Juggling career and family is a lot easier when you love what you're doing. Heading into its second season, HBO's The Newsroom has been controversial since day one, and Adina Porter has been all the more thrilled to be involved as the sparks have flown. Best known for her intense portrayal of Lettie Mae Thornton, the manipulative, sanctimonious, emotionally abusive mother of Tara (Rutina Wesley) on True Blood, Porter is now happily dedicated to her Newsroom supporting character, Kendra James. Following frustrated Republican anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) as he wages media war on the Tea Party and its influence on the GOP, the Aaron Sorkin-created show has spawned prolific debate, with detractors and supporters generating pages of opposing opinions on the message boards.
"If you're going to talk about politics, then there are going to be folks who are with you and folks that are against you," Porter relates during our Iconic Interview chat. Upon learning of the heat the show was stirring up, she recalls, "I thought, whoa! Okay, some people want to pull Aaron off his pedestal a little bit, which made me defensive for Aaron, and more excited to be involved with [the show], because it must mean we're getting under people's skin."
When I asked Porter which of her other recent TV roles I might take a look at before our meeting in Toluca Lake, she let me know that with two kids, she rarely watches her television work -- besides The Newsroom -- and has trouble keeping track of which shows she's on. "Thank goodness for IMDB," she wrote in an email. Once we're seated at an outdoor table at Priscilla's coffee shop, she follows up with a laugh, "I have no time! I didn't watch last season of True Blood. I didn't watch my scene -- I'm sorry!" Having swapped notes with actress Emily Mortimer -- who co-stars with Daniels on the political/broadcast drama that premieres July 14th -- they've agreed that "work is hard, but being a mom is harder," as Porter says. "If you get out in time to have dinner with your kids or put your kids to bed -- as soon as you walk in the door and you drop your bags, you don't even have time to take off your makeup. You're on!"
Amid the shooting of the fast-paced repartee and meticulous monologues that are Sorkin's stock in trade, the Newsroom cast and crew have grown close. Porter tells of a time when Daniels asked her why she was sitting away from the conference table during a scene. She answered that that's where she was told to be, and when she was later moved to a prominent spot at the table with more access to screen time, she asked Daniels if he had said something on her behalf. "He goes, 'I didn't demand anything, I just asked the question -- four times,'" she smiles. "That's just generosity! He doesn't have to do that. I appreciate that, but it also helps because we're supposed to be this news team that works together -- so you can either fake it or you can make it happen for real. He knows what it's like, being a theater actor, to give and take. That's lovely, and I thanked him for it."
Porter understands the value of on-set camaraderie, with a portfolio that starts in the early '90s and includes Law & Order, Brooklyn South, Judging Amy, Crossing Jordan, NYPD Blue, ER, CSI, Prison Break, American Horror Story, Grey's Anatomy, Glee, and The Vampire Diaries. She appeared in The Peacemaker (1997) starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, and About Sunny (2011) alongside Lauren Ambrose. She was also featured in the HBO TV movies Gia (1998) with Angelina Jolie, and Lackawanna Blues (2005) with Macy Gray, Mos Def, Terrence Howard, and Louis Gossett Jr.
The busy performer is especially grateful for an act of kindness she experienced six years ago while working on House M.D. She and her husband were adopting a child who was about to be born in Ohio and the producers rearranged her schedule so she could catch a plane. She arrived just in time to be greeted by the birth-mother's mom. "She took my hand," Porter remembers. "This is a woman I had never met before, and we went into the birthing room. She and I held hands behind the birth mother's head and we all breathed and helped push Jack out into the world, and I got to hold him first. And that's how my baby boy came into the world." Porter was back at work with House creator, David Shore, in Chicago last month to shoot the pilot for his new legal drama, Doubt.
Next up is a return to the supernatural backwaters of Bon Temps, where Porter will once again sink into the spiteful fury of True Blood's Lettie Mae and exorcize the stress that her dual life as mom and working professional inevitably brings. "Last season," she grins, "I was enjoying myself on Newsroom and I remember calling up my manager and going, 'I feel like chewing up some scenery. Come on, let's see if True Blood needs me!'"
Read the full interview at Iconic Interview: Conversations with the Creative Community. True Blood premieres on June 16th and The Newsroom on July 14th, both on HBO.