Across several decades of TV, the presence of Julianna Margulies has been a hallmark of greatness. Back in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, she was a key player in mega-hit medical drama E.R. After that, she led the critically-acclaimed legal drama The Good Wife for seven seasons. And now, she’s joined the cast of Apple TV+ drama The Morning Show for its second season – playing an evening news anchor who could help Jennifer Aniston’s Alex and Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley on their comeback trail.
Speaking to the Pilot TV podcast, Margulies opened up about her entrance on the show, her long history with Jennifer Aniston, and why – like the rest of us – she’s currently hooked on Ted Lasso. Read the full interview here.
PILOT TV: Laura Peterson is a spectacularly fascinating character coming into The Morning Show Season 2. What did you think when you first heard about her?
JULIANNA MARGULIES: Kerry Ehrin, who wrote the show, called and said, ‘We have this character, we would love to talk to you about her.’ They explained to me who she was – this star anchor at UBA who has her own one-hour news show, and how she’s brought in to interview Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) for their comeback moment. She had given me this whole history about how Laura Peterson is a lesbian who had been outed in the late ’90s, and fired from a show like The Morning Show for being gay, and how she walked through the fire to get back to her journalistic roots, to become the star she became, and also to be completely confident in who she was as a human being.
She’s really the only character on the show that has no skeletons in her closet. She is exactly who she is when you meet her. And to throw her into this chaos, and the insecurity of this firestorm that’s happened on the set of The Morning Show; and the chaos of Bradley, who’s just a hot wet mess; and a little bit of animosity towards her from Alex; the old friendships that she’s had with Chip (Mark Duplass) and with Cory (Billy Crudup) especially, who brings her in and knows she’s the golden ticket that maybe can calm this all down… I really see Laura as the the one standing amidst the storm that’s literally whipping around her. She’s going, ‘Is that how you want to live your life? Is that comfortable?’
She’s got kind of a zen quality to her as everyone’s being hysterical around her. She’s very calm and assured. She’s formidable.
She knows who she is. And she also knows what it was like to live in fear of someone knowing that she was gay. And once she overcomes that and doesn’t give a shit, and is completely confident in who she is, she has no skin in the game. She’s already there. I mean, what a privilege to play that in the midst of watching Alex literally melting down. And Bradley, who I think she’s fascinated by, and yet says to her very strongly, ‘I don’t want the chaos.’ Bradley sees her more as a lifeboat. You know, like, ‘Oh, I’ve been hanging on to all the people that make me crazy. Maybe I should go where it’s calm?’ So it’s it’s really fun. It’s a fun journey to be on with them.
When we meet you in Episode 3, Billy Crudup’s character Cory says “You put the ‘L’ into LGBTQ” – that’s the first thing he says to you. That’s a very clever little bit of writing there. There’s no messing about – you’re ‘L’, and it’s established.
That’s right. And it’s important too, because it’s not played up a lot at all. It’s only played up – and this is where it’s so interesting – to try and disadvantage her and Bradley. And so you look at it and see, again, 20 years later, the same shit’s happening. There was a moment there where Reese and I did a really moving scene where she’s freaking out in her dressing room, and I’m trying to comfort her. This is how good the writing is – I had one line at the door where I say to her: “And, by the way, it really sucks what happened.” And I kept tearing up when I said it, because that’s not what I wanted my character to do at all. But saying those words, it felt like someone had stabbed her all over again, and she had healed those wounds. But those wounds are always on the surface, you know? And so just by saying those lines – I’m paraphrasing, I don’t quite remember what the exact lines were – I kept saying, ‘Can you just give me a minute?’ Because I wanted to say them very strong, even though she really wanted to cry.
Jennifer Aniston and I were getting 40 million viewers a week.
That’s a great scene. Your big first scene is this tête-à-tête with Jennifer Aniston’s Alex, where you’re interviewing her and you’re bringing up these things that she doesn’t want brought up – how much fun is that, just to have a huge centrepiece, one-on-one with her?
So fun. Well, first of all, you have to understand the history. Jen and I came out [of the gate] on television literally on the same studio lot. We were one airplane hangar away from each other shooting our shows [E.R and Friends]. Same night, Thursday night TV, and we were part of ‘Must-see TV’, which I guess was the golden age of [network] television – that was, like, the moment. Now we’re having a resurgence of that in a different way. We came out of the gate exactly at the same time, with the same amount of viewership. It was crazy, we were getting 40 million viewers a week. They were the number one sitcom, we were the number one drama, every week, for years. So then to be sitting there interviewing her 20-some odd years later, and both of us going, ‘Are you- this is crazy.’ If we had looked into a magic ball where we were sitting then, to where we are now? Never in a million years. It was great, it was really fun.
One of the joys of The Morning Show is its depiction of the egomania, the self-absorption and the hysteria in American breakfast TV. You must have done your fair share of interviews – have you witnessed that kind of behavior yourself?
[Laughs] No, I can’t say that I have. When you’re doing those interviews, they’re all on their best behaviour. You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes at all. I’ve only actually really had good times on those shows, except that it’s always way too early in the morning to get ready for them. But I always marvel at the camaraderie – because first of all, it’s five days a week, and it really does start so early. But I do know a few of those people. I’m friends with Gayle King, I’m friends with Katie Couric. I had the luxury of asking them what it’s really like. My character happens to not be a morning show person, she’s a nighttime person. But she used to be, and I think she also holds that a little over Jennifer Aniston’s head. It’s not that she has any animosity towards her – she’s past that. But the competition must continue, right, otherwise what’s the point? Aren’t we all competitive? We all want to do well in our field. So that was kind of fun to play too. But I’ve never actually seen that in person, no.
You mentioned the era of network TV – you had two huge shows which were both incredible examples of network TV risk-taking. Is it very different to do an Apple show, to do streaming? Apart from the fact that you can swear and do more explicit sex scenes. Did you enjoy the difference?
Yeah. Honestly, I’ve been so lucky with great writing on two big network shows. But I’ll tell you what the difference is for me. It wasn’t so much about being able to swear, as it was that they have the time and the luxury of only doing ten episodes. There’s no beating clock saying, ‘We need Episode 5!’ There’s no filler episode, because we’re only doing ten. I always felt so bad for the writers on The Good Wife and E.R.. They never had a break. They’re always writing, writing, writing, writing. We would get two-month hiatuses, they would only get three weeks to take a break. How can you keep coming up with new stuff? How can you refresh? How can you keep going? And with streaming, you do 10 episodes.
I did the very last season of The Sopranos – I think I was in five or six episodes. And I used to joke with Michael Imperioli and James Gandolfini – I had done 160 episodes of E.R., I hadn’t done The Good Wife yet, but I’d done 156 episodes of that – that their six seasons took ten years to make. Six seasons! I don’t even think they got to 40 episodes in six seasons, and I had done 156 episodes – that is such a difference between streaming and network. I really don’t think I could ever do another network show after experiencing what it’s like to have the luxury of time.
That’s interesting. You’ve written your memoir – would you like to write and create your own streaming show?
Create my own show? That’s an interesting question. It’s so funny, someone just said to me, ‘Why aren’t you making your memoir into a movie? There’s so many great scenes in there.’ And I thought, ‘Oh my god, it took me four years to write it – I don’t think I want to live there anymore.’ It’s a lot of work. I miss the process of my morning ritual of writing every day, but I don’t know how I would be with dialogue. I’ve never tried it, and I really think there’s some beautiful writers out there that I would love to support and say their words. I miss [The Good Wife creators] Robert and Michelle King so much, because I used to say, ‘I love how Alicia answers every question.’ I don’t think I’m clever enough to do a show, I really don’t!
Did it remind you of how this show also taps into incredible topical ideas and news? I mean, the Cobra coverage, it strikes me, is a bit similar to how The Good Wife worked in that sense – stories torn from the headlines.
Yeah. It’s such an interesting time, right, because I think collectively as a world, we’ve gone through a really rough year and a half. And I know, at the end of the day, the only thing I want to watch right now is Ted Lasso. It makes me happy. It makes my kid happy. We laugh, we go to bed with a smile on our face rather than feeling anxious. There’s so much anxiety in the world right now.
As someone who’s in the entertainment industry, I’m getting offers and things are coming in, and I was having a zoom call with a a streaming platform, and they said, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to limit myself by telling you what I want to do. But let me tell you what I don’t want to do: I don’t want to murder anyone. I don’t want to solve a crime. I don’t want to be raped. I don’t want to be the victim. I don’t want to be a doctor, curing someone from something. I want to entertain people. I want people to walk away feeling good in their heart.’ Because right now, I feel like we all need a Ted Lasso in our lives, you know? We need to walk away feeling a little light-hearted. That’ll change with the times, because everything does – right now I’d like to stay a little… It can be on topic, but with humor.
Maybe a guest role in Ted Lasso.
The Morning Show streams on Apple TV+ on Fridays.