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Move over Alex and Bradley, there’s a new anchor in town.
In the third episode of the Apple TV+ drama’s second season, Julianna Margulies jumps into the fray as veteran broadcast journalist Laura Peterson. An icon at UBA, the network home to The Morning Show, Laura is asked to promote Alex Levy’s (Jennifer Aniston) return to the fictional morning show’s desk with a heavily publicized primetime special. First, the news anchor sits down with Alex to pepper her with some hard questions — including the implication that Alex had a sexual relationship with disgraced former anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) — and then she interviews her co-anchor, Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), on the 2020 campaign trail about Bradley’s meteoric Morning Show rise.
“You take these two strong, lead characters — played by Jen and Reese — and instead of bringing a man in to upset that balance, you bring in a woman. I found that to be so fantastic and such a nice breath of fresh air,” says Margulies when speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about her entrance on The Morning Show.
Laura’s arrival indeed sets Alex on edge, as the latter continues to run from her own complicity in Mitch’s story. Alex even warns Bradley not to trust Laura, pitching her co-anchor on the importance of being a team and having each other’s backs. But Bradley’s time with Laura goes so well that something unexpected happens to close out the episode.
Laura asks Bradley an off-the-record question: “Did you actually get vetted for this job?” Instead of answering her, Bradley kisses Laura. When Bradley pulls back and begins to apologize, Laura leans in and kisses her again.
In separate conversations with THR, Witherspoon and Margulies note that, in that scene, there is a lot to unpack.
“That first kiss comes because Bradley doesn’t want to answer the question that I am asking her off record, because she’s ashamed of the fact that she was never vetted and knows deep down inside that Alex threw her under the bus to screw with the network and to screw with Cory [Ellison, played by Billy Crudup], and that she wasn’t really valued by Alex,” Margulies explains, referencing how Alex, in a self-serving stunt, announced Bradley’s promotion at an A-list media event during season one.
She continues, “But just before the kiss, when Laura says to Bradley, ‘You were really good out there today, I don’t think the network is using you in the right way,’ she says it with such honesty and care about a fellow human being, and with no agenda, that I think it sort of rocks Bradley’s world. This is the first time you’ve actually seen Bradley being talked to respectfully and, also, heralded by her icon. Laura to Bradley is what Diane Sawyer is to all of us.”
Laura is openly gay — she “puts the L in LGBTQ,” as Cory put it. But, prior to this moment with Laura, Bradley’s dating life has not been a topic. The first season explored possible sexual tension between Bradley and Cory, and saw Bradley, who is from a conservative upbringing, reveal on-air that she had an abortion in high school. Witherspoon says the idea to explore her character’s sexuality was inspired in part by stories from friends in her own life, which led to a conversation between her and showrunner Kerry Ehrin during the pandemic rewrite for season two.
“It was a conversation about more than one dear friend of mine being in her 40s and finally feeling free enough to really figure out who she was and explore her sexuality without knowing really what her path was going to be,” says Witherspoon, adding, “and just being a little open-minded about loving people; and how it doesn’t matter who you fall in love with, it can come up out of nowhere in your life. And that’s what Julianna’s character really represented.”
Behind the scenes, much care was put into the scene of Bradley and Laura’s first kiss. On a show that has heavily explored consent, portraying a romance between the two network colleagues as an appropriate workplace relationship was top of mind, says Witherspoon.
“The whole show is about workplace harassment,” notes the star and executive producer, who co-produces through her Hello Sunshine banner. “Also, I didn’t want to gender the conversations about consent. Consent is consent. It doesn’t matter if it’s two women; a woman and a man. We had to look at the scene from the perspective that you can’t just kiss somebody without consent. So we, very slightly inside the scene, found ways for us to have this consensual connection, which was really beautiful and still romantic and sexy and spontaneous — but just, responsible.”
Capturing both Bradley’s personality as well as a consensual spark was Witherspoon’s goal, adds Margulies of their work on the moment.
“Bradley doesn’t answer [Laura’s question], instead she leans forward and kisses Laura in this impulsive Bradley manner, right? That’s what Bradley does. But then Reese suddenly went: Wait a minute, our whole show is about sexual harassment in the workplace and here I am doing that, so that doesn’t feel right to what we’re doing. She was 100 percent right and this is why she’s a really good producer,” says Margulies. “We worked it out that if she leaned forward to kiss me and apologized, but then I reciprocated and brought her back into me, then it would be a sensual, beautiful thing and then we didn’t have to go into that territory, which I think it truly wasn’t about.”
She continues, “I think that Laura is 100 percent on board with understanding that Bradley doesn’t want to answer that question, but Laura is also tickled by Bradley. She’s never seen this creature before. This is an anomaly! In that moment, I don’t think she thinks it’s going to go much further.”
Where it goes will play out as the 10-episode season continues to release weekly. But the idea of having Witherspoon as a scene partner was something that attracted the Emmy winner to the season two role from the get-go.
“When I watched Bradley that first season as a viewer, she’s just such a hot, wet mess. A smart, determined, brave and hot, wet mess all the same. She’s spiraling out of control,” says the Good Wife star, who most recently appeared on the small screen in Showtime’s Billions. “You watch her with the characters around her and you realize that no one really has her back. Maybe Cory is looking out, but he has ulterior motives. And Alex’s character is absolutely only in it for herself.”
Margulies adds, “And then here is, Laura, who is so comfortable and calm, that you want Bradley to find refuge in this woman.”
The first three episodes of season two of The Morning Show are now streaming on Apple TV+.
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