Interview With Sam Waterston
This was an interesting episode for Charlie for many reasons, but before we get to that, we see him taking pretty much the opposite approach of what we're used to seeing from him. Why is he doing that?
He's switching around trying to save the organization at all costs. He becomes a collaborator. With the institution gone, the fight is over. And that's what it looks like is imminent. He's trying to keep the ship afloat so he could fight another day.
What's that like for him?
It's not good for him! It's killing him.
What do you think was the final straw that did him in?
It's the cumulative thing. It's a massive amount of stress over a long period of time and no way around it. The killer thing is to have the entire company not understand what's at stake and why he's doing what he's doing.
What was your reaction when you found out about Charlie's death?
I loved it! I thought it was a great way to go. I knew the show was coming to an end, and I thought it was great for him to go down with all guns blazing, fighting the good fight.
Did you think it was a fitting end for him?
That's Charlie. He'd rather die trying than give up. But it also makes a point about what's happening in the news business. The grand old men of the news business are dying ? Ben Bradlee being the most outstanding and recent example. The people who are coming around to take their places have a lot more to do with marketing than they do with content. So if you're telling a story about what's happening in the news business, having the old guard die is pretty spot-on.
In a lot of ways, Charlie is the soul of the newsroom.
The cast and crew of the show treated me like I was their mascot, and I'm sure that wasn't just because of my charming personality. It had a lot to do with the character of Charlie.
Is there a specific of example of that?
The day that I was to die, everybody was looking so sad already, I couldn't look them in the eye. I was supposed to come in and freak out and have a heart attack, I couldn't be feeling all warm and nostalgic. [Show creator] Aaron [Sorkin] came up to me and said, "Have you noticed what's going on?" I said, "Yes, I can't look at anyone because it's all the wrong feelings." After I had several heart attacks and died several times, I noticed that everybody who wasn't on camera was wearing a bowtie. That's what he was referring to. I was referring to the fact that everyone was emotional, he was referring to the fact that as a gesture of affection for Charlie they had put on bowties to mark the occasion of his demise.
Did you enjoy wearing the iconic Charlie Skinner bowtie?
I did. I thought it was completely appropriate to him. I've been on the board of RI [Refugees International] for a long time and the old CEO was a longtime spokesman for the Defense Department and before that a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He wore a bowtie as a mark of identification for his whole career. A lot of these guys did.
You mention him and Ben Bradlee, are there specific people you modeled your portrayal of Charlie on?
I borrowed certain things. You steal shamelessly from anyone you come across. But Charlie is Charlie and Aaron made him up.
You had some fun with the character away from the show, portraying him on an episode of the Colbert Report as Poncho Denews. How did that come about?
I don't know! Someone came up with it at the Colbert Report and asked me if I'd do it, and I said of course I would. Anytime you're in the same room as Stephen Colbert, it's fun.
What do you think the legacy of Charlie Skinner would be?
He probably will be put up on a pedestal and become the symbol of everything his team aspires to. But of course, he'll be dead so it might get distorted.
Do you sympathize with Charlie's old school news values?
Yes, because without that, God help us.