‘West Wing’ star speaks on success, Israel

Aman Ali

Actor Josh Malina, cast member of “The West Wing,” speaks in the Student Center Ballroom yesterday. Malina was a guest speaker at the inaugural Kosher Style Unplugged. SEAN DAUGHERTY | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Josh Malina, an actor from the NBC show “The West Wing,” spoke in the ballroom last night about his rise to fame and Jewish background.

Hillel organized the event as a part of its first annual Kosher Style Unplugged series. The program aims to invite Jewish celebrities to the Kent State campus to discuss the intersections between being famous and having a Jewish background.

“A Jew is who I am,” Malina said. “It is the absolute cornerstone of my identity, and being an actor is basically just a job.”

Joking about the abundant number of Jews in Hollywood, Malina referred to himself as “the rarest of rare things.” Despite not being the only Jewish celebrity out there, he was frustrated that few of them would publicly support Israel.

“There’s this misconception in Hollywood that you can’t support Israel,” Malina said. “It’s like if you’re in support of Israel, you have to rip off your liberal stripes.”

Also, to clarify misconceptions, Malina said he doesn’t consider himself a “blind supporter” of Israel. He agreed with having a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and said many improvements are needed in the region.

“There’s this gray area out there,” Malina said, referring to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. “That’s why we have to engage in dialogue to find some sort of common ground on the issue.”

He doesn’t consider himself an expert on Israel, but “in a vacuum where there aren’t many people out there (supporting Israel), I’m willing to get involved.”

The official count for the event was 104, although several people who came in late weren’t counted for. Undergraduate Student Senate allocated an estimated $18,000 to cover Malina’s honorarium.

On “The West Wing,” Malina plays Will Bailey, press secretary for the show’s president of the United States. He landed the role once actor Rob Lowe left the show in 2002 through his friend Aaron Sorkin, a writer on the show. In fact, Malina said he has been in every Aaron Sorkin project to date including “The West Wing,” “A Few Good Men” and “Sports Night.”

Malina has known Sorkin since childhood. Once Malina graduated from college and was in search of acting work, his mother told him to get in touch with Sorkin, who at the time was a writer in New York.

“She told me, ‘you’re Jewish and he’s Jewish. So make it happen,'” Malina joked.

Elsewhere, Malina is the executive producer for “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” a show on the Bravo network Malina came up with after a playing a poker game with a friend. Malina is an avid poker player and recalled playing to pay for rent during his early days as a struggling actor.

Now that NBC plans on canceling “The West Wing” after this season, Malina plans to continue working on “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” But he’s trying to land a role on Sorkin’s new project, “Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip.” The show is a behind-the-scenes look at a fictional sketch comedy show and stars Matthew Perry and D.L. Hughley.

Contact student affairs reporter Aman Ali at [email protected].