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The Morning Show director Mimi Leder on tech billionaires owning media giants: ‘Are they really coming in to disrupt?’

In an interview, The Morning Show director Mimi Leder discusses how the Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston series mirrors journalism in post-pandemic world.

The Morning Show is back and it couldn’t have been more zeitgeisty. The workplace drama, set in a legacy media company in New York, mirrors a number of events that have plagued a post-pandemic world, like tech billionaires posturing as saviours of the shrinking fourth estate, women’s autonomy going back several years thanks to the overturning of the Wade vs. Roe verdict, the January 6 US Capitol attacks, and the Ukraine war.

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In an interview, director Mimi Leder talks about incorporating these into the characters’ lives, how she tweaked the look and feel of the show by going closer, and how the new season pushes everyone to confront the truth at both a macro and a micro level. Edited excerpts:

The Morning Show has always been so zeitgeisty and with it. From incorporating Me Too to COVID, it’s always reflected the immediate times. Does your writers room then also function like a newsroom?

(Laughs) Our writers room sit around and throw themes of what we want to explore. The breadcrumbs are obviously left from Season 1 and 2. Season 1 being the Me Too movement. We’ve moved away from the Mitch (Steve Carell) story, though the ghost of Mitch is still in the building. The second season was about the pandemic, but now people are coming out of it.

This season, we wanted to look at women’s autonomy, minority rule, people with outside influence. A new billionaire is minted every 24 hours during and after the pandemic. A lot of people profited in that world. We wanted to look at women’s agency, reproductive rights, abortion rights, the threat to journalists all over the world. What was most important this season was to discover the state of the truth – in journalism, but also in ourselves. The lies we tell ourselves to get through the day.

Everything that the writers create is character-driven. Where does Alex’s character need to go? What do we want to see her do this season? We wanted her to find her voice and step up to power. How do we do that? So we brought in a tech billionaire who threatens the future of UBA. He’s coming to save it, but will he destroy it? All these stories that come up are all geared towards our characters and their storylines.

Speaking of the tech billionaire, it could so easily fall into the trap of comparison with Elon Musk. But Jon Hamm is such a brilliant actor that he makes Paul Marx a man of his own. How does this character disrupt the discourse in Season 3?

He’s a very strong character, and he’s a very strong actor, and he’s very tall and handsome (laughs). He comes in as a tech billionaire, and forces all the characters to look at themselves and changes the UBA forever. He comes in as an accelerant who pushes everyone towards the truth. He’s a maverick capitalist who’s going to save us. Money is the answer to everything. Then the story goes on and we figure that Paul is as vulnerable to capitalism and the shifts in power as anyone else. This very much mirrors life. Is the millionaire coming in to disrupt? (laughs) Is everything about money, about power? We’re a topical show. We’re about journalism and telling the truth.

The Morning Show is very smooth by the look and feel of it when the characters are on air, as opposed to the chaos behind the scenes. In this season, there’s a hack in the newsroom. How did you heighten the chaos in that episode?

I wanted to create chaos and put our characters into darkness. Something we’ve not seen before on the show. They’re hacked, they’re on air, the lights go out. When I set the tone for the pilot, what was their on-camera look? It was very bright, everything is welcoming. But when we go into their personal lives, everything is screwed up and complicated. There’s contrast. So this episode was the lights literally going out, playing in darkness and fear. I just went all handheld. It was very choreographed, finding those key moments, just rocking and rolling through those hallways, feeling the fear of those characters, the uncertainty of what was happening – the lights going out, being rushed to the room, was there a shooter in the building? It was fun! It was back to my action days. I’m ready to do an action film! Anyway, it was important to find the colour palette of the dark and the light cinematically.

You’ve directed three episodes this season, but have been associated with The Morning Show since its inception. What kind of directors do you plan to bring on board for the other episodes and how do you ensure they stick to the tone of the show?

This is a very high-end show. So I look for artists who have great storytelling skills. Of course, I set the tone and the look of the show with the pilot. I’m constantly looking to make the show evolve. For myself, adding more handheld this season, not just in the chaos scene of the hack, but in scenes that are small and intimate, because all our characters are on edge. Not use it shakey-shakey, but to have some tension. I don’t want the directors to reinvent the wheel because we do have a look and a feel. I don’t want them to come in and shoot wide-angle lenses of the close-up shots. I just want them to tell the story best, and most importantly, tell it through the character’s eyes and POV.

Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) have had an interesting mutual journey. Where did you want that to go in Season 3?

They really come together this season as allies. Then, the theme that I keep going back to: the state of the truth in journalism and the lies we tell ourselves. When we discover the lies and what’s going on with them, it puts a very uncomfortable divide between these women. They come together, fall apart, and then come together again to do the right thing.

The Morning Show Season 3 premieres on Apple TV+ on September 13. A new episode will drop every Wednesday.

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