SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details about major storylines in Apple TV Plus’ “The Morning Show.”
When Gugu Mbatha-Raw read the first two episode scripts for “The Morning Show,” her character Hannah’s story wasn’t clear. But then she got on a call with executive producers Mimi Leder and Kerry Ehrin.
“They basically pitched me the whole of Hannah’s arc over the phone, which was amazing just to hear obviously,” Mbatha-Raw says on Thursday’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.” “I felt like it was such an important story and kind of a challenging storyline, but a necessary one, that’s so topical culturally. It just gave me chills. … When I found out sort of the end of her journey, I just thought it was such a powerful, powerful story.”
In the show, Hannah is a producer on “The Morning Show” who hasn’t told anyone that she was sexually assaulted by her boss, the show’s anchor (played by Steve Carell), because the higher-ups bought her silence by giving her a promotion. After revealing her story to the show’s new co-anchor (Reese Witherspoon), Hannah’s dead body is discovered in her apartment. It’s not clear if she committed suicide or died from an accidental overdose.
“I don’t feel like she intended to die in the moment there, but I do feel that she intended to numb,” Mbatha-Raw said. “I think that obviously the consequences of that and the consequences of not having processed that traumatic experience led to her death. So I know that sounds like a sort of a hedging-my-bets kind of answer, but I don’t think she intended to end her life. I think that it was a binge that went wrong.”
Mbatha-Raw hopes Hannah’s story will fuel more discussions about toxic work environments. “I just thought or hoped that it would also generate conversations around the issues, not just of suicide, but of sexual assault and abuse of power in the workplace, and really the impact that that has on women in a way that you might not see, what goes on inside when it’s unprocessed,” she said. “So I knew it was going to be heavy, but I also thought that it was a really bold and potentially healing way to look at those issues.”
Variety caught up with Mbatha-Raw shortly after stay-at-home orders were enacted. She spent part of her quarantine painting, a hobby she enjoyed as a teenager. “I’m doing portraits, a lot of portraits of friends and family,” she said. “It started when I was just scrolling through photos of friends on my phone. I’m doing it from photographs in acrylics of smiling faces. That’s the only rule: they have to be smiling. I don’t have the bandwidth to stare at a miserable face for a few hours.”
When the pandemic began, Mbatha-Raw was in Atlanta filming “Loki,” the Disney Plus series starring Tom Hiddleston in the titular role that he first played in the “Avengers” movies. She’s tight-lipped on details, but admits she had a steep learning curve before shooting began. “I can’t confess to being a major MCU nerd,” she said. “Obviously, it’s a big part of our culture, so I had a huge awareness of it and it’s funny because I actually went to drama school at the same time as Tom Hiddleston. Ten years ago when I first came out here to do a TV pilot, ‘Under Covers,’ he was shooting the first ‘Thor’ at the same time. I remember him telling me about this experience of this new movie that he was doing.”
“Loki” also marks Kate Herron’s (“Sex Education”) Marvel Cinematic Universe directing debut. “She’s so fresh and interesting,” Mbatha-Raw said. “I feel like even though you’re dealing with this big universe, she still makes it feel very intimate. She just brings it back down to character and moments and emotions.”
You can hear the full interview with Mbatha-Raw above. You can also listen to “The Big Ticket” at iHeart Radio or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.