Greta Lee on The Morning Show and Working With Her “Hero” Jennifer Aniston
In the second season of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, the cast welcomes a new character: Stella Bak (Greta Lee), a young, competent Korean American woman who has “diversity hire” written all over her. She comes in hot: Stella’s not in an entry-level position, she’s the new head of news, taking Cory’s (Billy Crudup) old job now that he’s been promoted.
The Morning Show’s second season aims to tackle hot-button topics like sexual harassment in the workplace and “cancel culture,” which especially occupy the minds of the leads Mitch (Steve Carell) and Alex (Jennifer Aniston). Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) is probably also interested, but this season her story is wrapped up in an unexpected romance with another TV journalist, Laura (Julianna Margulies).
In a show dominated by white characters with big personalities, Stella has to hold her own, delivering biting advice and cool takedowns that belie her apparent youth and inexperience. Stella, like the repeatedly sidelined anchor Daniel (Desean Terry), offers The Morning Show a way to address race in the workplace—sometimes overtly, and sometimes entirely in the way they’re spoken to during an otherwise ordinary meeting.
I spoke to Lee about being the fictional television network’s token Asian—and how, as the season’s timeline starts to catch up to the coronavirus pandemic, her character is used to depict anti–Asian American hate.
Vanity Fair: To be honest, I should start by saying I really related to your character. You’re a new employee at this big company full of white people with really big, domineering personalities. You are this young employee, a newcomer, and everyone else at the company knows each other. You’ve been brought in because this organization needs a professional hand to keep things organized. And yet whenever you walk into a room, it seems like no one’s happy you’re there. Everybody is mean to you. Practically every character you encounter talks about your appearance in some way. I felt like you were facing a firing squad.
Greta Lee: Well, of course I wanted to play this character in a dynamic way on television.
Because having lived in New York, and just by watching my peers, people like you, Sonia, who are navigating this world, and this moment and having opportunities — some of them — to step up and implement real, actual efficacious change at their workplace environment, and then seeing: Well, then what happens? I just thought that was such an exciting place to approach a character and — as a fan of the show, what an amazing addition to this already established world.
It was so important to me to show a person of color, a female, trying to operate effectively within a giant white institution. Like, what is that? What does that look like? There are so many different things to negotiate—endless things that are really uncomfortable and hard, and questions which I don’t know the answer to. The show doesn’t either, and I think that’s great, because the world doesn’t know.
When you were going into scenes and someone was going to comment on how young and inexperienced you were, or something like that, was that something that you felt like you needed to do any prep for?
Yeah. I went to a dermatologist. I laid on the pressure to my doctor, and let her know: Jennifer Aniston is going to comment on how good my skin is.
In my personal life as a 30-something Asian American navigating my own trajectory, of course that’s something that I’ve experienced firsthand. So often when I go to work, there’s a sense of like: Who are you? And that awkward moment when they realize.
To their credit, often when I’m meeting a coworker for the first time it’s 4:30 in the morning, it’s dark outside, I’m wearing childlike pajamas. They actually think for a minute I’m like 22 years old. The horror of the day when they realize I’m closer to 40!
I was so happy to have that implemented into the show with Jennifer Aniston, one of my heroes, and to have that play out in a true-life way—I mean, that’s the thing that I live and die for in this business.
I love that she is one of your heroes, because she does not like you on screen.
I don’t like her on screen! We basically hate each other. It makes my palms sweat just thinking about it now. But in the end, it proved to be helpful to jump into an already established show with these people I admired for so long. To not be given the opportunity to fall into my own personal fandom, and intimidation — like I just did not have time to do that.
The show is unlike any other in that it’s so athletic. It’s a sweaty show. And there’s no time to stop and think: Oh my god, Jen’s eyes really are that blue. But then I will miss, and I can’t. We’re playing ball in a very aggressive, fast-paced way. So thank god Stella comes in so hot and is so dismissive of everyone.
I love the position that Stella’s placed in terms of the storytelling. All of these incredibly beloved characters, beloved by the audience. I have to come in and kind of box with them. That was terrifying. But also thrilling for me, as a performer, to see like: O.K., how am I going to step up to the plate and do that?
You also share a lot of combative moments with Billy Crudup’s character, Cory—who used to have Stella’s job and, as of season two, is now her boss. You guys have a really interesting dynamic where you keep trying to get him to do things that are more professional… and he keeps not.
He is such an exceptional artist. To do those scenes with him, I really wanted to lean into our respective differing points of view. But also if you look away for a minute, they’re also weirdly the same person, like, spun out into different galaxies. I thought that was so interesting and smart to do it that way. And to see how their relationship changes and progresses over the season.
In last week’s episode, Stella is subjected to a racist tirade on the street, and when the weatherman Yanko Flores (Nestor Carbonell) witnesses it, he starts physically fighting the guy who started it. After someone films it and it becomes an incident, Stella’s put in the position of disciplining Yanko for his behavior.
Yeah. It’s in the nature of just how prescient the show is, and how much it wants to move towards the uncomfortable realities of the world in real time while we were making it. It was, in my opinion, a true reflection of what is really happening for all of us in terms of cancel culture, and Black Lives Matter, and COVID, and anti-Asian hate crimes — I mean, that they weren’t neat little boxes that can exist separately. That was what was made for such an incredibly challenging time. All of these things were coming together, coming to a head, at the same time.
It was important to me if we were going to portray anti-Asian hate—how do we do it while also presenting the full context in which it was happening? So I was so happy that we could layer in Yanko, who’s Cuban American. There are certain assumptions that are made—O.K., two people with an immigrant history—best friends! That’s obviously not what happens. I felt like that was much truer to real life and what what I’ve experienced personally. Personal solidarity sometimes can’t translate in the way you want in a corporate environment.
Holland Taylor’s character’s really mean to you. Like everyone’s, again, really mean to you!
I’m so glad you’re saying that, because I have heard other people express just how mean Stella seems to them. I think there’s room for people to feel differently. But that’s what’s so great about her and how she’s been set up.Because I’m sort of bracing myself for people to feel like: Oh my god, she needs to calm down — and not necessarily agreeing with the way she does it. But I obviously feel she’s fully within her right to feel what she feels and say and do what she does. That’s my not-so-secret secret.
Have they talked to you about the character coming back for potential season three?
I would be excited to come back and work again with all of these up-and-coming actors who keep finding their footing, now that they’ve met me. Yeah, I would do them that favor. That’s all I can say.
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Published at Thu, 21 Oct 2021 17:57:14 +0000