester Day School. I loved it. We had a household where we kept kosher and observed the holidays. My parents gave meaning and relevance to everything I was learning at school.
On pizza, Passover, and the audition that wasn't:
Very early on in my career, I was pursuing acting; I didn't even have an agent. I did find… a pizza commercial. To my horror, I saw that a woman was handing out pizza and expecting you to eat it on camera. Except that it was Passover. I had to explain, "I'm not going to be able to eat this pizza. I'm going to pretend." No, I had to eat it for the audition, she said. "Are you familiar with Pesach?" [I said], and talked her through the entire Exodus story. She was unmoved. I walked away, thinking, "This is as close as I'll ever be to Sandy Koufax."