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[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode nine of Apple’s The Morning Show, “Testimony.”]
In the penultimate episode of The Morning Show’s second season, Jennifer Aniston’s Alex Levy approaches Julianna Margulies’ Laura Peterson with a question that has been plaguing her throughout the entire season: Why don’t you like me?
The query elicits a scoff from Margulies, whose veteran anchor character was brought in to upset the balance between the starring anchors in season two. On the Apple TV+ morning news drama, Laura’s success has made her a professional threat to Aniston’s Alex. (Meanwhile, she has become a love interest for Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson, who has been having her own coming-out journey this season.)
As viewers have heard Laura tell it, she was outed as gay in the ’90s and was subsequently fired from her job as a lead morning show anchor. The source of the information, Laura has always believed, was Alex. Now, decades later, the current Morning Show star takes ownership of her actions. After two seasons of facing her own complicity and complicated relationship with Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), a sexual predator, Alex comes to Laura after being rocked by Mitch’s death in the episode prior. And the confrontation brings their long-dormant drama to the surface.
“It was gossip. Everybody talked about it. Boy, gossip seemed so much less vicious back then,” says an apologetic Alex. To which Laura replies, “Well, that’s because nobody was gossiping about you yet.” Ultimately, the two famous women reach a level of peace by the end of their conversation.
Margulies, who has defended her casting and spoken out against making assumptions about an actor’s sexuality, notes here that the message behind this scene was an important one, which is why she says she approached the complexities of Laura with care and thought. “I’ve just seen it over and over again where peoples’ lives are really overturned by someone’s careless little snippet of gossip,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “You see this ripple effect and what it does, the damage it does to peoples’ lives, [you see] that it is up to them to decide whether they want people to know their sexuality.” Adding, “Let’s be mindful of how we treat each other.”
In speaking to THR ahead of the season, Margulies discussed that scene, as well as Laura and Bradley and what their future might hold: “I really love their relationship and I think that even the little bit that you see [between them] will change Bradley.” Read the chat, below.
What attracts you to the television roles you take on at this point in your career, and what attracted you to Laura Peterson?
That’s a chance in a lifetime to be on a show I was a huge fan of to start. When I watched the show when it first came out, it didn’t cross my mind that I might actually one day be on it. And then they offered me the role of Laura Peterson and showed me the outline of who she was. Kerry Ehrin, the showrunner, had done this incredible, vast, extensive background on who Laura Peterson is — which is very rare, especially in TV world; everything is moving so fast and you don’t get that. And I found her to be such a compelling, interesting character. When you meet her, she’s already gone through the fire and has come out the other side. She’s comfortable in her own skin, there are no skeletons in her closet, and she is completely at a place in her career that is at the top. She wants from no one. She’s only enjoying her life and who she is in the world.
When viewers first meet Laura, she’s introduced as a new UBA anchor. But then, spoiler alert, she becomes Bradley’s love interest and a huge part of the season. How did that arc make the role more enticing?
When I watched Bradley that first season, she’s spiraling out of control. You watch her with the characters around her and realize that no one really has her back. Maybe Cory [Ellison, played by Billy Crudup] is looking out, but he has ulterior motives; he’s falling in love with her — is he really there to help her, or only to help himself? And Alex’s character is absolutely only in it for herself. If anything, Alex might be starting to get threatened by Bradley. So I felt like this character of Laura, who is so calm because she’s so comfortable in her own skin, comes in and allows the viewers to watch these characters that they’ve known for a season through her eyes and see the crazy. And Laura is able to be that lifeboat for Bradley while she’s going down, and for Bradley to sort of cling to her in that mentor way.
Also, I think Bradley is always looking for love because she didn’t have it from her mother and father. Even though Bradley loves her brother, everyone is too preoccupied with themselves. And here is this woman, Laura, who is so comfortable and calm, that you want Bradley to find refuge. It almost felt more like a safe haven of a relationship. From Laura’s point of view, it’s a whole lot of fun. But Laura’s not interested in chaos and drama; she lived that already. She’s a truth-teller, and she says to Bradley, “I don’t live chaos. Your life doesn’t have to be [chaos], you have choices.” And I think that’s sort of a revelation to Bradley. She doesn’t realize she has choices. This girl has not had the right mentorship and guidance.
The role evolves as viewers learn about Laura’s experience of being outed earlier in her career and then watch her come back to morning TV only to have her relationship with Bradley then be outed. What did you want to bring to playing her in terms of the complexities and sensitivities of Laura’s history?
The important thing to me was that the lines I was saying rang true. There’s this ripple effect. I have the great scene in the ninth episode with Jen’s character where she comes in and says, “Why do you hate me?” And my character goes, “Really?” Because this woman ruined her life, or what she thought was going to ruin her life, by outing her without any care in the world. She wasn’t even thinking. “A little bit of gossip. Laura’s gay!” And then that ripple effect, which ends up costing Laura her job and ultimately forces her to rebuild her life. In retrospect, that was a silver lining because when you’re stripped down to nothing and you build yourself back up, you build yourself back up stronger and without all the baggage of the past. So now she’s an open book, and she doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
It was also a very different time. Back in the late ’90s [when Laura was outed] was just before Ellen [DeGeneres] came out. I remember thinking how brave Ellen had been when she came out and what a huge deal everyone was making about it. Because I had known Ellen; I knew she was gay. What’s the big deal? It doesn’t mean you’re a different comedian. It doesn’t change what you like to eat for dinner. You’re the same person. You just love the same sex. I never understood the big deal about it. But then when you see this ripple effect and what it does, the damage it does to peoples’ lives, [you see] that it is up to them to decide whether they want people to know their sexuality.
I don’t walk around talking about my sexuality, and yet I’ll drop “my husband” and not even think about it. And to think that at that time I couldn’t have said, “Well, me and my wife, blah blah” without it exploding. So I wanted [on The Morning Show for it] to be very tempered and handled with kid gloves in the sense that it’s really important for all of us to be respectful of other human beings’ privacy and when they decide to let the world know who they are. I took it very seriously because I’ve just seen it over and over again where peoples’ lives are really overturned by someone’s careless little snippet of gossip. Let’s be mindful of how we treat each other. How would you feel? And so I loved that last scene that I have with Alex where she finally realizes just what an asshole she’s been. How self-centered. She was like, “It was just gossip.” And I look at her and I go, “Really? I got fired.” For people to take responsibility for their actions and to be mindful, I think, is a really important message.
In this episode, Bradley takes to heart Laura’s advice about putting herself first with her family and her brother’s addiction issues. And though Laura is leaving for Montana due to the pandemic, the two solidify their relationship. How do you view Laura’s impact on Bradley heading into the finale?
I don’t think Laura thought the relationship with Bradley was going to go much further after [their first kiss]. That it does is a bonus. But I think, as it goes further, it becomes much more intellectually intimate because Bradley starts to show all her wounds. She’s a wounded animal, and I think Laura is very good at licking those wounds because she is a caretaker. But she’s also very good at knowing boundaries. So it’s a really gentle sort of dance that she does with Bradley. I love their relationship, I really do. I don’t know where it’s going to go [beyond season two], but I really love their relationship and I think that even the little bit that you saw will change Bradley, whether Bradley is with her or not.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
The first nine episodes of season two of Apple’s The Morning Show are now streaming.
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