Walking and talking, walking and talking. When you think of Aaron Sorkin, you often think of walking and talking, a signature style born out of the seven-season, award-winning show, The West Wing, but evident in much of the work he has created in his career as a playwright, screenwriter, producer, and director. Sorkin enjoys capturing complicated people in powerful roles — as seen in The Social Network, The Newsroom, Money Ball, A Few Good Men, and Steve Jobs — and as those pieces demonstrate, smart, conflicted, driven people with big ideas move and speak (a lot). His writing earned him an Academy Award (for The Social Network) and an Emmy (for The West Wing), and a Golden Globe (for The Social Network and Steve Jobs).
But his early years at SU did not suggest such a glittering future. During his sophomore year as a musical-theater major, Sorkin failed a quiz on the play Death of a Salesman (apparently not knowing that the salesman, in the end, died). He went on to fail that class and was forced to retake it the next year. In his second attempt, he began paying attention to the artistry of the plays that constituted the required reading, turned his academics around, and graduated in 1983.
After graduation, Sorkin pursued the well-worn profession of a struggling actor in New York City — until he stumbled upon a typewriter and began to write plays. After his first screenplay A Few Good Men became a movie starring Tom Cruise, Sorkin began his successful career in screenwriting. “I love writing, but I hate starting,” writes in The West Wing Script Book Volume 1. “The page is awfully white and it says. ‘You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, giftless. I’m not your agent and I’m not your mommy, I’m a white piece of paper, you wanna dance with me?’ and I really, really don’t. I don’t want any trouble. I’ll go peaceable-like.”
Here is an excerpt from “The Newsroom script,” episode one:
“Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?
It’s not the greatest country in the world. That’s my answer… [turns to a panelist] Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paycheck, but he gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes. It costs airtime and column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so goddamn always? [turns to another panelist] And with a straight face, you’re gonna tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom! So, 207 sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom. [turns to the student who asked the question] And yeah, you… sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know. One of them is: there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are, without a doubt, a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?!”
— Sam Henken