Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and More Women of ‘The Morning Show’ on Creating a Drama-Free Set and Telling Important Stories
Apple TV+’s “The Morning Show” started with a man at the center.
Season 1 began with Steve Carell’s Mitch Kessler getting fired from a popular morning talk show following complaints of sexual harassment. However, instead of focusing on Mitch, creator Kerry Ehrin leaned in on those whom his actions impacted: The women steering the ship.
Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Karen Pittman led that journey in Season 1, which earned eight Emmy nominations, while Greta Lee and Julianna Margulies joined the second season.
Season 2 of the drama continued tracking the fallout of Mitch’s firing, while tackling the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Both seasons were intense to shoot, with what was happening in real life — no one expected the pandemic would still be going on years later.
Season 2 was “awful,” mentally, says Aniston, who also executive produces the drama. That said, there was a silver lining.
“Thank God it was actually about what we we’re going through. We were able to dig into what was happening at the moment, which our show seems to be known for doing in the last two years,” she says.
Both seasons of the shows have had very strong, topical themes, and Aniston gives all the credit to Ehrin, who leads the show and adapted Brian Stelter’s “Top of the Morning” book for the series.
“Kerry writes so beautifully honestly from all sides, from all perspectives. That’s one of the things we all love about our show — being able to say the unspeakable, the things that are behind closed doors, the things that if you had said out loud publicly, you would be canceled,” Aniston says of the relevance of the show today. “One mistake and that’s it. Poof, you’re gone. No redemption, no room for any kind of rehabilitation. You’re done.”
While she’s referring to the character of Mitch, Aniston can relate. Her own character Alex has also been through a lot and has rubbed many people the wrong way. And she’s pretty afraid.
“I think she’s always in conflict of wanting to be alone and figure out who she is and wants to evolve and realizes that she is a part of the problem and has been a part of a problem — and then also missing being relevant. The lack of relevancy and the fear of, ‘Am I just going to disappear into nowhere?’ She’s so alone except for this work and this desire to be the best.”
On set, she’s everything but alone. Aniston says she gets the chills when talking about the roster of women who work on the show, both in the cast and behind the scenes.
“There are women that are so gosh darn talented that are untapped, and we need to access them more and give them the opportunity. That’s what we’ve been able to do with our show and it’s just invigorating,” she says.
Below, the other women on the cast also weigh in.
Why was it important for you to be telling these stories?
Lee: Growing up, I rarely ever saw anyone on TV who looked like me. It was painful and confusing in ways that I’m only beginning to understand in my adulthood. But it’s the root of my understanding that showcasing a diverse range of women, truthfully and unsparingly, is an urgent issue. I love being on a show that agrees.
Pittman: Our cast is diverse, so for me, it would have been a missed opportunity if we didn’t include in Season 2 the story of what it looks like to be an empowered Black woman in a primarily white work environment. I think our Season 2 stories on workplace dynamics for Mia Jordan were compelling and unpredictable.
Margulies: This is a woman [her character Laura] who had to come out to the world as a lesbian, not because she wanted to but because she was “outed” and she was fired for being gay. Instead of running away or hiding, she built herself back up and forged ahead in her field because she is talented and wants to find the truth in every story. Her work spoke for itself, and the timing was also helpful, but I think what Laura represents is a woman who was, in fact, freed from her secrets and able to face the world as she is. Not hiding gave her a way to pave the road for others to follow.
I can’t tell you how many young women have come up to me in the street or at an event and thanked me for portraying a woman who is so real to them in a positive way — a woman who knows who she is and has no shame or denial. Of course, that’s the writing, not me, but it makes me so happy that I get to play her.
Witherspoon: Talking about sexual identity, pay inequity and workplace harassment, you’ll hear some pretty incredible stories offscreen. What was really remarkable is how many of the stories managed to make it to the screen.
I’m always blown away by the writing and how closely it reflects the world of journalism today. It’s spooky how accurate it is.
Can you describe the dynamics on set?
Aniston: We thrive and it’s quite — dare I say it — easy. It’s such a pleasant set to be on. We love to communicate. We love to work stuff out, and we don’t just shove stuff under the rug. There’s no stone left unturned in a creative decision. We all put our heads together. There’s something so wonderful about trusting in your co-workers to know that if five people tell you look sick, then I’m gonna lay down, I’m gonna put my sword down on this one.
Lee: I’m trying to be cool, so please don’t tell them I said this, but “The Morning Show” is a team and I’ve never felt more supported and looked after. It has everything to do with the female leadership! Different as we may be, when we’re on set, it’s an equal playing field, and everyone there is so down to play ball. There is so much care and thoughtfulness put into the work. I’ve had some great experiences on male sets too, but I can say, empirically, that female-led sets are better. I don’t have them handy right now but there have been several scientific studies that support my findings.
Pittman: Because “The Morning Show” is led by women, you see really dynamic stories told by women, about women, directed by women — and I loved that! I loved working with the female directors in Season 2, especially Jessica Yu and Victoria Mahoney. It’s great to walk on set and see a woman in charge. It’s super inspiring.
Margulies: Working with all the women on “The Morning Show” was special because we all had such respect for one another. I would say that was the defining factor.
Witherspoon: I loved my storyline with Julianna this year — navigating ideas of queer identity, learning to have a public persona, dealing with a sibling who is an addict. She and I had so many deep conversations off-screen, and we were able to bring so much of our personal experience to those scenes. And she has three Emmys! She definitely knows how to create characters that make an impact. Working with her was such a delight.
As a viewer, there are so many memorable scenes, but what’s one moment that stands out to you on set?
Lee: When I was shooting some of my first scenes as Stella Bak, I noticed Karen Pittman stayed behind to watch “the new kid at school.” Karen probably assumes it was a small gesture, but it meant a lot to me to feel like she had my back from the jump. It’s not so common for actors to volunteer to watch each other work in scenes they’re not in, but it happens pretty frequently on this show. It’s a two-in-one special: supportive and a great way to steal some acting tricks from some folks who really know what they’re doing.
Margulies: Reese and I were rehearsing the scene in the car where her character Bradley reaches over and kisses me when she doesn’t want to answer the question I’ve just asked. And as we were rehearsing, Reese said, “Hold on a minute. This is a show about the #MeToo movement. Why would it be OK for Bradley to kiss her without her permission just because she’s a woman?” I was so impressed by that. That was Reese putting her producer’s hat on and seeing the whole picture, which is not easy to do.
We discussed the scene with the director, and I offered up, “Well, if I reciprocate right after you lean in to kiss me, then I am giving you permission.” We worked it out and felt very comfortable letting the scene unfold that way. I love working with Reese for that exact reason, she is one of the most professional, dedicated people I’ve ever worked with. We had so much fun together.
Witherspoon: One scene that I will never forget is Marcia Gay Harden and I at a round table: Two women, one scene for five minutes. We went back and forth like intellectual tennis. Good grief that was fun.
I feel so honored to be working with some of the most incredibly talented women to bring this show to life. Each one of them adds such a unique perspective of how they have walked through the world as professional women. And when I hear their stories, I feel empowered to keep pushing forward in our business.
What do you still want to explore?
Margulies: I want to explore so much more with Laura. I find her fascinating. I want to know about her childhood: When did she first know she was gay? How did her parents react? Has she ever been in a long-term relationship? What does she love to do when she’s not working? Does she even want a long-term relationship? Is she capable of that? I want to know if she’s really fallen for Bradley, or if it’s just another fling? I would love to see her and Alex strike up a friendship of some kind — can they work through their past and move on and have a genuine friendship? What would that look like? Who are her friends? What isher history with Cory and Chip? I could go on and on.