One of the most pleasant surprises to have arisen out of “The Morning Show” is Billy Crudup’s scene-stealing turn as cutthroat network executive Cory Ellison. The role has brought the actor awards galore, including his first Emmy nomination and win, which he earned for the Apple TV+ drama’s debut season in 2020. Two years later, he’s nominated again in the category from which he walked away triumphant, Best Drama Supporting Actor, for the show’s second season. “It’s just the gift that keeps on giving,” Crudup told Gold Derby in a new webchat (watch the exclusive video interview above). “Getting to play somebody that extravagant in a show with that kind of ambitions has already exceeded my expectations for almost any project, so to have people watch it and recognize it too is a great honor.”
Developed by Kerry Ehrin and partly inspired by consulting producer Brian Stelter’s behind-the-scenes book “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV” (2013), the series follows the behind-the-scenes drama at the titular daily morning news program. The first season explored the fallout from the #MeToo movement as one of the show’s anchors, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), is fired amid sexual misconduct allegations. After the season ends with The Morning Show anchors Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) exposing the fictional UBA network and its president (Tom Irwin) for their knowledge of sexual misconduct and the creation of a toxic culture, the second installment reveals how the lives of UBA employees changed in the wake of these revelations.
Reprising his character in Season 2 meant entering uncharted territory for Crudup, who had never before done a second season of a TV series prior to this show. “I’ve never committed to something where I haven’t read the entirety of the story before,” admitted Crudup. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for me, creatively, to learn a new skill set, which is: not closing the chapter on a character who is in progress. And it’s a little unnerving. I like to feel more in control of the storytelling as a whole, but it’s really exhilarating to see new writers take on a character with a different perspective.”
The episode that Crudup has submitted to Emmy voters is the season’s premiere, “My Least Favorite Year.” In this installment, Cory loses his CEO position as UBA performs damage control following the events of the Season 1 finale, but regains it after Bradley is able to pull some strings. When TMS dwindles in ratings months after Alex’s departure, Cory travels to Maine in hopes that he’ll be able to convince Alex to return to the show. After she turns him away, he offers her a chance to host a prime-time talk show if she fills in on TMS. Even though she accepts the offer, Cory’s celebration of her potential return is short-lived as it’s interrupted by the reveal that Hannah’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against UBA.
Perhaps the most striking part of the episode is that it lays the foundation for Cory’s entire Season 2 arc. After being an emotionally closed-off character with somewhat elusive motivations throughout most of the first season, his inner conflicts and drives become more spelled out in the second installment. When asked where the actor believes his character’s professional drive comes from, he argues that they arose in him primarily in defense of his mother during his adolescence.
“It was the realization that his mother, no matter how hard she worked, was constantly being undermined by men in positions of power that diminished her. I think he had an awareness, he had a pretty strong intellect of her own capability and capacity, and I think he saw the extent to which she was hamstrung,” explained Crudup, who also highlighted the absence of a positive male role model in Cory’s life. “[As] we don’t learn anything about [his father] onscreen, we sort of created our own narrative — and he’s not a strong presence in his life or in Cory’s mind. So, there is a adolescent defense that, I think, erupts in him. And he was probably not fully capable of bullying somebody physically. So, the way that he could undermine people in positions of power is to outflank them and out-strategize them. And that’s where this instinct to not just take over the world but beat everyone into submission [comes from].”
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