Arlington Heights journalist finds place in Aaron Sorkin's 'Newsroom'
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It was a longshot, but after college, Margaret Judson got a job as an NBC page in New York.
It was also a longshot that, while there, she met Oscar- and Emmy-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.
The chance meeting changed her life.
Sorkin asked Judson, an Arlington Heights native and Prospect High School alumna, to be a consultant on his new HBO series, "The Newsroom," and ultimately gave her the small role of producer Tess Westin.
For two seasons, Judson — who had no previous acting experience — has been working alongside actors Jeff Daniels (who is up for a best-actor Emmy Award Sunday for his role on the show), Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston and others. The season finale aired Sunday.
She recently talked with us about how she went from being a news director on the University of Illinois' campus radio station in Urbana-Champaign to being photographed on Hollywood red carpets.
Below is an edited version of a recent email interview:
Q. After graduating from the U of I with a broadcast journalism degree, you worked as an NBC page. What was your favorite memory of that time?
A. Being a page was so much fun and I have a ton of fond memories from it and I made so many amazing friends. It was awesome to live in New York and work in "30 Rock." But my favorite memory would have to be a tie between:
1) Going to an after-after party and having a dance-off with Kristen Wiig, and
2) Hanging out with Lorne Michaels and Renee Zellweger on the floor of "SNL" in front of the musical guest stage while Phoenix was playing.
Q. How did you cross paths with Aaron Sorkin?
A. I met Aaron when I was working as a research assistant for (MSNBC's) Keith Olbermann. He came into our newsroom to research for a pilot he was calling "More As This Story Develops" at the time. I showed him around and answered all of his questions. When he started to write the pilot, he got back in touch and asked me to be a consultant. He sent me the first draft of the script and I absolutely fell in love with it. On a whim, I asked for an audition. He told me "no" and said that just because you work in a real newsroom doesn't mean you can play it on TV. He's such a stand-up guy, though, that once it came time to audition, he remembered that I had asked and offered for that to be how he would thank me for my help. So I went in for the audition ... and the rest is history!
Q. Did you have any previous acting experience before you were cast in "The Newsroom"?
A. I know it's crazy, but I didn't have any acting experience! I guess you could say I have the experience in a newsroom and all of the other people I work with had experience acting, so I help them understand a newsroom and they help me understand being an actor on a TV show.
Q. Ever do any acting at Prospect High School?
A. No. The only audition I ever did in high school was for the morning announcements, but I didn't make the cut! Oh, wait, I also auditioned for Mixed Company (a show choir), but didn't make that, either! I did make the all-girls group, Company, though. After our performance, my dad asked me, "What was wrong with you out there?"
Instead of acting, I was an athlete and lucky enough to be in a lot of different sports leagues in the area. My first travel soccer team was the Arlington Aces and I was on the Jr. Knights basketball feeder league. I was also a swimmer and a lifeguard at Pioneer Pool and Olympic Pool.
Q. What was the first day on "The Newsroom" set like? Were you intimidated? Brave? Sick to your stomach? Fired up and ready to show 'em what you've got?
A. I was so scared! But also really excited. I came in early just to sit on the set even when they didn't need me. I wanted to soak up as much as I could. I desperately didn't want to do anything to screw up this amazing opportunity! Luckily, Dev (Patel) sits at a desk right near mine and was my first friend. He came to my rescue and made me feel comfortable and welcome.
Q. How has being on TV changed your life?
A. My day-to-day is really different, of course. More than that, though, being an actor has opened my eyes to so many other perspectives. I wouldn't say being on TV has changed my life as much as learning about acting has changed my life and given me a new focus on empathy and creativity.
Q. Do you miss journalism? Do you think you'll ever return?
A. I get that question a lot, but I don't really think of it that way. It's more like I'm learning something new to add to what I already have. It's another building block to my life. I love that these two seemingly different jobs actually have a lot of core values that I realize have attracted me to both. What I've learned from doing two very different jobs is that there are endless possibilities and you don't have to be defined by one path.
Q. What projects are on the horizon for you?
A. I'm working on a Web series, and in October, I'm hosting the Mid-America Emmy Awards in St. Louis. I was so honored when my journalism professor from U of I asked me to be the host.
Q. Any causes you're involved in?
A. In high school, I was really involved in Service Club and I've stayed committed to volunteering even after I left. The groups I'm focused on in L.A. are: Young Storytellers Foundation, a mentor-based group where actors help kids in underprivileged communities learn about story telling through reading, writing and creating; and Operation Gratitude, a group committed to thanking our service members. We send care packages overseas and to our veterans.
Q. If you had to write a headline about your career so far, what would it say?
A. Suburbs to Showbiz is brilliant!
— Jamie Sotonoff
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make an interesting column, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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