After a seven-year run on The Good Wife, three-time Emmy winner Julianna Margulies is more selective than ever about where she lands. In joining The Morning Show as Laura Peterson, an anchor who, after being outed in the ’90s and losing her position at the titular show, re-emerges as one of the country’s top journalists, Margulies says the opportunity to portray an LGBTQ character at the top of her game was too good to pass up. Here, she discusses her chemistry with on-screen love interest Reese Witherspoon, a powerplay with Jennifer Aniston and the feeling of portraying extreme confidence.
DEADLINE: You can be really discerning in terms of work at this point in your career. What was it about The Morning Show that fulfilled your criteria?
JULIANNA MARGULIES: One, I was already a huge fan of the show. Two, I had never played a character like Laura Peterson. I thought that she was so smartly written, and it was such a privilege to play an LGBTQ character that was so accomplished and confident and had this incredible track history of success, but also had gone through the wringer herself so that she could get to the place where she wanted to be. She’s really fun to play. Also, working with everybody there. Mimi Leder happens to be their executive producer-slash-director, and she and I came up on ER together. And the first person to direct the first episode I did was Lesli Linka Glatter, who not only directed me on ER, but also on The Good Wife. It really felt like a safe environment to explore this kind of a character in the middle of a pandemic.
DEADLINE: What was especially appealing about Laura Peterson?
MARGULIES: One of the things that I find so interesting about her is, this is a woman who really has her life together. I’ve heard from numerous people how much she means to them, in that they’re finally seeing a character on television who is LGBTQ and portrayed with such incredible confidence and smarts and knows where she’s going in life. She’s not a caricature. What I am curious about and what I’d love to explore more is, how far in does she get with Bradley (Witherspoon)? Where is that line between sexual attraction and common sense for Laura? Does she fall so madly in love with Bradley that she isn’t able to bring herself back to who she knows? In creating that, I want to know, who are her friends, who’s guiding her? We all have people in our lives and, in Season 2, you didn’t see that with Laura. You just saw her in their environment. I would love to see Laura in her environment with other LGBTQ friends, with other people. I want to hear what they’re saying about this. And where’s her family? Kerry Ehrin, when she created Laura, told me that Laura was from a very well-educated, liberal New York family. When she came out to them, her family was not accepting. I’d love to explore that, because I think it’s what so many of the LGBTQ community experience.
DEADLINE: Did portraying someone so together and self-assured have an effect on you?
MARGULIES: It’s such a relief. (Laughs) One of the reasons I love acting is because I love putting on someone else’s shoes. When the lines are written for you and the character’s there, I can unapologetically be that character, whereas when you’re your own person in life, you have to tread lightly. You don’t want to come on too strong or too this or too that. When I get to play a character, all of that goes out the window and I just can dive into who the character is on the page and create her physically. That, for me, is freedom. I find a tremendous amount of freedom in acting, and it probably stems from my childhood of always being in the wrong outfit, the wrong shoes, the wrong country and the wrong accent. I never felt as together as Laura Peterson does, but I also know that she’s human. In order not to make her a caricature, I’d love to see some of the sides of her that are more vulnerable to things that people might not know about and how she would handle that.
DEADLINE: There’s also a mentor quality to her, which can be good, but in a relationship also quite confining.
MARGULIES: Absolutely. I mean, you don’t always want to be the mentor. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to ask someone else for their advice in a relationship. I know that in my own marriage, it’s such a give-and-take all the time. What keeps it balanced is that I know I can ask my husband, “What do you think of this?” And whatever he says, I’m going to respect that answer. I don’t know with Bradley and Laura how much of Bradley’s advice Laura would take at face value.
DEADLINE: And can one person take on a mothering role without starting to feel like a parent?
MARGULIES: That’s the thing, right? They always say, there’s flowers and then there’s gardeners, and that’s how people set up a relationship. You’re the flower. You get watered all the time. And then there’s the gardener who always takes care of you. I don’t think that’s a healthy relationship. I think you both have to be gardeners and you both have to be flowers at different times in order to find the yin-yang in a relationship. Otherwise, it’s going to be one-sided, and I don’t know how sexy or fun that is after a while.
DEADLINE: How did you and Reese go about developing this relationship? In your first scene together, the chemistry seems so obvious in retrospect, but I didn’t see where that was going in the moment.
MARGULIES: I don’t think anyone did, especially them. With Reese, it’s easy. She knows how to play with other actors. I’m so grateful that it was her I got to do these scenes with, because it all depends on your chemistry as human beings as well. You can’t make that up. It’s either there or it’s not. And I think Reese was very excited to see Bradley go in a different direction than she had been going. I also think it’s important that this character, who’s been guided by Alex (Aniston) and Cory (Billy Crudup), who all have ulterior motives, gets to see herself through someone else’s eyes. I think a big part of what made the relationship work in the second season was that Laura says, “They’re not using you in the right way, you’re more than that.” I think that’s a lightning bolt moment for Bradley, because she’s hearing it from someone who she’s respected her whole life—possibly one of the reasons she became a journalist. So, for Bradley to hear that from her, I think it’s one of the biggest moments in Season 2 for Bradley to move forward in who she is as a person.
DEADLINE: Laura shows us how far we’ve come in terms of representation and being open about who we are, but when their relationship becomes public, it still upends Bradley’s life. What do you think that arc says about how far—or not—we’ve come in terms public acceptance?
MARGULIES: I think we haven’t come far enough, but I also think we’ve come at least far enough where you won’t lose your job over it. I think that’s what the whole show is about. It started out with the #MeToo movement and what was happening to women in the news environment behind the camera. And I think we’ve made many steps forward and quite a few steps back. But I think what also makes the show so delicious is this fodder for gossip. One of my favorite scenes in the show is when Alex comes in and says, “Why don’t you like me?” And my character paints the picture of what Alex’s reaction to her being gay did to her—and paints it in very broad strokes so the whole audience can understand that. I think it brings awareness to what idle gossip can do to someone’s life. Hopefully, people watching that can look into their own [actions]. I certainly did when I read the scene. I thought, “Gosh, have I ever just flippantly said something just for gossip’s sake?” It makes you much more aware of how something that may not feel important to you can upend another person’s life. Words have power, and, said in the wrong way, words can destroy. Especially in the world of social media, these 40-character sentences that people are writing off the cuff, or because they’re feeling angry, these things have consequences.
DEADLINE: That scene is also the bookend to your arc with Jennifer. There is the steely introduction of your character interviewing Alex, and then that last conversation where the nature of their relationship is illuminated. When you shot that first scene, I assume you knew why Laura is so cool towards Alex.
MARGULIES: Yes. But, for me, the most interesting part about shooting that scene is knowing that it’s a favor she’s doing for Cory. She has spent the past 20 years trying to stay away from Alex because she’s not interested in hanging out with her. It’s not so much that Laura dislikes Alex. It’s that Alex has nothing to offer Laura, so Laura’s just going to stay away. What I loved about the power dynamic was that I think Alex’s character has this whole idea of what Laura’s after, but—at least I hope this is what the audience saw—I only wanted Laura to do her job, which is to get the truth. It’s all about Mitch (Steve Carell) and this book that’s coming out, and I don’t think Laura really cares one way or another whether Alex slept with Mitch. I think what Laura cares about is the truth and how that impacts every woman working in the news. And by doing that, it actually elevates Laura. Until Alex can just say, “This is who I am,” she can’t be herself, and Laura already went through that. So, it was a very clever way, I thought, of the writers almost mirroring what Laura went through 20 years before when she was outed. There’s a freedom in saying, “Yeah, I’m gay. I’m no longer hiding. This is who I am.” There was a freedom for Alex’s character at the end to say, “Yeah, slept with Mitch. This is who I am. Fire me.” Right there, suddenly she’s free of these ridiculous, weighty lies.
DEADLINE: Playing a news reporter and a morning anchor, were you channeling anyone?
MARGULIES: I tried to make Laura her own person. People are immediately going to go to, “She’s a Diane Sawyer. She’s a Katie Couric.” I also felt that she had a lot of Christiane Amanpour in her because when she got fired, she went back into fieldwork. She went back into the war zones. She went back into scary places and said, “I am a journalist first and foremost,” and I think that’s her truth. Laura is exactly who she is because of the job she’s chosen. It takes a lot of guts to be on the field in the middle of a war zone, risking your life to tell the truth. That’s also the silver lining of something horrible happening, when you get outed against your will and then fired for preferring women to men. What it did for her was it brought her back to herself and what she really wanted in life, and that was to be a real journalist.
DEADLINE: Hosting a morning show seems really challenging. At one point, you’re going through death toll stats for COVID and then you’re singing a handwashing song. And it just has to flow.
MARGULIES: You have to sell it all. In the end, you’re trying to get people to tune into your network, so you have to look like you’re interested, and the only way to do that is to be interested. And I think for Laura, it was fun for her to go and do The Morning Show, because first of all, she’d been there, done that, but also there was a lightness to it that she could enjoy.
DEADLINE: Laura and Bradley’s story was perhaps a bit eclipsed by Covid and Mitch towards the end. Is there more in store for Season 3?
MARGULIES: I honestly can tell you I don’t know. I hope so. I have not gotten a script yet, so I can’t say anything. And I’m sure even if I had gotten a script, I wouldn’t be allowed to say anything. But I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what they write for her.