Julianna Margulies on Playing a Lesbian on ‘The Morning Show’: ‘Who’s to Say I Haven’t Had My Own Gay Experiences?’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Julianna Margulies Morning Show
Courtesy of Erin Simkin/Apple TV Plus

Welcome to this week’s “Just for Variety.”

Playing a lesbian on the second season of Apple TV’s “The Morning Show” isn’t the first time that Julianna Margulies has taken on a gay role. She and Kyra Sedgwick played a couple in the 2000 indie “What’s Cooking?” However, that was years before there was a push for LGBTQ actors to be cast in LGBTQ roles. During an appearance on this week’s episode of the “Just for Variety” podcast, I asked Margulies if she had any reservations about playing gay on “The Morning Show.” “Who’s to say I haven’t had my own gay experiences?” Margulies says. “We’re making assumptions.”

In “The Morning Show,” Margulies is an out television news reporter who ends up dating Bradley, played by Reese Witherspoon. “You’ve got Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon playing these two very strong characters, and in the second season instead of bringing a man in to upset that balance they brought in a woman. Hats off to that, because the truth is women are more afraid of women,” Margulies says. “They dress for women. We don’t dress for men. We dress for each other. We want to impress each other much more. … It made so much sense, and I thought, ‘Ah, a show that gets women. This is great.’”

Margulies acknowledges that there was some talk that her casting could get blowback. “I know there was some trepidation of ‘will lesbian actresses be angry?’ and I can tell you I would never, ever be angry if a lesbian played a straight woman,” Margulies says.

Showrunner Kerry Ehrin provided Margulies with a written back story for Laura which detailed her career being derailed 20 years earlier after she was outed. “It’s rare to get such a rich 20-year history of who this character was before you get to play her,” Margulies says. “That’s usually the homework I do on my own.”

By the time viewers meet Laura, she’s not only made a comeback but she’s thriving in the cut throat business of broadcast news. As drama unfolds around her, she proves to be one of the most level-headed characters on the show. “I really love that she’s 100% comfortable in her own skin and has no ulterior motives. She doesn’t have a hidden agenda,” Margulies explains. “She is probably the only character on that show that has no hidden skeletons in her closet. … I view her in the midst of all this chaos that’s going around and all these secrets people are trying to keep it’s like all she has to do is stand still just to make a difference.

“It’s almost like she’s the lens of the audience and the audience gets to watch these people absolutely spiraling down in front of your eyes but you sort of see it through Laura’s and Laura’s done all the work on herself to get completely comfortable with who she is in her sexuality to have gone back to field work in journalism and really earned her stripes the right way to get to where she is in her career, which is at the top,” she continues. “It’s sort of a wonderful place to play, to watch people squirming and to say, ‘Your life doesn’t have to be this hard. You’re making it much harder than it needs to be.’”

A third season of the show has yet to be given a green-light. “If they want me, I would be back,” Margulies says. “I would be back in a jiffy.”

Margulies laughs when I mention that 2021 marks the 15-year anniversary of “Snakes on a Plane.” She co-starred in the action camp classic with Samuel L. Jackson. “Samuel L. Jackson had in his contract that he had to be 25 feet away from snakes at all times. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m with the him,’” Margulies remembers. “So he and I never actually went near real snakes ever. They scare me to death. I think it’s just because they’re not cuddly. I just don’t understand them. So I remember that the most was that I was on a movie called ‘Snakes On A Plane’ and I never once had an encounter with a snake. A few fake ones I did, which was kind of fun, but not real ones.”

She also recalls studio executives trying to convince Jackson to change the title of the movie: “Samuel said, ‘No fucking way. I signed up to do this movie because it’s called “Snakes on a Mother Fucking Plane” and that’s what we’re going to call it.’”

Margulies has no regrets. She says, “It’s not a great movie, we can say that. But I know people love it.”

Listen to the full interview with Margulies above. You can also find “Just for Variety” at Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.


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Jonathan Majors Maarten de Boer for Variety

Paul Rudd is in London shooting Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” While Rudd is tight-lipped on details, he is allowed to gush over Jonathan Majors, who joins the ensemble as Kang the Conqueror after making his first appearance on Disney Plus’ “Loki.” “I’ve loved everything he’s done, and I see what he’s doing in this, and I’m knocked out by it,” Rudd told me while promoting “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” “It is really fun to bring new people into the fold, and the enthusiasm that people have is palpable.”

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Congrats to Omar Sharif Jr. The actor and LGBTQ advocate tells me that Eros STX has optioned his recently released memoir “A Tale of Two Omars: A Memoir of Family, Revolution, and Coming Out During the Arab Spring” to develop a television series adaptation with Kevin Hart’s HartBeat Prods. The book chronicles Sharif ’s relationship with his late grandfather, Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, an Oscar nominee for 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia”; growing up with a Jewish mother and a Muslim father; and his coming-out journey. He recently sent a copy to Barbra Streisand, who made her big-screen debut co-starring with his grandfather in “Funny Girl.” “I wrote in the book to her, ‘If my grandfather wasn’t such a putz, you could have been my bubbe,’” Sharif says, laughing. He also opens up in the memoir about being assaulted by a wealthy sheikh he worked for in the Middle East as well as being groped by a producer backstage at the Oscars. He decided not to name his assailants because “I wanted the book to be about me, the Middle East, LGBTQ rights and not become a scandalous book, but that doesn’t mean those stories won’t eventually be told with names.”

When Sharif came out about his sexuality while also revealing his mother is Jewish in an essay in The Advocate in 2012, there was a campaign by Middle East activists to revoke his Egyptian citizenship while living in the country at the time. He relocated to Los Angeles. “I had to leave and I was in exile,” he says. “I was desperate at the time. I didn’t have access to my bank accounts. I came to America with nothing. I was literally sleeping on friends’ couches, eating cans of tuna. That was all I was able to afford from CVS.”

But then he landed a job at GLAAD. “Wilson Cruz was instrumental in me learning how to leverage my platform to create change,” Sharif says. “I’m so glad to have been able to do as much as I have.”

Sharif is currently in Israel promoting the original Hebrew-language “The Baker and The Beauty.” He joined the series in its third season as the Lebanese husband of an Israeli man. He still hasn’t been able to return to Egypt out of fear of being arrested “for inciting debauchery,” Sharif says. “I wasn’t able to attend my grandparents funerals.

“So much of where you’re from is wrapped up in who you are,” he says. “To say I’m Egyptian but I can no longer go home, it’s hard.”

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Screenshot Courtesy of YouTube/A24

SPOILER ALERT: The following item contains spoilers about one of my favorite movies this year, the Icelandic horror thriller “Lamb.”

Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason play farmers in a remote area of Iceland who are raising as their child a lamb born with human body parts. In an early cut of the film, the lamb even talked. “She had a few lines in the script, [but] it didn’t work because it broke the illusion,” Rapace reveals. “She had this weird little voice.” Check out the “Lamb” trailer here.

Have something to share? Email me at mmalkin@variety.com.