Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan interviews Gugu Mbatha-Raw about how she kept The Morning Show’s biggest secret and what her character represents for the future of the Apple+ series. Spoilers ahead!
For most of Season 1 of The Morning Show, Hannah (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) serves as one of the steadfast team members behind the scenes of UBA’s morning series, a talent booker who’s always ready to help when a story breaks.
But as we learn throughout the course of the season, Hannah is putting her energy toward breaking stories in order to keep her mind off of her own.
In the episode “Lonely at the Top,” which serves as a flashback to when she had just started at the show, we watch as Mitch (Steve Carell) sexually assaults her in a hotel room in Las Vegas. It’s a really haunting scene, as he capitalizes on her vulnerability after they covered the shootings at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. But he also uses his power and position as a mentor to his advantage, causing Hannah to simply freeze up when he starts coming on to her.
This was one of the most talked about scenes of last year and for good reason. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Hannah very skillfully throughout the season, never letting on to audiences that of all the stories she works on, hers is the one she so desperately wants to break—or break away from. I talked to Gugu about how Hannah keeps working under these conditions following the assault, why she doesn’t leave UBA, and the other life-changing moment for her character.
Awards Daily: For most of the season, you’re holding your cards very close as an actress. We don’t know what happened as an audience, but you do. What was it like holding that secret?
Gugu Mbatha-Raw: For me, I always think characters with secrets are great to play. If you have a secret, you have thoughts and feelings bubbling underneath. You’ve always got something to play with. With each of the scenes, I had to think, ‘How much would Hannah reveal in this moment?’ I’ve not done anything like that. It was an exciting challenge. I spent most of my energy concealing, because she’s just trying to get on.
AD: Obviously, your character is promoted in order to protect Mitch. But if that doesn’t happen, do you think she’s ever promoted on the show? It seems like a bit of a white man’s world. After all, Daniel (Desean Terry) can’t even move up.
GMR: Gosh, it’s hard to know. Hannah and Daniel, even though they’re people of color, they have different ambitions. Daniel is looking for something very high profile. I don’t think she has any aspirations to be in front of the camera. (Laughs) She might want to be a producer someday, like maybe Mia (Karen Pittman) or Chip (Mark Duplass), so maybe she’s able to move up easier than Daniel. That’s what I love about this show. The nuanced portrayals. She’s not a camera-ready persona. She’s on the ground and keeps the wheeling turning behind the scenes. I appreciated the fact she wasn’t the star of the show.
AD: Why do you think she doesn’t leave UBA after a year and look for another position with the experience she gained and get out of that toxic situation?
GMR: I think we have to remember the position Hannah was in—she saw Mitch very much as a mentor figure. What were her alternatives and what circumstances would she say caused her to leave? I think she thought to herself, ‘This is just the world, and I have to toughen up and get on with it.’ She even says, ‘So this is how it happens.’ Plus, when you’re starting out in your career, you don’t have the luxury to walk out. It was conflicting for her.
AD: When Hannah tells HR about Claire (Bel Powley) and Yanko (Nestor Carbonell), do you think she’s really trying to protect Claire, or do you think she’s also in a sense whistleblowing on what she couldn’t do? Is Yanko a substitute for Mitch to make herself feel better?
GMR: I don’t think it’s about feeling better, but she sees herself as a sister to Claire, but yes, there’s an element of projection with that. The power dynamic is off, and she’s influenced by her experience definitely. There is a a lot of personal ire. Even when Ashley Brown comes in to expose Mitch, Hannah is living vicariously through Ashley’s actions, since Hannah can’t do that.
AD: I remember when we see Hannah in her apartment, she’s completely different than her work persona. It’s dark and sad. How much does she put on a front in the office and what do you think her personal life is like?
GMR: There were some earlier scenes [of Hannah and her apartment] that didn’t end up in the show. I saw it as she’s a workaholic. People in their 20s or early 30s who live in New York, they don’t always spend a lot of time in their apartments. Her job is such an adrenalized role, so I don’t believe that she had a social life in that way—she’s committed to her career. [Her apartment] is a stark contrast to Jennifer Aniston’s, with all of the windows and light, but I think it’s real. She’s stressed. She’s not presenting anything for the cameras.
AD: Do you think that the exhaustion of putting on a front for work, hiding what really happened, plays into how she dies? Was it accidental or purposeful?
GMR: It’s a very competitive job. Beyond keeping things light, she was going to prove that this wouldn’t define her. That’s very familiar in our culture. There’s a cost to how hard people work. It’s such a sad and sensitive subject. I discussed this with Mimi [Leder] and Kerry [Ehrin] and because Hannah accepted a promotion, I think she realizes that that’s not going to fix it. This hole inside of her is not going away. She intended to numb herself instead of setting out to intentionally die. Her lifestyle had allowed her to not look after herself and made it possible for her to die.
Her death is a huge catalyst for a reconfiguring of the show. It’s certainly a big awakening. It’s unfortunate she had to be a sacrifice, yet it’ll trigger a lot of change to make it easier for others to move up the ladder.
AD: I’m so obsessed with hypotheticals with Hannah, because there are so many what-ifs. Like, what if Hannah gets away in that life-changing moment? What happens to her and Mitch?
GMR: Which moment? I’m thinking of two. In the hotel or with the promotion?
AD: Oh! I was thinking of the hotel.
GMR: They are both life-changing!
AD: You’re right.
GMR: In a weird way, there are probably more complications in her accepting the promotion. She can’t ever complain now. She’s accepted this scenario. Who knows what would have happened if she didn’t go to the hotel? Maybe she’s not promoted. Maybe she would have left UBA. Who’s to say?
Season 1 of The Morning Show is streaming on Apple+.