‘The Morning Show’s’ Greta Lee Dissects Stella’s Strength and Filming Two Versions of That Disturbing Restaurant Scene: ‘It Felt Very Scary’  (2024)

The first days back on set of “The Morning Show” after a season break are always a humbling experience, Greta Lee acknowledges.

“We constantly joke at the start of each season that we have to re-learn how to talk that fast,” Lee tells Variety. “I wish people could see how hysterical it is. It is like a bunch of elephants getting dropped onto a treadmill. It is such an athletic job, and it is immediately humbling because it is so challenging for every single person.”

Rediscovering the brisk cadence of the Apple TV+ drama isn’t the only hurdle. As she prepares to start shooting Season 4 this summer, she will again have to muster the unbridled confidence of her character Stella Bak, a determined millennial savant who joined in Season 2 with a plan to draw younger audiences to the UBA network as the first female news division president. But Stella is relentless, bringing a matter-of-fact presence that people instinctively resist and begrudgingly respect in equal measure. To Lee, the unapologetic ambition that fascinates her about Stella also terrifies her.

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“I think sometimes, women in power are apologizing for their stature,” Lee says. “All the navigating and the dance that has to be done, but Stella doesn’t give a sh*t. Me, as myself, I am having to play that against people I have long admired and would happily just follow around like a puppy dog. That is inherently part of the daily challenge of Stella, to kind of be an asshole to people I really respect.”

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But Lee wants to make it clear that she doesn’t think Stella is an asshole just for the hell of it. She sees it as Stella’s strategic approach to finding a happy medium between a god complex and a genuine belief she can help save an aging industry. It’s a nimble line to walk, and it seems to be working. Fans still debate if they love or hate Stella — and Lee makes it tough to decide. She’s bullish, sure, but she is also undeniable.

“She is ambition incarnate,” Lee says. “She is someone who is so laser-focused on the thing that she wants and what she believes in. She is also someone with high morality. She genuinely believes in disrupting an old system that she doesn’t think is an accurate and current reflection of the world we live in today. She has so much invested in it personally that I think sometimes bedside manner comes at the expense of all of that. I actually find it kind of admirable to see someone who is so unconcerned with how the messaging is going to be received.”

In Season 3, though, that drive cost her dearly. In Episode 4, Stella is challenged by her mentor and UBA CEO Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) to negotiate a Hail Mary deal with ad buyers that will make the fledgling network more financially appealing to investors. She takes two slimy ad execs to lunch to hash out the details, but when they suspect she’s been disarming them with drinks while slyly sticking to water herself, things take a turn. The men offer Stella a lucrative deal, but only if she makes the waitress lick up a spilled drink off the table — a revolting power play meant to muddy any moral superiority Stella thought she had over them.

Dismissive at first, she leans in and ups the offer for her benefit, promising a $20,000 tip for the server as well. As it happens, the camera holds on Lee’s incredibly affecting reaction. She can barely look as the server leans down, and when she finally does, Stella is frozen in place by a real-time rush of horror and shame. The men watch gleefully, while the server looks to Stella for some sort of reassurance after it’s over — something she can’t pretend to offer.

“Basically, there is a small death that occurs during that scene,” Lee says. “To me, it is that tragic. I mean, there is an innocence to her that she had been protective over, in terms of her beliefs and her core values and what she stands for that has to die a little bit, in a very complicated way. I think that is always a signal to me that we are really onto something when I feel, as an actor, like I have to pull on an impossible number of levers in order to truthfully show what is going on.”

What audiences didn’t see are both sides of the humiliating act. Two versions of the scene were shot — one where the server licks up the drink and one where the men make Stella do it herself. The latter scene would have reinforced the lengths to which she is willing to go to do the job. In a male-dominant industry, it also might have been the more expected form of degradation in that moment.

“It felt very scary, actually,” Lee says. “There was that question of whether or not she should actually be the one who presses her face down and drinks the water off the table. We shot that other version, but it took so much vulnerability on the part of our showrunner to talk to me and really make sure that we weren’t going a certain way because we felt like we had to. It was just keeping each other accountable to what we wanted for the scene and Stella.”

By having Stella effectively condone that behavior for the sake of a business transaction — not to mention, using another woman of color as the pawn to do so — takes something from her that is gone forever. As the season progresses, that moment weighs on Stella and pushes her to make some risky moves she might not have made if she was that millennial that audiences first met, embracing her ideals to navigate an aging media industry.

By the end of the season, Stella’s past work with billionaire investor Paul Marks (Jon Hamm) positions her to take Cory’s job and ascend to new heights as CEO of UBA. But she doesn’t do it, instead partnering with Cory to take down Paul with her own intel that he has embellished the revolutionary strides of his company at the cost of others.

All of it wipes the slate clean for Stella: “I think she is now at an absolute inflection point where her whole life is different.”

But with two seasons under her belt, Lee has questions she would like answered about her character as well. Chief among them: Who is she outside the walls and moral quandaries of UBA?

“You can’t have strength without fragility,” she says. “I know we have seen so much of what she is capable of and her vigor. We have gotten to see bits of her vulnerability. But there are still things that I would like to know. We haven’t gotten to see her alone yet, not at the office. I would love to understand what she is like on a Sunday morning. I have no idea what her life is like outside of work. There is so much about her that I find profoundly weird and interesting. Again, for someone to be that strong, there has to be a counterpoint. I know it is out there.

‘The Morning Show’s’ Greta Lee Dissects Stella’s Strength and Filming Two Versions of That Disturbing Restaurant Scene: ‘It Felt Very Scary’  (2024)
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