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Interview with Emily Mortimer

MacKenzie with arms folded

HBO

Was there a moment that convinced Mac to go ahead with Genoa?

EMILY MORTIMER

It's when we're all discussing whether or not to go ahead and Jerry delivers a big speech where he basically says, "The problem is you like this president." It's a brilliant moment because [Aaron] Sorkin puts what I think is the most compelling speech of the season into the mouth of the villain.

I know there are moments in my own life where I allow myself to be persuaded. I really want and need something to be true, so I talk down the niggling side of my brain.

HBO

So Mac always had her suspicions.

EMILY MORTIMER

I think it's been a dawning realization for Mac. From the beginning there was a part of her that knew this story couldn't be true, but gradually Genoa became undeniable because there was so much evidence supporting it - more evidence than the team usually needs. In that respect, she and Charlie really did due diligence. At the same time, she has this feeling in the pit of her stomach that it can't be true.

HBO

The stakes couldn't have been higher.

EMILY MORTIMER

It brings up so many issues about journalistic ethics. Of course there's going to be a part of them that's thinking about Pulitzers. The riskiness of the story means that if we've uncovered this appalling fact, our careers will be made. It's our Pentagon Papers.

HBO

Knowing how important the story is, how did Mac end up leading Valenzuela in his pre-interview?

EMILY MORTIMER

It's so easy for any journalist to do; for any documenter of the so-called truth coming at something with an angle, it's practically impossible to retain complete objectivity at all times.

HBO

How the show changed the way you look at journalism?

EMILY MORTIMER

Yes. The whole issue of when it is and is not right to expose things, like with WikiLeaks and now Snowden - and certainly this Genoa story in our show - fascinates me: The ethics of disclosing facts, who is making these decisions, and at what point are we morally compelled to reveal official secrets?

The irony is that in the show, we all feel horrendously guilty that we've broken a story that isn't true, to the point that we all want to leave our jobs in shame. I'm not sure how much that happens in real life.

"Yes. It's everything she has set out not to do. It's the absolute worst thing that could have possibly happened."

HBO

You can really see how much it tortures Mac to have to redact the story.

EMILY MORTIMER

Yes. It's everything she has set out not to do. It's the absolute worst thing that could have possibly happened.

HBO

Switching gears, Mac is clearly in love with Will. Why doesn't she make a play to get him back?

EMILY MORTIMER

In a way, Will has a no fly zone around him when it comes to Mac. She's got this guilt about having betrayed him and neither of them can get over it. Also, their status quo is a relationship that's more successful than a lot of marriages. They're a very good team. So to actually make a play for him is frightening because it could implode on itself and screw up their working relationship, which in some ways is the most important thing in both of their lives.

HBO

And it's fun to see Mac get jealous of Nina.

EMILY MORTIMER

That was awful! I'd get the scripts the week before and I was like, "F*cking hell. She's in his shower?" It was at that moment I realized, my God, I'm really invested in this character and this relationship.

HBO

Do you share any characteristics with Mac?

EMILY MORTIMER

I don't know that I do... I've grown attached to her and I feel invested in what's going to happen to her. I want the best for her. I definitely enjoy the banter. In another life I would have liked to be that person, Katharine Hepburn in a Spencer Tracy movie. It's living out some sort of fantasy.

Fast News

What would your newsroom beat be?

International. In my house, I have my iPhone hooked up to a speaker with the [BBC] World Service on all day long. It's partly because I'm interested in what's happening in the world, but it's also because it's one of my main memories of growing up and it reminds me of my dad. My father would always listen to the radio.

Name a skill that good actors and good reporters share:

Communicating. It's a similar thing; you're trying to tell your story and working out the best way to do that.

If you could have Aaron Sorkin write your dialogue for one everyday interaction, what would it be?

I have to go into jury duty in September. I would love for him to write me a speech about why I can't do jury duty.

What's the most embarrassing thing to happen to you in the workplace?

I was Portia in the Lyceum Theater's production of 'The Merchant of Venice' in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was so bad and unprepared because all I'd done in the rehearsal period was fall in love with the guy playing Bassanio. I realized in the first act that I was terrible and wished that I fancied Bassanio less and learned my lines more. During interval, I gave myself this pep talk about being confident. I strode on in the second act with all the confidence in the world. I was with a train of ladies in waiting, telling them that we need to pack for Venice. I did it so confidently that I forgot that this 20-foot fiberglass pillar was flying in from the ceiling. I coincided with the pillar and it broke my nose and knocked me out. I was lying just totally supine under the pillar with just my feet sticking out like a Wicked Witch. They had to stop the show and take me off the stage. I came around eventually, went back onstage and performed the "quality of mercy" speech with two enormous, growing black eyes. And I actually was much better after being knocked out!

17: Red Team III

Season 2