Draped with stars, real and created, Adina Porter believes she has liberated her identity in Hollywood. The Newsroom talent, who rose from New York’s daunting stages to Tinsel Town’s glittering screens, knows the roles she’s expected to play, yet has managed to surpass any limitations on her craft to venture in a variety of directions, from the world of romance and vampires in True Blood to lost ambitions in American Dreams, and now, media upheaval in Aaron Sorkin’s latest broadcast endeavor.
Porter embraces her work with a critical mind, challenging whatever ideology may exist for an African-American woman in entertainment. A mother, actress, wife, and businesswoman, the 41-year-old Obie Award-winner’s got no chip on her shoulder and plans to keep it that way.
“There was something I used to say a lot, which was, if you were a certain hue of African-American you were the struggling mom with so many kids and no husband; or you were the crack addict,” Porter tells theGrio. “And if you were another hue you could be the girlfriend to the white friend who’s always got something funny to say. Because I am of the first hue, I was always that, but The Newsroom really kind of changed that and I’m thrilled.”
In the HBO drama, Porter plays the role of Kendra, a producer for the fictional Atlantis Cable News channel, and one of two African-American characters on the series. The show has subsequently drawn criticism for its lack of diversity, being a mostly white cast with minimal storylines for people of color. Yet according to Porter, such rebukes are unmerited. On The Newsroom,the whole outweighs the individual, and she believes her role will evolve throughout the season.
In fact, she’s sort of glad to be the odd man out.
“There are times when I want to be the focus of everything, and then there’s a time with the ensemble, and I’m cool with being part of the ensemble,” Porter explains, adding sarcastically, “More black people will be coming on the show as it goes on, [and] Chris Chalk – the other African-American on the show – and I were like, ‘Oh man! Another black person’s coming on the show? They’re not gonna write for us anymore!’”
Porter was offered her role after a five minute, taped audition with the casting director, a feat she credits to her strong body of previous work, garnering her one V.I.P fan – Academy Award-winning producer Scott Rudin. While Kendra’s only made a few appearances so far, Porter says the writers are constantly pitching new storylines for her character, and though news spread in July that most of the writing staff had been fired, she insists the reports were “blown out of proportion.” She points to the fact that she was with many of the writers the night before for a viewing party at Sorkin’s house, and adds that creative teams commonly shift.
Furthermore, despite criticisms The Newsroom has received for being self-righteous, or nostalgic for an America that never existed, Porter believes in its message, and welcomes the dialogue. As the daughter of a Civil Rights activist, she likens the media oversights tackled by the series to her own omissions in following politics, calling out the sometimes blind eye she enables as an avid supporter of President Obama.
“I’m tempted to close my ears and say everything he does is right,” Porter remarks, discussing Obama’s lack of scrutiny over the housing market. “My sister-in-law lost her home because of foreclosure; tons of African-American communities are being devastated because of property values going down. People are losing their homes and these little communities are turning into ghettos…That’s the kind of information we need.”
As far as Sorkin is concerned, she feels the point of his show is to highlight the lack of facts supporting these kinds of news stories. If it’s generating negative feedback for its angle, so be it.
“Nothing is worse than having no reaction,” she says. “He’s pushed some buttons, and we’re at a place with HBO – I think, in my humble opinion – bring it on.”
Porter also described the diligence Sorkin requires of actors to embody his scripts, recalling one instance when a scene had to be reshot because she replaced a ‘the’ with a ‘that.’
“The man is spending some time on his words, so if they don’t feel right to you, figure out a way to make them feel right,” she laughs. “There are actors who think they gotta make it their own…They just want to throw in their ‘girlfriends’ and whatever their particular colloquialisms are…It’s a lazy actor that’s not doing what he needs to do to make it right for himself. Silence might even be more powerful.”