From writer/executive producer Jon Robin Baitz, the NBC mini-series The Slap shows what can happen when one moment ignites a chain of events that will uncover long-buried secrets within a group of friends and family. When his cousin (Zachary Quinto) slapped another couple’s (Melissa George, Thomas Sadoski) misbehaving child at his 40th birthday party, Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) was left trying to navigate family politics and awkward friendships, all of which will challenge the core values of everyone involved.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Thomas Sadoski talked about what attracted him to The Slap, that he loves the meditative tone of the show, what he’s looking for in a project, at this point in his career, working with people that will push him to grow, as an artist, just how difficult it was to shoot the slap itself, and why he has to reserve his judgement until he’s finished playing a character.
Collider: How did this come about for you?
THOMAS SADOSKI: Well, we wrapped The Newsroom in July, and then I was figuring out what I wanted to do next. Jon Robin Baitz, who was writing The Slap, called me up and said, “I’ve got this thing that I’m doing. I really want you to do it. Will you take a look at it?” And I said, “Yeah, sure. What’s it about?” And he gave me the pitch. I love Robbie. I did his last play on Broadway, called Other Desert Cities. We work really well together, and I just admire him and look up to him. I think he’s a truly exquisitely talented writer. I was going to do it. There were no ifs, ands or buts about it. I just wanted to take a look at it. So, he sent me the script, I read the first five pages, and I was absolutely in. I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s a real departure, in a brave way, for NBC, and that’s a really interesting thing to be a part of.
And you couldn’t possibly get further from The Newsroom, in tone, dialogue and feel.
SADOSKI: Yeah, it’s a little bit more meditative. Robbie is an incredibly talented writer, like Aaron [Sorkin]. They just have two very different voices. There’s more time in Robbie’s world to sit and think, and that causes a lot of the problems and a lot of the hiccups that we deal with in our story. It’s just an exciting thing to be a part of. When you get the opportunity, as an actor, to work with great writers and have great lines like that thrown in your mouth, by either Sorkin or by Robbie, it’s just a blast. We have some pretty talented people involved with the show, so there wasn’t a worry that it was going to be interesting. It’s cool.
Had you been looking to jump right into another TV show, or were you just open to where the next interesting thing came from?
SADOSKI: That’s a really good question. Both. If the right thing came along and was a TV show, then I wasn’t going to turn my back on it. I had a great experience, largely, with The Newsroom. As with all things, there are always ups and downs, but it was a really great introduction into that medium. It was cool to be a part of that. I learned a lot and it was exciting. But then, I had the opportunity to work on Wild and fall totally in love with independent filmmaking, all over again. And then, I did this independent film, called I Smile Back with Sarah Silverman, and that was very eye-opening, in a lot of ways, for me. And then, Robbie called up and said, “I’ve got this really cool thing that’s going on TV.” It’s a mini-series. I love the format of that. You give yourselves a nice chunk of time to tell a story.
And you’ve consistently been working with some pretty amazing people.
SADOSKI: That’s what it’s all about. If I want to grow, as an artist, I have to work with the best, and I’ve had that opportunity, over the last couple of years, with Jeff [Daniels] and Sam [Waterston] and Emily [Mortimer] and Alison [Pill], over on The Newsroom, and Reese [Witherspoon] and Laura [Dern] and (director) Jean-Marc Vallée on Wild, and Sarah Silverman, and here with Zach [Quinto] and Peter [Sarsgaard] and Uma [Thurman] and Melissa [George] and Thandie [Newton]. It’s an embarrassment of riches. It’s been a really good couple of years. I’ve learned a lot by working with those guys, and I’m been excited to be included in that group.
Did you have to make any adjustments, to clear your head from doing Aaron Sorkin dialogue?
SADOSKI: I was far enough away from the last episode of The Newsroom that I’d gotten through that. But I did this movie called Take Care, a couple of years back, during our hiatus from Season 2, and our first day on set, the director said, “Okay, you have to slow down. You really can’t talk that fast. We don’t know what the hell you’re saying.” So, it was a gear shift. But, I’m familiar with Robbie’s work. I knew Robbie’s work before I knew Aaron’s work, so in a way, this feels like going back home, in a really cool, exciting, interesting way. I love the meditative quality of Robbie’s work. I love how thoughtful his characters are. I think that it’s really going to pay off, in terms of the show.
What was it about The Slap that appealed to you?
SADOSKI: Well, I was on The Newsroom, so it’s not like I shy away from controversy. But, there’s real guts to this story. I love that it’s a departure, in a lot of ways, from some other things that I’ve done. I won’t name names of series or films that I’m referring to, but there’s no spoon-feeding of morality in this. We’re telling this story, from all sides, and we’re going to leave it up to the audience to figure out what side they come down on. This is going to be a show that people are going to want to talk about. As the story goes on and as the characters become clearer and as what actually happened comes out, and all the secrets and lies underneath it all are revealed, it’s going to be something that people talk about. It’s going to inspire discussion and, as an artist, that’s what you want to do.
Not to say that pure entertainment isn’t worthwhile. It totally is, and it occupies a very specific, very worthwhile place in our culture. At this point in my career, I am very interested in asking questions, and I am very interested in being involved in shows that ask people to think and feel. I’m sure there will come a time when what I’m going to be interested in is just allowing people 30 minutes or an hour or two hours to just check out. That is a totally worthwhile endeavor. But right now, at this point, I’m so super interested in what it is to stir things up and to listen to people. For me, storytelling is all about how we learn about each other. At this point in my life, I’m so curious about people, what makes them tick, why they are who they are, and how we all relate to each other, despite the fact that we may not think that we do. Being involved in a show like this, that is not going to take a side or force anybody into any positions, is actually going to reveal a lot and people are going to be able to have discussions. That, to me, is really interesting and exciting.
How does your character end up in this situation?
SADOSKI: These are his friends. This is a satellite group of friends who all have kids, and their kids all play together. They’ve known each other for years. He’s not related to anybody, but he’s married into this group of friends. He and his wife are very close to these people. So, this situation unfolds and it starts challenging the maturity and loyalty of everyone involved.
This character is very different from everybody else, in this group of friends. He’s an artist who’s bohemian and from deep Brooklyn, and he’s stuck in this situation. He’s faced with circumstances and situations that he just has no interest in being in. The circumstances thrust themselves upon this guy and his family. How you then figure out how to live in the world, after that, is a very interesting journey that I get to go on, as the actor playing this character. And that’s true for everybody in this show. That’s what the show is about. What do you do next? Who are you? How do you grow up? What do you tell your kids? How do you raise your kids? How do you raise yourself? Those are pretty big questions, and a pretty cool thing to be a part of.
How difficult was it to shoot the scene with the slap?
SADOSKI: That was really unpleasant. The kid who plays Hugo is just the sweetest little guy. His dad was there on set, and he’s the sweetest guy. We like his family, immensely. And I know Zach [Quinto], and he’s the nicest guy. Everybody involved in the whole process are really nice people. But, that’s the story. These people aren’t necessarily terribly bad people. They have flaws. My morality says some of them are a little worse off than others, but that’s my morality. Other people’s morality is going to say something different. Poor Zach had to drill this kid. He didn’t actually hit him. We’re not monsters, but it was an unpleasant day. It took its toll on everybody. We were all pretty exhausted, by the end of the day, except for the kid. He was having a blast. He didn’t know. He was fine. He’s five years old. It’s all just fun and games to him.
How often do you find yourself agreeing with the actions and reactions of your character, and how often do you find yourself trying to understand them?
SADOSKI: It’s not my place to judge. As an actor playing a character, I can’t come in with my judgement, or else I can’t play it honestly. My judgement has to be reserved for later. When I get done playing him and can sit with it, then I’ll have a very clear idea. That’s true for me, most of the time. There have been circumstances, like with The Newsroom, where storylines came up that I had very clear moral feelings about and got tripped up on, and that causes a lot of problems. I learned from that. In this situation, I’ve really worked hard at extricating myself from that and playing the honesty of what Robbie’s story needs. I know that I have my own opinion about it, rattling around in the back of my head. I just haven’t been able to give them a whole lot of time ‘cause I need to be on set, playing this guy.
The Slap airs on Thursday nights on NBC.