John Gallagher Jr. is one of the theater’s most versatile young talents, equally at home in dramas (Rabbit Hole, Jerusalem) and musicals (Spring Awakening, American Idiot). The Tony winner has found fame on television as unlucky in love Jim Harper in HBO’s The Newsroom, and now he's starring opposite United States of Tara’s Brie Larson in the buzzed-about indie film Short Term 12, set in a group home for at-risk teens. After premiering at this year's SXSW Film Festival, the film hits theaters August 23, and Broadway.com caught up with Gallagher to learn more about Short Term 12, Jim's star-crossed TV romance with Maggie (Broadway vet Alison Pill) and a possible return to the stage.
What did you love about Short Term 12 when you read it? Why did you have to be a part of it?
It was, without a doubt, the best screenplay I’ve ever read as an auditioning actor. It pulled me in immediately. It was written with such clarity and evoked emotion so effortlessly—really great characters and a really simple human story. I leapt at the chance to do it.
Did all that translate on screen when you saw the finished product?
It did. It was one of the first times the stars have aligned that way for me, in terms of working on camera. When we premiered it at SXSW, I could feel the audience’s responses; it was really overwhelming.
Give us a preview of your character's relationship with Brie Larson. The trailer makes it look like a rocky romance.
Totally. We play staff workers at a foster care facility, and we also happen to be boyfriend and girlfriend; we’ve reached a critical point in our relationship where our problems communicating with each other come to a head.
On screen, you can't catch a break with women! Is John more lucky in love than Newsroom’s Jim and Short Term 12’s Mason?
I’d like to think I’ve progressed some as I’ve gotten older, but like anything in life, relationships have their ups and downs and ebbs and flows. I think Jim is going through a maturing process right now. And Mason proves you can work through almost anything if you stick together. I’ve certainly had some good days and bad days [laughs].
Audiences love your Newsroom chemistry with Alison Pill. How often do you get stopped by fans to talk about Jim and Maggie?
Definitely more than I thought I would. I flew back from L.A., and a couple of people in the airport came up to tell me that they were really rooting for Jim and Maggie to sort out their differences. But those characters are just so stubborn; they need to get over themselves and make it happen.
Have you had a chance to see the American Idiot documentary Broadway Idiot?
Yeah, I saw an early cut of it last summer, but I haven’t seen the cut circulating right now.
How did it feel watching it?
It was certainly emotional and also a bizarre, strange thing to see yourself in these intimate moments. Doug Hamilton, the director, shot us onstage and offstage in the rehearsal process, in previews and in performance. You start forgetting that the camera is there, so you aren’t aware of the moments that are captured. It’s rare you get the chance to glance back at a film record of a period in your life. Thinking about where you were, the ways you’re different now and the ways it shaped you. It’s at once an exhilarating and terrifying experience seeing it captured on screen. It released a well of great memories.
What will bring you back to Broadway? Are you picturing a musical? A play?
Man, I have no idea. I can’t wait to get back on stage. I always keep my mind open to things like that and make sure that I’m not putting some expectation into the ether that I may not be able to live up to. I tend to look on the horizon and see if something good comes my way—a script I fall in love with, a role that I connect with or a director I want to work with. So far, it’s always been a surprise, so I expect the next one will be an equally pleasant surprise.
Check out John Gallagher Jr. in Short Term 12, in theaters on August 23, and on The Newsroom every Sunday on HBO.