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Julianna Margulies Is Ready to Stir Up Drama on The Morning Show

Julianna Margulies. Photo: Leon Bennett/WireImage

Spoilers for the third episode of The Morning Show season two.

The universe of The Morning Show thrives on chaos, and so perhaps one of the most dramatic things it could do a few episodes into its second season is introduce a character who is calm and sure of herself. Enter Laura Peterson, played by The Good Wife’s own Julianna Margulies, former host of the 60 Minutes–esque UBA365. A serious journalist and sometime rival of Jennifer Aniston’s Alex Levy, Laura enters the Apple TV+ show to interview Alex about her return to morning TV and prod about her skeletons in the closet. She also, as Billy Crudup’s Cory Ellison says when Laura first arrives, “puts the L in LGBTQ,” which Morning Show’s way of saying that she’s a lesbian, and she got fired from her position back in the 1990s for being gay.

When Peterson arrives on the scene in the episode, titled “Laura,” she reignites her old rivalry with Alex but also ends up acting as a mentor figure to Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley. At the end of the episode, when Laura presses Bradley on a question about how exactly she was hired, Bradley kisses her. It’s a plot development so unexpected that we had to reach out to Margulies and talk about it.

I think we have to start with the kiss. Did you know going into the role that there would be a romantic arc between Bradley and Laura?
I knew going in, and it was part of the allure of the part for me. Just because I was a fan of the show and I had seen the Bradley character spinning out of control and not knowing who she was. I love that Laura brings her around, in a way. It’s half mentorship and half discovering who she is as a human being. And I love that this show has two extraordinary female leads, and instead of bringing in a male character to upset the balance, they bring in a female character. I view Laura as the only person there who has no skeletons in her closet. She’s got nothing to hide.

I can see how Bradley looks up to Laura because of that. What do you think attracts Laura to Bradley?
I think she’s intrigued. You get that feeling right away when you see her at the end of these interviews that Bradley’s doing in the Iowa caucus, that Laura is like, “when you’re left to your devices, you are an awesome journalist.” Bradley spent a year being manipulated by Alex, and I imagined Bradley was someone who watched Laura [on TV] growing up, and so here’s Laura saying, “You’re good!”

It’s notable how Bradley kisses her after Laura asks her hardest question, which is about how exactly she was hired on the show.
That kiss was an interesting moment, because Reese said “wait, as a producer,” and pointed out that if she leans forward and kisses me without permission, that’s harassment, and our whole show is based on the Me Too movement. So she said, “How do we make this scene work so it doesn’t feel hypocritical?” And I said, “you’re right, you know, if you lean back like, oh my God, I’m so sorry, and I lean in and say, No, I liked it, then it’s a consensual kiss.” Then the scene became something different. I know people are probably going to be shocked. I know Bradley kissed her because she didn’t want to answer the question. But the way they handle the repercussions of that is really fascinating.

As far as I can tell, you hadn’t ever worked with Reese before this. Did you know her at all socially before you started filming?
We would see each other at events. But then I saw her across the room this one time, right when Big Little Lies had become a success, and I said, “I just want to congratulate you and welcome you to my world of TV.” And she was like, “I never knew how fucking great television is for women!” And I was like, “I’ve been waiting for y’all to come over!” I love seeing all these huge movie stars signing up to do these incredible shows — of course they’re ten-episode arcs, which is different from doing 22 to 24 a year — but it warms my heart, because it just means the work is getting better and the writing is getting more intriguing. I’m thrilled that the lines are blurred between movie star and TV actress, because when I was doing E.R. it was a very different world.

Speaking of TV stars, I had seen you mention in other interviews that you and Jennifer Aniston filmed Friends and E.R. in sound stages across from each other. What was it like to reunite?
We were laughing about it, 25 years later — though someone corrected me and was like, “27 years later,” and I was like, fuck! — that sounds so long ago, but it doesn’t feel like it. We were shot out of the cannon at the exact same time, on that Thursday-night lineup. We started out together as no-name actresses and within one night of us airing, our worlds changed. Then to be back on a lot, not just on the same stage, but with our trailers next to each other, it felt really good. It felt like a celebration of women getting older and still being appreciated for the work that we do.

On the show, Laura and Alex have this intense distrust, and it comes out in that first interview they do together.
She was squirming! It was really fun. Alex has run this show with Bradley, and I think the audience is going to enjoy seeing Laura in a place of power in that interview, though Alex doesn’t want to admit it. The power dynamic shifts in Alex’s world.

Did you think of real-life models for Laura? She has a bit of Diane Sawyer to her.
She has the stature of a Diane Sawyer in her network, and her grace and cachet, but she definitely has the grit of Rachel Maddow. I also tried to throw in a bit of Christiane Amanpour in there. Kerry Ehrin, our showrunner, had a whole history for her, which was a luxury for me; usually I’m the one writing up my own history. Kerry said that Laura’s backstory is that she was outed 20 years ago and that she had a morning-show position, but was fired for being gay. She had to go back to the drawing board to discover who she was as a person and as a journalist. So I wanted to bring in the real grit of what a journalist goes through covering a war and all of that stuff. What she loves as a journalist is uncovering the truth. I think that’s why it’s a pivotal moment in the show for Alex’s character when Laura is interviewing her, because Alex is hiding a truth and Laura is going to get it.

How did you think about playing that aspect of Laura being publicly outed and fired for her sexuality?
If we’re talking 20 years ago, then I was interpreting it as around the time that Ellen came out. I was a guest star right at the very end of Ellen, when she had come out and was on the cover of Time. So I saw how amazing it was for so many other LGBTQ people to see what Ellen did. The fact that your livelihood depends on your sexuality was insane to me. I think that Ellen coming out was a huge moment for Laura, who had already been outed and fired, to come back. It was great to have a fleshed-out history, because I could go back and read articles about people who were brave enough to say, “Yep, this is who I am, and I’m good at my job too, and watch me work.”

You’re someone who’s been on big network TV shows, like E.R. and The Good Wife. Does it feel different to film a streaming TV show like The Morning Show?
The only difference is the luxury of time. With E.R. and The Good Wife, our shows had to be 43 minutes long. It used to drive the Kings and I crazy because they’d have to cut so many things. And you have a tight turnaround in network television — which is a great training ground for actors, by the way — whereas on streaming you have the luxury of time to learn your lines. I get a lot of questions about whether it was nice to be able to swear, and that was neither here or there for me. Of course, that’s always nice. But what was nice was the collaborative effort you get to make a show where everyone actually feels rested and capable at their jobs.

I don’t think I could go back to the network format, because I have done it, and it’s important to have a life. You work hard on a streaming show, and I like to work hard, but then you go home. I would have three days between my scenes. I was like, This is heaven, like a paid vacation!

Laura comes into her interview with Alex with what I guess I’d call a power ponytail. How did you think about her wardrobe and visual style?
That ponytail was a very conscious choice, because when I rewatched the show, I noticed how hair seemed to be in everyone’s face. I said, “I want Laura, whenever she’s doing these personal interviews, to have her hair completely off her face.” I felt like Alex’s character was hiding behind her hair. I wanted Laura to be an open face, as if to say, “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Then for her wardrobe, I had written up my history of who I thought Laura was, and in my notes I had said, “I think this girl wears an ear cuff,” because I hadn’t seen any journalist with an ear cuff. But then when I walked into my first costume fitting our costume designer Sophie De Rakoff had an ear cuff in the jewelry layout. Then I just started laughing. Also you’ll notice that Laura’s always wearing the same jewelry, and each piece of jewelry is meant to come from one of her jobs around the world. The necklace she wears comes from Egypt. She’s wearing an earring that comes from Iraq. In episode four, you’ll see her apartment and it has these artifacts from everywhere she’s traveled. So that’s who she is. She’s worldly.

Do you know if people who work in TV news watch the show? I always wonder how it’s received by the people it depicts.
I’ve done a few interviews with morning-show hosts and network evening shows and they all seem to watch the show — even if they say they don’t, I bet you they do. I definitely know a few of them whom I can’t name who definitely watch and that makes me happy. I hope they like Laura. What are they going to say, they think she’s awful? Well, if they do, they’re not going to say it to my face.

Julianna Margulies on Stirring Up Drama on The Morning Show