The Morning Show Star On Being Yelled At By Jennifer Aniston
WARNING: This article contains spoilers for episode one of The Morning Show season two
He’s interviewed neo-Nazis for The Daily Show and roasted Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents Dinner, but The Morning Show star Hasan Minhaj says there’s nothing quite like getting shouted at by Jennifer Aniston to throw you off your game.
The comedian is a newcomer to season two of the AppleTV+ drama, playing Eric Nomani – a young, charismatic news anchor – who is brought in to replace Alex Levy (Aniston) after she quits the show following the dramatic events of the season one finale.
It’s Minhaj’s first proper dramatic role, but having earned his stripes first as a correspondent on The Daily Show and then as the host of his own Netflix current affairs show Patriot Act, taking on the character of Eric wasn’t much of a leap.
‘I’d spent seven years being a fake TV anchor,’ he tells UNILAD, ‘so I didn’t really have to act.’
‘I was the new cast member on the show and it was my first time joining this big, splashy drama…so the energy that Eric has on the show is the same energy that I had coming in to set every day, life was imitating art.’
Aside from being able to play a version of himself, joining The Morning Show also gave Minhaj the chance to work closely alongside Aniston and Reese Witherspoon – an experience he tells UNILAD was like ‘a dream come true’.
‘There’s a scene in episode two where Eric and Alex have at it with each other, and there were times when we were filming when as Alex is giving it to me, I was like, ‘Oh my god, Jen Aniston hates me’,’ he says. ‘And then as soon as they hit cut she’s like, ‘That was great, you were awesome’, and I was like, ‘Oh man for a second I thought I messed up, I thought you actually did not like Hasan Minhaj’.’
‘I think it was like my first week on the show, so to do a really intense scene with Jennifer Aniston was amazing.’
While Minhaj’s semi-journalistic background may have equipped him well for the role of Eric, The Morning Show is about far more than the ins and outs of the news industry.
Over the course of the first season, the show offered one of Hollywood’s earliest and most nuanced takes on the #MeToo movement, exploring the consequences of the societal upheaval of the past four years from the perspective of not just the abusers and their victims, but also those in their orbit left to reckon with their own roles.
Like many other shows, The Morning Show was shut down by the pandemic just weeks into filming for the new season. In the nine-month pause that followed, the writing team completely rewrote the new season to accommodate storylines about Covid-19, as well as the national reckoning on race spurred by the Black Lives Matter protests.
‘We basically threw out all the scripts and started over,’ executive producer Mimi Leder says. ‘This season we pose questions that we may not ultimately answer..’
With much of his own comedy focusing on issues of identity and politics, for Minhaj this aspect of the show was part of its appeal. ‘One of the things I loved the most about this season was that while the world was having this racial reckoning, The Morning Show in it’s storyline addresses that,’ he says. ‘Eric comes in, he’s here to shake things up as a young, diverse voice… that tension between the old guard and the new guard was something I thought was really cool.’
The unique position of The Morning Show in being able to respond to these events almost in real-time is something the cast clearly relish, with several telling UNILAD that it helped them process their own responses to the traumatic events of the past 18 months.
That includes Karen Pittman, who stars as producer Mia Jordan. As a single mother during the pandemic, Pittman was unable to join the protests last year, and was keen to use her character’s position as a Black woman in power as a way to make her voice heard.
She tells UNILAD:
I decided I was going to make my acting my activism. I reached out to [writer] Kerry Ehrin and I said I want to be as involved as I can be. I felt like season 2 was an opportunity to tell and bigger and better story about race and race politics, and gender and gender politics.
My goal as an actor was to link up arms with my collaborators and say ‘where can I be of good use? I think I can help influence this story.’ And a lot of my work was in making sure my character’s experience of race and gender politics was nuanced and authentic, and to step in in places where I felt like we could tell a better story. I think it was in direct response.
For Desean K. Terry, exploring news anchor Daniel Henderson’s frustrations at being sidelined for a conservative white woman in Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon) in the name of girl power was already a focus for him in season one, with the new season giving him even greater opportunities to develop his character’s thoughts on the challenges of being a Black gay man in the media industry.
‘It’s so rare that you get to play a character that’s only a few months behind in time,’ Terry says. ‘That was a unique and definitely exciting and cathartic experience…those things were very much still relevant in my life. Hopefully I think it’s cool for the audience to see an insight in terms of the fight to change the system.’
As with season one, what begins as a plotline about power plays, back-stabbing and the glitz and glamour of ‘doing the news’ develops into a study of identity: our true selves, what we project to the world, and how our individual lives are impacted by events far bigger than us.
As identities go, no character is more of a mystery than Cory Ellison – the ruthless-yet-charming head of UBA, played with relish by Billy Crudup. On his way to winning an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor for the role, Crudup appeared to be having the most fun of anyone on the show, playing Cory with a constant self-aware glint in his eye.
So is he really having as much fun as he seems to be? Well, yes and no. As Crudup told UNILAD, in contrast to the ease with which Minhaj took on the role of Eric, playing Cory is an ‘uncomfortable’ yet ‘rewarding’ challenge.
‘Cory has a lot more fun in his life than I do trying to catch up to him in the immediate moment,’ Crudup says. ‘But there is nothing more fun to me in my personal life than being given the challenge to play someone like Cory… it exceeds fun in ways that I can’t describe, it’s rewarding and there’s not many of us who get to feel like our job is rewarding.’
‘He’s in situations that are very uncomfortable for him, which is an unfamiliar place, and consequently playing it was uncomfortable as well.’
Fans looking to see more of Cory’s machinations won’t be disappointed; Crudup’s character remains the best thing about the show, as he along with the rest of The Morning Show team look for ways to mould the chaos enveloping their programme, the country and world to their advantage in season two.
The Morning Show Season 2 premieres on Apple TV+ today, September 17.
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