Jennifer Aniston on how Me Too (and Matt Lauer) influenced ‘The Morning Show’

It’s been 15 years since Jennifer Aniston signed off as Rachel Green on “Friends.” In that time, she’s received plenty of other offers to star in a TV show, but she hadn’t been tempted by any of them. “I was doing so many films at the time,” Aniston says on a recent afternoon, sitting in the living room of her Bel-Air mansion, as her two dogs — Clyde and Sophie — scamper around her. “So I never thought, ‘Oh I’m nostalgic.’” And she didn’t think anything could compare with the professional experience of “Friends” anyway. “If I was going to go back anywhere, that’s where I would want to go. Meaning in my mind.”

Next month, Aniston returns to the medium that made her into a household name and an international star (with box-office hits such as 2011’s “Horrible Bosses” and 2013’s “We’re the Millers”). In the Apple TV Plus drama “The Morning Show,” she plays a veteran anchor, Alex Levy, who finds herself in the spotlight after her famous male colleague, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), is fired over sexual misconduct allegations. Aniston is an executive producer on the series along with Reese Witherspoon (who plays Bradley Jackson, a local newswoman who takes over the newly vacated co-anchor chair).

The original pilot for “The Morning Show,” which focused on the cutthroat world of morning TV, was completely re-written after Matt Lauer was fired from “Today” in November 2017. And while Carell’s Kessler, the disgraced anchor on “The Morning Show,” bears some eerie resemblances to Lauer, Aniston insists that the show is a work of fiction.

Peggy Sirota for Variety

Still, she studied old episodes of “Today” and “GMA” to find rhythms of her character, and she spent time grilling Diane Sawyer, Willie Geist and Gayle King about their early-morning routines. She even re-watched “Today” on the day before Lauer was fired. “Did he know? Did he not know?” Aniston asks. She felt disgust at the news of his abusive conduct. “I was so devastated,” Aniston says. “It’s such a strange thing; it felt oddly like my dad did something terrible. I trusted him and had been interviewed by him. He was there for so many moments in my life. And when ‘Friends’ was ending, it was Katie [Couric] and Matt interviewing us.”

For this week’s Power of Women issue (where Aniston is honored for her philanthropy with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital), the actress spoke to Variety about her new TV role, the legacy of “Friends” and the one time that Harvey Weinstein tried to bully her.

What was it like producing “The Morning Show” before the Me Too became a national movement?
The show got picked up. We sold it to Apple with an outline. Then, about four months later, the whole s— hit the fan and, basically, we had to start from scratch.

Did that change your process for building the character?
I work with this wonderful [acting coach] named Nancy Banks. We read. We think about her. We think about what her physicality is. Here was the big kicker for me. [Nancy] would take me places that I was not sure I wanted to go emotionally. So if I was bumping up against something, she would say, “Well how does this feel…” Almost like therapy. I also lost having a life, because Sundays were always spent with Nancy for four or five hours, going over the week’s work.

Because it was shot like a movie?
A series of movies out of order and the most dense material.

Were all the episodes done out of order?
Most of them were. We’d shoot this and then we’d say, “Well, we’ll throw in some of Episode 104.” And while we’re adding a scene from 107, you have to go, “Where was I and where will I have gone by then?”

“Friends” must have been so different.
“Friends” was like going to see a play for three or four hours. And it was just laughing and wonderful fun. And this is fun. It’s just a lot harder. My bandwidth had to expand so that I could take in all the information.

15 PHOTOS
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon together
See Gallery
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon together
Actresses Reese Witherspoon(L), and Jennifer Aniston speak during an event launching Apple tv+ at Apple headquarters on March 25, 2019, in Cupertino, California. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Actors Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston speak during an event launching Apple tv+ at Apple headquarters on March 25, 2019, in Cupertino, California. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Actresses Reese Witherspoon(L), and Jennifer Aniston speak during an event launching Apple tv+ at Apple headquarters on March 25, 2019, in Cupertino, California. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 26: (EXCLUSIVE ACCESS, SPECIAL RATES APPLY) (L-R) Actors Megan Mullally, Jennifer Aniston, and Reese Witherspoon attend the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Dave M. Benett/VF17/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 26: (EXCLUSIVE ACCESS, SPECIAL RATES APPLY) Actors Jennifer Aniston (L) and Reese Witherspoon attend the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/VF17/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 05: REESE WITHERSPOON, JENNIFER ANISTON attend Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), staging its fourth biennial fundraising telecast at the at the Dolby Theatre on Friday September 5, 2014 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET/PT) in Hollywood California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/American Broadcasting Companies Inc via WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: (EXCLUSIVE ACCESS SPECIAL RATES APPLY; NO NORTH AMERICAN ON-AIR BROADCAST UNTIL FEBRUARY 28, 2013) Actress Reese Witherspoon (L) and Jennifer Aniston attend the 2013 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Sunset Tower on February 24, 2013 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/VF13/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 17: Actresses Reese Witherspoon (L) and Jennifer Aniston attend ELLE's 18th Annual Women in Hollywood Tribute held at the Four Seasons Hotel on October 17, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 17: Actresses Reese Witherspoon (L) and Jennifer Aniston attend ELLE's 18th Annual Women in Hollywood Tribute held at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on October 17, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images For ELLE)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 17: Honoree Jennifer Aniston (L) and actress Reese Witherspoon attend ELLE's 18th Annual Women in Hollywood Tribute held at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on October 17, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images For ELLE)
Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston (Photo by E. Charbonneau/WireImage for Bragman Nyman Cafarelli)
FRIENDS -- "The One with Rachel's Sister" Episode 13 -- Pictured: (l-r) Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, Reese Witherspoon as Jill Greene (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
FRIENDS -- "The One with Rachel's Sister" Episode 13 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, Reese Witherspoon as Jill Greene (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon during "Couture Cares" Benefiting the Revlon/UCLA Breast Center in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage for Bluprint)
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon (Photo by Michael Caulfield/WireImage for Bluprint)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

I know you spent some time with Diane Sawyer. What other journalists did you model Alex on?
All of them.

Did you watch “Today” episodes when Katie Couric was on?
I actually watched those live when I was growing up. But yeah, it was very interesting. I went to the DVR that I had of “Today” before Matt Lauer was fired and then the day he was fired, because that was so fascinating to see. Mitch Kessler is not based on him at all. He’s just sort of the archetype of all of the men that he’s representing.

There’s a scene where Mitch’s wife leaves him to go to the Hamptons that reminded me of Lauer.
Yes, sure. Who doesn’t live in the Hamptons on the East Coast? Who isn’t going to go to Amagansett or somewhere fancy for the weekend?

Are all the characters in “The Morning Show” meant to be fictional?
All fictional, but also kind of highlighting aspects of the archetype of a charming narcissist, of a generation of men that didn’t think that was bad behavior. That’s just the way it works. And men are flirts and women are coy and find it flattering. And thankfully, with the sacrifices of these women who have come forward, this isn’t going to happen anymore. It’s wonderful that you’re accountable and you have to check yourself.

Did you ever work with Harvey Weinstein?
I did one movie, “Derailed,” with Clive Owen.

Did you spend time with Harvey?
I had to. There was the premiere dinner. I remember I was sitting at the dinner table with Clive, and our producers and a friend of mine was sitting with me. And he literally came to the table and said to my friend: “Get up!” And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” And so my friend got up and moved and Harvey sat down. It was just such a level of gross entitlement and piggish behavior.

Did he ever try to bully you?
He knew better. I remember, right when [his ex-wife] Georgina’s clothing line Marchesa was starting. That’s when he came to visit me in London while we were shooting. He’d be like, “Ok, so I’d like you to wear one of these to the premiere.” And I went through the book, and at the time, it wasn’t what it is today. It was not for me. He was like, “You have to wear the dress.” That was my only bullying. And I was like, “No, I will not wear the dress.”

And he accepted that?
Well, what was he going to do? Come over here and make me wear it?!

19 PHOTOS
Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox together through the years
See Gallery
Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox together through the years
MALIBU, CA - JUNE 02: Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox attend the CHANEL Dinner Celebrating Our Majestic Oceans, A Benefit For NRDC on June 2, 2018 in Malibu, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)
MUST SEE TV: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE TO JAMES BURROWS -- Pictured: (l-r) Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, James Burrows, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox -- (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Actress Jennifer Aniston, designer Jennifer Meyer and actress Courteney Cox attend Barneys New York, Jennifer Aniston, and Tobey Maguire host a private dinner to celebrate The Barneys New York XO Jennifer Meyer Exclusive RTW Collaboration on November 18, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Barneys New York)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 20: Actress Jennifer Aniston and director Courteney Cox attend the Los Angeles Special Screening of 'Just Before I Go' at ArcLight Hollywood on April 20, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images for Darin Pfeiffer Consulting)
COUGAR TOWN - 'All Mixed Up' - Jennifer Aniston guest stars alongside Courteney Cox on the Season Two premiere of 'Cougar Town,' WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22 (9:31-10:00 p.m., ET) on ABC. Jules finds an instant connection with her new shrink, Glenn (Aniston), until she discovers the unfortunate but hilarious truth about her method of treatment; Ellie is jealous over Jules' fondness for Glenn; a bet between Laurie and Travis leads to a sweet sibling-like moment; and Bobby acts out his frustrations that Jules and Grayson are dating. (Photo by Karen Neal/ABC via Getty Images) COURTENEY COX, JENNIFER ANISTON
Actress Jennifer Aniston and honoree Courteney Cox Arquette attend the 2010 Crystal + Lucy Awards: A New Era at Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on June 1, 2010 in Century City, California.
CENTURY CITY, CA - JUNE 01: Honoree Courteney Cox Arquette and actress Jennifer Aniston arrive at the 2010 Crystal + Lucy Awards: A New Era at Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on June 1, 2010 in Century City, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: ***EXCLUSIVE*** Actresses Rita Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore, Courteney Cox and Kirsten Dunst arrive at the premiere of Glamour Reel Moments presented by Suave held at the Directors Guild of America on October 14, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: Actresses Courteney Cox (L) and Jennifer Aniston arrive at the premiere of Glamour Reel Moments presented by Suave held at the Directors Guild of America on October 14, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox-Arquette during 'The Tripper' Los Angeles Premiere - Red Carpet and Inside at Hollywood Forever Cemetary in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage for BWR Public Relations)
Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston (Photo by Paul Redmond/WireImage)
Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox Arquette during AFI Honors Hollywood's Arquette Family With The Sixth Annual 'Platinum Circle Awards' - Green Room and Show in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) Courteney Cox-Arquette and Jennifer Aniston *Exclusive* (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
BURBANK, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: (EXCLUSIVE, NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) Courteney Cox Arquette (L) and Jennifer Aniston smile on the set of the hit NBC series 'Friends' during one of their last shows on the Warner Bros lot Sept. 12, 2003 in Burbank, CA. 'Friends,' which is in its ninth and final season, debuted in 1994, has won 44 Emmys, and is one of the biggest successes in television history. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images) This image is not included in any subscription deal. Use of this image will incur a charge.
Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt & Courteney Cox (Photo by Steve Granitz Archive 1/WireImage)
Courteney Cox Arquette and Jennifer Aniston (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Courteney Cox Arquette, Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Cast members of 'Friends' winner for Best Comedy Series at the 54th Annual Emmy Awards. L-R: David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox Arquette, Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc. (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston from NBC show 'Friends' (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Do you think that the Me Too movement has led to permanent change in Hollywood?
Absolutely. I think there’s still room for improvement, but I think that kind of behavior is done. I think people have had the s— scared out of them. It’s also this big pendulum. Everybody has this new playbook and everybody’s trying to figure out what the new rules are. But what’s so wonderful about doing this show is that it is so unapologetically honest in terms of topics and the situations. It’s basically showing all sides. It’s showing how things are said behind closed doors during Me Too, that no one else has the balls to say in front of the world.

Have you been inspired by the wave of female empowerment that’s happening right now in Hollywood?
I think it’s an incredible moment. Look, there are unsung voices, unsung talent that has yet to be discovered. Our eye is now on that prize. You have to make people think it’s not a choice anymore. This is actually the new normal, as it should be. And I think it’s going to get better and better. Our show has six female producers. As a woman who has been in this business for 30 years, it’s been great and it’s been tough. And now here we are. We have the first show bought by Apple.

Did you have any reservations selling “The Morning Show” to Apple?
Yes and no. But I have to say the “no” outweighed the “yes,” because we knew what we were doing — even though they didn’t have walls yet or telephones.

How did you meet with them if they didn’t have walls?
They came to CAA. There was really something exciting about being the first at Apple. Apple is pretty awesome. They make cool stuff. Why wouldn’t they maybe make cool television? And they are all about quality, not quantity, so that was really appealing. And in spite of their comical secrecy, it’s been worth it. Who doesn’t want to be part of the Wild Wild West?

You’ve signed on for two seasons of “The Morning Show.” Could there be more?
If there’s stuff to talk about and if we’re not dead tired from it. I literally went into my covers for two weeks when we wrapped.

Why did you decide to return to TV?
It wasn’t until the last couple of years when these streaming services were just sort of exploding with this amount of quality that I actually started to think, “Wow, that’s better than what I just did.” And then you’re seeing what’s available out there and it’s just diminishing and diminishing in terms of, it’s big Marvel movies. Or things that I’m not just asked to do or really that interested in living in a green screen.

The movie business has changed dramatically.
It’s changed so much. I think we would so love to have the era of Meg Ryan come back. I just think it would be nice to go into a movie theater, sit cozy. I think we should have a resurgence. Let’s get the “Terms of Endearment” back out there. You know, “Heaven Can Wait,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Goodbye Girl.”

Do you think that all this content that the streaming services are producing is the new future of Hollywood? Or do you think that this is a phase?
I don’t know. I’m shocked this is where we are, but excited that this is where we are. I didn’t see it coming. I remember not understanding. What the hell does streaming mean? They’re like, “It’s there all the time.” So tuning in on Thursday nights at eight o’clock is not a thing anymore? Or you’re not going to the bathroom on a commercial break and someone yells, “It’s back on!” That doesn’t happen anymore? It’s kind of sad.

Were you surprised that WarnerMedia spent so much to buy the streaming rights to “Friends?”
I’m shocked. I’m amazed. And you’re welcome.

Why didn’t you ever do a “Friends” movie?
Because our producers wouldn’t want it, wouldn’t let us. Look, it’s not been without our desire to, because our fans have wanted it so much.

So there were points when the six of you would have done it?
It depends. I mean, we haven’t all sat in a room. But would we have loved to have done something together? Yeah. It would have been fun. We could have redesigned it for a couple episodes. But whatever. Maybe it’s better this way, but we’ll never know.

On Netflix, it feels like “Friends” is still one of the most watched shows in America.
I know. It’s a phenomenon that I am amazed by. To have a whole new generation of children adoring the show as much as they did back in the day when it was airing for the first time is incredible. I want to know what people love so much about it, because there wasn’t any of this. Now most people’s consumption is the [phone] screen, which I’m very conflicted about. If you can’t drive until you’re 16 and you can’t drink until you’re 21, why should you be allowed to have social media? Like to have a distraction that prevents you from learning to connect with people?

Do you think there should be an age limit for social media?
I don’t know. I don’t have kids. I just know that I’m watching my girlfriends’ children and they’re all struggling because of social media. Do you know that mental health has gone through the roof? And primarily what they’ve discovered, it’s because of social media. It’s compare and despair, over and over again. Do they like me? Do they not like me? Am I good enough? It’s hard enough as it is being a kid without the damn “likes” or “not likes.” I wish they would remove the “like.” Why do they need them? Why do we need a comments section, where these trolls with no lives try to be hurtful?

But going back to “Friends,” I think the reason that it still continues to be popular is that the its thesis was that you don’t need a romantic partner if your friends are everything. That was an idea that was ahead of its time.
Right, right, right. It makes you happy. Even when I stumble on it, it makes me happy. I love it and I’ve also forgotten most of it, so it’s really fun for me to rediscover.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Entertainment Insider by AOL to get the hottest pop culture news delivered straight to your inbox!

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.