RISE AND SHINE
Jennifer Aniston drew on her own experience to play a breakfast TV anchor facing a crisis, writes
IF you’re expecting to meet Rachel from Friends or any number of roles where Jennifer Aniston has played America’s sweetheart in her new TV return Morning Wars, then think again.
As a take-no-prisoners news anchor in the long-awaited debut of AppleTV’s first original drama series, Aniston – as Alex Levy – is a woman to be reckoned with and at the beating heart of a show which explores corporate power, duplicitous alliances and the timely issue of sexual harassment in show business and its ensuing fallout.
When accusations come to light of alleged inappropriate behaviour by Alex’s long-time co-anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), this seasoned TV survivor on camera quickly switches to crisis mode.
Aniston certainly had plenty of real-life experience to draw on, given the tumultuous time she’s had in the public eye for much of her 50 years.
Before a string of actor boyfriends, it was her relationship, marriage and 2005 divorce from Brad Pitt – after his reported infidelity with Angelina Jolie – that positioned Aniston, unwillingly it must be said, as an A-list victim, known to sympathetic fans as ‘poor Jen’.
When her second two-year marriage to Justin Theroux ended in 2017, the public pity continued in her favour.
Add an acrimonious relationship with her (now deceased) mother, as well as rumours of countless pregnancies and plastic surgery procedures, Aniston has admirably resisted playing into this soap opera – candid and honest to a fault.
Asked what personal life crises she drew on for her latest TV role, the sassy star laughs.
“Gosh. Where do I start?,” she tells Watch.
“We all have our own versions of a crisis that we walk through. Sometimes you’re a person in the public eye and you have to learn how to do it gracefully. Some don’t. But I chose, as much as humanly possible, to walk through troubled times with as much grace as possible. And also, I have a beautiful group of men and women that I talk to and seek their counsel.”
She pauses: “You know, I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve been under the microscope for all of it. It’s not always easy to turn the noise down. There are moments when you’re the belle of the ball, and there are moments when you’re not up to par.”
Through it all, she says, she has learned to fight for herself.
“Yes, I actually have and you come to realise that’s not a bad thing. It took a couple of years to gain the confidence that I am worth fighting for.”
Clearly proud of the woman she’s emerged, she adds without conceit: “I am a powerful woman. I have opportunities and I can acknowledge that I know where I’ve come from, I know what I’ve gone through, and I know how fortunate and blessed I am to be where I am today.”
Her collaboration with Big Little Lies favourite Reese Witherspoon, who plays Bradley Jackson, a travelling news reporter from West Virginia, reflects those industry connections.
Having played her younger sister on two episodes of Friends back in 2000, the pair have long been firm friends and looked to produce something together.
This series – called The Morning Show internationally, but renamed in Australia because of Seven’s program of the same name – is based on a
2013 book called
Top of the Morning, penned by CNN correspondent, Brian Stelter. Worlds away from the familial bond they shared on Friends, their relationship in Morning Wars, starts out as complicated and adversarial.
“I’ve always found the behindthe-scenes of the morning talk shows so fascinating,” Aniston offers. “It always seemed to have that cut-throat quality that would be an interesting world to explore. And then #MeToo happened, and so it beautifully wrote itself in a strange way.
“We show the abuse of power, people turning a blind eye to it who are complicit, and then the guilt from that, which is also something we’re exploring now. We have a whole new rule book and everybody’s trying to figure out how we manoeuvre through this landscape.” She admits too that she dug deep into her own experiences, particularly for moments requiring heightened emotion. “The show’s been a really great outlet for getting angry,” she laughs. “Honestly, there have been scenes where I’ve had to go down into the dark dungeon of memories that hadn’t really been touched upon in a long time and allow it to be channelled out in a way that is not myself at all.
“I don’t lose my temper, I just don’t,” she shrugs. “Maybe it’s because I grew up with raging tempers [around me] that I’ve never thought it was productive.”
Interestingly, she also reveals she has never been subjected to sexual aggression in the workplace. “I’ve been very lucky.”
Fifteen years after she left television when Friends wrapped, she’s aware the world is a very different place but hopeful the show’s relevance will strike a chord.
“Gosh, I really hope we continue to tell stories that people want to hear and in doing so, people get a little peek behind the curtain,” she says. “And also, Apple TV, being the wild, wild west – it’s been exciting to be part of something that’s literally come up out of the ground for the first time.”
On-screen rivals: Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon in Morning Wars; below, Aniston with co-star Steve Carell.