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Presents Mon 7.13.2020

WATCH NOW: Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Billy Crudup Wake Up for ‘The Morning Show’

From the bitter late-night wrangling of Letterman/Leno/O’Brien to the tearful sunrise feuding of Vieira/Guthrie/Curry, plus other incidents far more unsavory than simple a game of thrones, the incestuous ecosystem of TV talk has provided its fair share of behind-the-scenes drama over the years. It makes perfect sense, then, that such a fraught professional environment, full of outsized egos, big money and heightened media scrutiny, should be the setting of Apple TV+’s flagship narrative drama series—titled, aptly, The Morning Show.

Created by Jay Carson and based on Brian Stelter’s 2013 nonfiction book Top of the Morning, The Morning Show is an A-list affair straight down the line—from producers/stars Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, to a stable of writing and directing talent including Mimi Leder and the late Lynn Shelton, to a cast stacked with names like Steve Carrell and Mark Duplass.

On June 29, Film Independent Presents Senior Programmer Jenn Wilson was joined by two members of The Morning Show’s supporting cast—Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, 20th Century Women) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Beyond the Lights)—for a special Emmy season Q&A about the show, moderated by Variety Deputy Awards and Features Editor Jenelle Riley.

“You felt supported by the ensemble,” said Mbatha-Raw of working with the show’s outstanding cast, “It felt warm.” The big attraction to the project for both, said the actors, was the quality of the show’s writing. Watch the entire conversation below, and keep reading for more…

Riley began by asking Crudup and Mbatha-Raw about their first acting jobs. Crudup’s was as a historical re-enactor (specifically, a bowsman) stationed aboard a replica of a 16th-century seafaring vessel, off the shores of North Carolina. “I made four dollars an hour,” bragged the Tony-winner.

For the British-born Mbatha-Raw, her passion for performance began in a far more traditional manner, performing Shakespeare in the Park “in a moat, in a castle in Exeter,” she said. The role? As You Like It’s Celia.

How did they become involved with The Morning Show? Crudup, it turns out, shares and agent with Jennifer Aniston—a Morning Show executive producer. The sitcom superstar first mentioned the top-secret project to him backstage at a play Crudup was starring in on Broadway. “People really like to be clandestine about that stuff,” he said, of the show’s hush-hush pre-production period.

Crudup eventually wound up on the call sheet as conniving, eccentric network executive Cory Ellison—often cited as the show’s breakout character.

Meanwhile, despite that fact that her character—Hannah Shoenfeld, the titular show-within-a-show’s head talent booker—had only few lines in the pilot, Mbatha-Raw said, “I really loved the language and the rhythm of the writing. It just had that sort of muscular, New York energy.” She didn’t sign on, however, until producer and pilot director Mimi Leder pitched her Hannah’s first season character arc over the phone. That call, the actor said, “gave me chills.”

Mbatha-Raw’s involvement in the show was further complicated by the fact that she was flying back and forth between New York and London during production, filming Philippa Lowthorpe’s 2020 feature Misbehaviour simultaneously.

Crudup spoke to the difficulty—and discomfort—of sinking into Cory’s character. “It wasn’t a super-light experience for me. The character speaks a lot more than I do, and a lot faster. He thinks about situations I can’t fathom.” Plus Episode Five required him to both sing and dance—performing a duet of the Sweeney Todd cut “Not When I’m Around” with Aniston. “That is not in my comfort zone,” he laughed. “I was studious, trying not to screw up the whole machine.”

Riley expressed disbelief that Crudup, an actor regularly called upon to recite long theatrical monologues, would be intimidated by his Morning Show alter ego’s verbose Morning Show dialogue. But as Crudup pointed out, TV doesn’t allow for five weeks of pre-show rehearsal, unlike Broadway.

Riley asked about improvisation—how much is in The Morning Show?

Mbatha-Raw said that for her improvising dialogue is much harder to do when performing with an American accent. She’s happy to try, but prefers to do so in her own English dialect. Meanwhile, Crudup praised costar Mark Duplass as “the first person who actually made me comfortable” improvising on set, which he characterized as “a totally new and welcome discovery.”

Mbatha-Raw says that listening to music before a scene helps her get into receptive headspace. She also stressed the importance of “being prepared, and being loose as well.” Crudup agreed: “You want to come to the day as prepared as possible, so you engage with [the script] to the point where you’re comfortable enough that you can actually pay attention to the other actor in front of you.” Being in the moment during a take is the actors’ ultimate goal, they said.

Finally, Riley asked how the Morning Show stars were keeping themselves busy during quarantine. For Mbatha-Raw, she’s been reading and painting. “Flexing other muscles,” she said. Crudup and his son have been watching Step Brothers and other comedies. “Also, Ozark,” he said. “I’m a big Jason Bateman fan.”

As for when fans can expect Season Two of The Morning Show, it’s unclear. “We were about two weeks into shooting when everything got shut down,” Crudup said—no word if there will be any further singing or dancing.

Film Independent Presents is supported by Lead Sponsor the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Official Partner Vision Media and Promotional Partner KCRW.

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