Mark Duplass knows the secret to his success when it comes to acting roles, including his latest turn as the executive producer of the network television news morning broadcast in Apple TV+’s “The Morning Show.”
“For better or worse, it’s a whispery secret. I’m a good supporting white dude actor who knows how to get inside a scene and not hog it from the movie stars,” he said as we caught up with him by phone as he was walking down the street in New York City after the new series premiered there earlier this week.
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, “The Morning Show” is one of only nine originals that are premiering on the brand-new streaming service on Friday, Nov. 1.
Three of the ten hour-long episodes will be available to subscribers as the richest tech company in the world joins the ever-expanding fray of direct-to-consumer streamers, competing with Netflix, Amazon and Hulu — and soon, Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock.
The first thing viewers will see is Duplass’s character, Chip Black, in the newsroom. It’s the middle of the night and he’s just taken a call that will throw his whole staff and the entire network into chaos.
Taking pages from the ripped from the headlines stories of the past two years about women coming forward with accusations of sexual misconduct, assault and even rape against prominent network anchors including Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Bill O’Reilly and film and television executives like Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves and Roger Ailes,
“The Morning Show” begins with its own #MeToo moment involving its anchorman, Mitch Kessler, played by Carell.
The series was originally intended to be about the world of morning network news until all hell broke loose with #MeToo in October 2017 with the publication of eventual Pulitzer Prize-winning stories alleging Weinstein’s long history of sexual predation.
More fuel was poured on that fire with the recent publication of Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill,” which delves into his reporting on the Weinstein story and also includes graphic allegations about Lauer’s sexual misconduct with employees of NBC News, which Lauer, like Weinstein, has denied, saying all the sexual interactions were consensual.
“The #MeToo movement is really at the forefront and it’s an illuminating process for me to dig into and listen to the four female creators and the female showrunner. My whole job was to shut up and listen,” said Duplass, who is also a writer, and with his brother Jay Duplass, producer of shows including HBO’s “Room 104” and Netflix’s “Wild Wild Country.” He’s also recently had memorable roles in “Goliath” and on the big screen with Charlize Theron in “Tully.”
In a zeitgeist-y confluence of news business sexual misconduct subject matter, he’ll next be seen opposite Theron in “Bombshell,” about the Ailes scandal at Fox News, set for release Dec. 20.
Aniston and Witherspoon have also been out heavily promoting “The Morning Show.” In an interview Thursday with “CBS This Morning” anchor Gayle King, they said the message of their new series is for men to “check themselves out the door.”
The two women met on the set of “Friends” nearly 20 years ago and had been looking for a project to do together.
Witherspoon, who plays up-and-coming reporter Bradley Jackson in the series, said this project felt perfect for them, even though the initial concept changed.
“We had to pause and kind of rethink and regroup,” Aniston said. “And it was very important — how we sort of hit this in terms of tone, to not try to take any sides or be, you know, too black and white.”
“I think this is happening in real life, where men are looking at each other saying, ‘I wasn’t as bad as that guy,'” King said, and then asked about the show’s message.
“There are the absolutely monsters consciously doing these disgusting things. And then there’s the narcissists that just assume every woman wants to. And, of course, you’re going to come to my — that’s just … that’s not out of the ordinary at all,” Aniston said.
King asked whether there’s space for redemption and due process for men after being accused of misconduct because “the man is instantly found guilty in the court of public opinion.”
“I think there’s great growth and development by us finally listening to women who are survivors. And really believing. But you’re completely right. I mean, I think people — due process is certainly a situation that you have to believe in,” Witherspoon said.
She talked about how roles for women have changed. “We weren’t put in leadership positions before. And now people are taking us seriously. People are wanting us to be the leaders, where that wasn’t even an opportunity that we had even seven years ago to be producers of our own material,” Witherspoon said. “That was sort of, like, ‘OK, we’ll just tell her she’s a producer, but don’t really listen to her ideas.'”
“I’ve been in rooms where I said, ‘Are there any women at this company, because I don’t want to work here if I don’t see a woman in the room the next time I come in.’ But, you know, by the way, I went outside the room and I was shaking,” Witherspoon said. “I was, like, ‘Am I gonna get in trouble? Am I gonna lose the deal? Am I gonna lose the job?’ And I was, like, ‘Screw it. Screw it.’ If I lose the job, I didn’t wanna work there anyway. And you know what? I went back and they brought a bunch of women into the room.”
Duplass’s Chip Black character struggles to deal with many such workplace complications in his close but often rocky working relationship with Aniston, which he describes as similar to a husband and wife who take each other for granted.
In real life, they had a much different relationship. “What I really appreciate working so closely with Jen is what a great boss she is. She’s a lead actor and producer with a lot on her plate. She’s such a generous person who should be guarded and closed, but she is wildly open and sweet. She taught me a lot, and I was inspired by how she handled everything,” he said.
Aniston plays Alex Levy, Kessler’s co-host, a broadcast veteran forced into carrying the ball — and holding on to her power — after his sudden departure following their 15 years together on air.
“There are guys who look and felt like Chip, part of Hollywood’s toxic masculinity, and my job is to portray how it made them feel,” said Duplass. “What I think audiences can hope for is something unique. This is ten hours of TV with this huge cast of characters and how they reacted — everyone from the PA’s to the talent bookers — as they see people who abused the power of live television.”
Black is forged from an amalgamation of news executive producers, and not any one person in particular. Rather than shadowing a morning EP and hanging out in newsrooms, the production had TV news consultants on set for the actors.
“There are mundane aspects of the job, like the channels of communication and what headsets they use, but the larger complexities of doing two to four hours of live TV, knowing everything that’s going on, adds to the massive controversy. He’s like Captain Kirk preventing the Enterprise from going down,” Duplass said.
Asked about a line in the pilot in which Black says, “There’s always a need for quality, reliable journalism,” Duplass said his character sees himself as the last bastion of journalistic integrity.
“He chose to hold that line and do it in [the arena of] morning eyeballs. I would never try what Chip is trying to do; the impossible in an impossible place. Do I believe we have integrity and truth in journalism? I’d like to.”
(The first three episodes of “The Morning Show” premiere on Apple TV+ as the streaming service debuts Friday, Nov. 1. The remaining seven will be released each Friday starting Nov. 8.)