Joshua Malina, of TV’s Scandal, on—not being scandalous
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."