Awards Daily chats with Holland Taylor of The Morning Show about that intense Season 3 interview scene between Cybil and Chris Hunter (Nicole Beharie).
From wildfires to the pandemic to January 6, there’s hardly any real-life topic that Apple TV+’s The Morning Show fails to tackle. Holland Taylor has always been impressed with how the show makes politics and principles personal.
“I think it was a great elevation in this third season,” said Taylor. “My character, not unlike other characters I’ve played, took a deep dive into underpinning things that aren’t normally seen in this kind of person. That was a pleasure to play—difficult, but wonderful.”
Taylor’s character Cybil has an especially strenuous third season when a data hack reveals a disparaging racist comment she made about anchor Chris Hunter (Nicole Beharie) in a private email.
“I thought it was really interesting because it wasn’t a dramatic thing she did. She did not call Chris ‘an Aunt Jemima.’ She was making a cultural reference when something was popular or not popular. And there was no other place where she referred to her in that kind of way. She was unconscious of the racial lines in which the pay grade did follow, whether it was intentional or not. What she comes to in that interview scene is one moment where she’s caught short; she becomes very calm and says, ‘There’s no excuse.’ It was really a great piece of writing because from Cybil’s point of view, have you never said anything casually that you later regret? Of course that happens. But in this instance, it’s in a time when no one should be unaware of those issues in such a way as to speak casually. It was quite interesting to act because I could justify a lot about Cybil.”
Cybil pisses off a lot of people this season. When Alex (Jennifer Aniston) needs her support, Cybil throws her under the bus and suspends her. But then when the data hack takes place, Cybil assumes Alex will back her. Does she not have any peripheral vision for her actions?
“I’m not sure she has it. She doesn’t think things through. She’s had so much power and privilege all her life that she’s just accustomed to going on regardless of anything that happens. She just continues on, and money allows her to do that.”
All of this culminates in Season 3, Episode 3 “White Noise,” where Alex organizes an interview between Chris and Cybil, one on one, to discuss the repercussions from the “Aunt Jemima” comment.
“It was really hard because it rubbed over into my personal responses to things. Actors who are people of color have this experience so often where the roles they play or stories they tell are about color. Black actors are accustomed to having personal resonance with their characters in a way white actors are not. You have to use your imagination to go into a different world, and they hardly need to use their imagination when they’re confronted with stuff like this every minute of every day. In that scene, I was particularly aware with my— Holland’s—relationship to Nicole and wanting to be sensitive to anything she needed. I wanted it to be very clear between us. In a way, I could sympathize with Cybil negotiating a contentious contract and her family running the company for 80 years. I could justify a lot that she felt that made her insensitive. It was a real overlap. Nicole and I both sort of staggered out of the soundstage after doing that scene. There were parts we had to repeat a lot. It was complex because our director [Thomas Carter] had COVID, and he was in a van outside the studio. It was unreal. He got it while we were shooting and had to continue on. We were just flat afterward, just exhausted from trying to maintain a real tightrope walk.”
Taylor said they probably filmed the scene for four hours and that even though it was a two-hander scene, there were a lot of people involved.
“There were a lot of reaction shots that were so great. Shari Belafonte, Alex watching on her monitor in the dressing room. It was just something we all knew we were going to scale a bit of a mountain there. It was amazing. Even a crew member came up to us the next day and said ‘That scene was unreal.’ When you get a comment from the crew, you know you’re doing something worthwhile.”
Ultimately, the blowback from the interview results in Cybil being forced to resign, even though she eventually forms an alliance with Cory (Billy Crudup) to prevent Paul Marks (Jon Hamm) from taking over. But Taylor is interested in how the interview with Chris affects Cybil moving forward.
“I want to talk with the writers. I don’t know if they intend for Cybil to come back in a power position. She’d never entirely lose. She owns a significant share of the company, so she’d always have power on the board because of her ownership. I have an idea that Cybil is changed by [the Aunt Jemima remark]. I was going to pitch it to (director) Mimi [Leder] to see if she’d back me up with whoever is showrunning next year.”
With new cast members like Hamm and Tig Notaro appearing in Season 3, any chance Taylor’s partner Sarah Paulson could join Season 4? Taylor said it might be distracting if they were on screen together since everyone would know them as a real-life couple.
“I can’t imagine it ever happening because of that reason alone. Plus, she’s a busy person. She’s starring on Broadway right now in the standing-room-only Appropriate on Broadway. Just a staggering performance, and I don’t know what she’ll be up to after that.”
Watch Season 3 of The Morning Show on Apple TV+.