Gugu Mbatha-Raw on ‘The Morning Show’ Sexual Assault Story: ‘Women Don’t Want to See Themselves as Victims’

TheWrap Emmy magazine: “There is a lot of shame in questioning how much you brought the situation on yourself,” says the actress of her character’s state of mind in the series

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in The Morning Show

This story about Gugu Mbatha-Raw and “The Morning Show” first appeared in the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

When actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw received the scripts to first two episodes of Kerry Ehrin’s AppleTV+ series “The Morning Show,” she responded right away to the material. “It was so smart and witty and it felt very culturally relevant,” she said. “I loved the subject matter — the media world in a post-#MeToo era and the sort of gray area of what abuse of power looks like in the workplace.”

But a subsequent phone conversation with Ehrin and director Mimi Leder clued her into just how dramatic a storyline awaited Mbatha-Raw’s character, talent booker Hannah Shoenfeld. As the series opens, Mitch Kessler, the longtime morning anchor played by Steve Carell, has been fired for sexual misconduct — but the eighth of the season’s 10 episodes flashes back to the business trip where Kessler sexually assaults Shoenfeld in his hotel room, and the final episode includes a wrenching interview in which Hannah finally talks about the assault to a reporter played by Reese Witherspoon.

Those two scenes are among the season’s most powerful and its most difficult to watch. For the assault scene, Mbatha-Raw worked with an intimacy coordinator for the first time, and tried to put the focus on her character’s internal struggle.

“It was as much about Hannah’s thought process, what’s going in her mind, as it was on the physical,” she said. “Looking at a moment like that, there’s the fight-or-flight instinct, but there’s also a freeze response. She’s processing what will be the cost for her, the implications in that moment if she goes through with a situation like that. It’s very complex.”

The interview is even more dramatic, as Hannah — who allowed herself to be bought off with a promotion when she first tried to report Mitch’s assault — discusses what happened for the first time, breaking down even as she insists that she’s in control.

“We shot it in 10-, 15-minute continuous takes,” she said. “It was great to do the whole thing because of the nature of the piece — getting to the right place emotionally and then really going for it. It almost felt like theater to have such a big scene in that way, you know?

“And I really appreciated that she’s not just hyper-vulnerable. She survived by being resilient and having a tough exterior and using this career-woman facade as a sort of defense mechanism. But that’s a very thin shield for what’s really going on.

“I think most women don’t want to see themselves as victims, and there is a lot of shame in questioning how much you brought the situation on yourself. I think she didn’t really want to recognize that it was a complete abuse of power. That’s how we are in life, so I appreciated that.”

Read more of the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue here.

Emmy Magazine 2020 Drama Comedy Actors