It’s a picture-perfect summer day in Cold Spring, New York, and a handsome young man in suspenders is doing what anyone would do when presented with a such a day, a clear lake and a handful of smooth rocks: he’s skipping stones. And he’s really good at it.
Thanks to those suspenders and the beautiful simplicity of the moment, this image could have easily come from 100 years ago. Instead, the stone skipper is modern-day heartthrob and Life in Pieces star Thomas Sadoski. His confidence and easygoing nature are palpable in both his manner and the casual grace with which he makes the stone dance across the water.
Born in Connecticut but raised in College Station, Texas, Sadoski isn’t afraid of much when it comes to life in the country. And in a profession where a vicious tweet, a beloved show’s cancellation or supposedly not wearing it best in a “Who Wore It Best?” public shaming can derail many actors, Sadoski’s sense of fearlessness serves him well.
“As an actor I’ve spent the last 15 years figuring out where the next paycheck is coming from,” he says, “And in some ways I’m very accustomed to that. It’s part of what you sign up for as an actor. Rejection is the first and most likely occurrence in this business. It’s like baseball; if you’re succeeding one in three times you’re a Hall of Famer.”
Take the analogy one step further and you could argue this professionally trained theater actor and star of both small and big screen has been batting a thousand, playing the irascible producer Don Keefer in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, starring opposite Reese Witherspoon in the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir Wild, and as the lover of alcoholic and drug-addicted housewife Sarah Silverman in I Smile Back.
In Life in Pieces, Sadoski plays Matt Short, a recently divorced middle child who moves back in with his parents while navigating a complicated romance. The comedy, which follows the lives of three generations of the Short family and is told from the point of view of each character, began its second season Oct. 27.
“This television family came along at just the right time,” says Sadoski, who plays the middle child of Dianne Wiest and James Brolin. “At any given time I can knock on a door and learn something on both a professional level and a human level. It’s a fake TV family that has started to feel very real. We all get along, we laugh. I feel like that translates on the screen.”
Sadoski also appreciates the fact that each character is so relatable. “Watching a grandfather stumbling into his granddaughter’s first kiss, that’s a really sweet and wonderful moment; it’s something more universal, which I like. The show goes beyond what people do for a living.
Sadoski developed an appreciation for storytelling before he could even read. His father would read The Iliad and The Odyssey to him at night and Sadoski loved watching old movies featuring actors like Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Charlie Chaplin and Jimmy Stewart. It was these screen legends who inspired Sadoski to start taking theater classes in junior high school. By the time he got to college his mind was made up. “I didn’t really want to go to college, I wanted to be an actor,” Sadoski says. “I had an amazing support system in my town. My first acting teacher, Jo Spiller, suggested I go to New York because I loved theater.” So Sadoski chose The Circle in the Square Theatre School in the heart of Manhattan’s theater district.
He got an agent right out of school, and his first big break came soon after: a job on the stunt crew at the Metropolitan Opera. It was while working as a supernumerary (the opera equivalent of being an extra) on Carmen that Sadoski got a call to audition to be an understudy for Kenneth Lonergan’s trailblazing drama This Is Our Youth. He auditioned, was called back and the night before the callback the director invited him and a couple of other guys to see the play. Sadoski was working so he couldn’t go.
“I came in the next morning and all the other guys were doing the same thing. They had all seen the play,” he recounts. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I missed this.’ At that point I had a choice: I could either try to meet what they were doing, or just stick with what I had done. Call it the arrogance of youth, call it terror, I decided to stick to what I know.” He got the part. In fact, he got both parts and became the understudy for Mark Ruffalo and Josh Hamilton.
“For me that was my break, my first job,” he says. “I got to spend eight months working on this extraordinary play with an extraordinary cast and director. These are the people who showed me how to be a professional. How you show up every day, the level of dedication you put into your work. I’ve been working pretty consistently ever since—almost 20 years at this point.”
It didn’t take long for him to land a few big parts in Hollywood feature films, including Amy Heckerling’s Loser, Josh Sternfeld’s Winter Solstice and Robert Clem’s Company K. In Strayed’s Wild, Sadoski finally broke through what he calls the “We love him, he’s great, but he’s not famous enough” syndrome, playing opposite Witherspoon in the wrenching role of Strayed’s ex-husband.
“It was an incredibly moving experience, because Cheryl was there every day with us,” Sadoski says. “It was really powerful to be standing on a street corner in Portland with Reese, dropping our divorce papers in a mailbox with Cheryl standing 20 yards away. We had to hold each other up sometimes. It was intense, and Jean-Marc [Vallée], the director, kept pushing us out of our comfort zones. There was an unchained quality to that book, that story, that point in her life. And that absolutely needed to come through. It was important to push us to a place of discomfort, not knowing what to expect.”
Although the theater is his “artistic home,” Sadoski has been teaching himself playwriting. “It seems like magic to me,” he says. “I can’t do it very well at all. I’ve tried; the results have been disastrous! But I appreciate it.” While on hiatus from filming Life In Pieces last spring, Sadoski also began to hone his directing skills, working on an off-Broadway production of a play written by his friend Lucy Thurber.
“Directing has really grabbed me and I’m curious to see how it plays out,” he says. “I have some friends who have been pushing me to keep pursuing it.” But Sadoski still hesitates to get big-time producers involved. Whether he’s working on short films with friends or a bigger production, he wants to preserve what he calls “that punk rock kind of DIY” approach.
“I’m never going to give up acting. I’m such a theater rat at heart that I can’t imagine anything else,” he says. “Something about being in a room with people telling a story from start to finish that requires access to a different part of your heart and your mind. But I’m coming up on a fork in the road careerwise, and I feel if the story is right, and I can do it justice as a director, why not?”
Punk rock ethos. Country cool. No fear. That’s Thomas Sadoski.
By Kate Betts | Photography by Christopher Ross
Originally published in Watch! Magazine, December 2016
Life in Pieces airs Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c on CBS and CBS All Access.