NEW YORK – Pull back the curtain on early morning TV. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steve Carell, this unapologetically candid drama looks at the modern workplace through the lens of the people who help America wake up every morning. We joined a Q&A with Mark Duplass who plays Charlie “Chip” Black, the Executive Producer of The Morning Show.
The way this show jumps right into the kind of mania of cleaning up this situation in the first indication we get of that is your face just lying there. So talk to us a bit about getting inside the mindset of this character who is basically absorbing all the anxiety around him.
The life of a producer is obviously not that dissimilar from a film set to something like this. I think that the more I was around the culture of this meaning our version of it, you start to realize that two hours of live television 5 days a week, it just takes a big toll on you because of all the different variables that can go wrong and you get such this wonderful adrenaline jolt. In order to do this job, no social life, no romantic life, terrible eating and sleeping habits. I guess that was the the basic way into it for me. Then, the question was, how do we make this thing grow into something and a lot of that was in the writing. I also think Jennifer Aniston is a very special person, I didn’t know her that well going into this but she’s got a deep humanity to her and an our story line has a lot of fun stuff.
The first time we see you guys together she’s just yelling at you. What was it like to go through those scenes with her and figure out what level you want in the volume to go?
We talked a lot about, there’s somewhere between work wife and husband, brother and sister but I don’t know if you have ever been to couple therapy or anything like that, the first thing that always comes up is you are giving all of your good energy to everybody else and then you shit on the person that is closest to you when you get home and you’re tired, cause you feel safe and you know they’ll never leave you. That’s basically what she does to Chip and a little bit about what he does to her.
From a research standpoint, did you talk to people who have done these things?
I talked to a couple of directors and executive producers and they basically said every show is wildly different, some of them are more obsessed with cameras, some of them are more obsessed with stories, some of them are always overstepping their bounds with the segment producers so what that meant for me is I had a lot of choices to build this. The thing that I really liked was that you know Chip and Alex came up together, he was her personal producer before he became the head producer and I think he has a hard time letting go of that closeness and that relationship and I think that he’s done pretty much everything right to rise in this world, which is I guess what I discovered is you have to completely give up any notion of self and desire and what you want. It’s just the total obliteration of ego, you do whatever is required to lift the show up and he does that because he sees himself as one of the last bastions of journalistic integrity left and he decided to do it in The Morning Show, which I thought was really cool cause it’s the kind of the way I would think, where’s the biggest audience, where the eyeballs. He knew it was a Herculean almost impossible task so he said to himself I’m gonna have to do everything that’s required, lie, cheat, steal but there’re some people he won’t do that with and that’s really where the big complexity of Chips’s storyline is. Ultimately there are things that he loves and he won’t sacrifice that.
You’ve often been drawn to improv, this is a very polished TV show which I assume allows for less leeway in that respect, how do you bring that sensibility to the set given the kind of actor you are?
There’s almost Sorkin-like quality through some of the dialogues in this, it’s mellifluous and poetic and it begs to be spoken as written which is not traditionally either what I’m hired for or what I’m known for and it was it ended up being a really good marriage of what I do which is I tried to add something so that subconsciously it feels a little bit more real and Kerry Ehrin who’s our showrunner was really into that and really having a couple of characters who did that; they would always joke ‘Oh Mark is here so it’s time to have the humanized, more naturalistic documentary approach to what this character would be’ and I was craving it when I would read the pages. I would say I just want to make sure we’re not doing five minutes walk and talk down the hall that feel too rehearsed and we’re hitting the points and so I would occasionally throw things in that were a little off and I would stop early and try to just create a little bit of chaos just to get the shaggy vibe going. I didn’t have to fight for that, they were all into that. I remember there is a scene with Reese and and it happens down a hallway and I know we had 47 minutes to shoot this scene so I said ‘let’s block it out, I’m not gonna overlap anything but you gotta promise me you’re gonna give me one at the end of each of it where we’re able to do our thing‘ and they ended up using all that in the show and for me bringing my unique value to something like this it’s incredible.
When you started out you were doing all these kind of smaller indie films, the Puffy Chair was released almost 15 years ago, it’s such a unique kind of ecosystem. When it comes to acting in film and TV, how do you sort of navigate those two worlds separately?
For an actor like me, it’s kind of impossible to make a living in making traditionally made independent films so a lot of that really interesting storytelling has made its way into television which is why a lot of us are there and this is no secret so I am drawn to that just because there’re really good stories, there’re really good either filmmakers or television writers who now have this wonderful opportunity. I try to ask myself the question,’is this important? does this have a place?’, someone will bring me an idea like this is great this is exciting, in 2005 we definitely would have made this, ‘should we do this right now?’ and that’s becoming a harder question for me. It’s a little easier as an actor as opposed to a creator so like when shows like The Morning Show comes to me and I think to myself ‘okay, what’s this all about try and like you know go into meditation mode of like is this the right thing I’m like well we’ve got Reese and Jen as executive producers for something they squarely believe in and you can feel from them when I was talking to them early on all these wonderful dialogue scenes that are their characters but it’s also them and I wanted to be able to be a part of their coming forward and telling this story and to be number five on the cast list and be in support of that kind of thing and while selfishly I’m gonna share it with all these amazing movie stars and they’re incredible and Apple’s gonna put it out so I know it’s gonna get seen that becomes more important to me now.
Was The Morning Show a big time commitment?
More than I thought it was. When you’re signing on to like the fourth or fifth billing role, a lot of times it’ll be like ‘we know you’re busy but you’re going to be on set two days a week’ and then what happened here is that they ended up rewriting a bunch of these in order to incorporate the Me Too movement in a much more meaningful way to reflect what was happening in the culture at the same time and I’m just the kind of actor who was always gonna be available because I’m was in LA with my kids dropping them off at school and I’m writing and they always knew they could call me and get me to set and be reliable and do the walk and talk and hit the marks and make a scene work so when a lot of the new scenes came up to be writing it’s like ‘well Billy’s back in New York and where’s Jen? We got to write a two person scene it’s gonna be someone else’ and Mark happened. That’s why my role kept kind of increasing because I was a little bit of the X Factor of what the production was.
Are you going to dive right into season two?
I think we’re gonna go right in a couple of months. I am there quite a bit but I don’t know it just all seems to work out: we shot at the Sony stages in Culver City in Los Angeles and then I run a show called Room 104 for HBO and so I was like, ‘well these are gonna overlap so I’ll just have my my two places next to each other’ so the stages were right next to each other and have one trailer and I was like Mrs. Doubtfire where you change into one costume and go back and do all the things and it worked.
- Here is The Morning Show Official Trailer