Season 2 of The Morning Show has welcomed several new faces. And among the most notable is Greta Lee, who previously appeared on Inside Amy Schumer, The Good Fight and Russian Doll. The 38-year-old actress delivers a standout performance on the Apple TV+ series as Stella Bak, the incoming president of the news division at UBA, taking over for Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) who was promoted to CEO of the network.
Of course, things have been quite bumpy for Stella, who has faced pressure from Cory and Cybil Richards, UBA chairwoman played by Holland Taylor, as well as becoming the target of anti-Asian hate associated with the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. While speaking with ET, Lee opens up about Stella's journey and bringing such a painful moment onto the show.
[Warning: Spoilers for season 2, episode six, “A Private Person,” which is now streaming.]
Following the scandal that erupted at the end of season 1, leaving The Morning Show team in turmoil, Stella has been brought in “to try to implement what she perceives to be a necessary rehabilitation of this workplace in terms of its toxicity, in terms of its inequity [when it comes to] gender and race,” Lee says.
Despite her experience running an online media company, which catered to a Gen Z audience, life at UBA “could not be more different,” Lee admits, explaining that Stella has faced several obstacles as she navigates the inner-office politics. “She has these big ideas, and then we see that it’s not as easy as she maybe thought it was going to be.” And given that, “it is really making her figure out what she is willing and not willing to compromise personally in order to be an effective boss,” Lee adds.
While she has her hands full trying to handle co-hosts Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), Stella has had the most difficult time managing resident weatherman, Yanko Flores (Néstor Carbonell), who found himself being canceled by fans after an on-air gaffe and initially refused to apologize.
Later, Yanko comes to Stella’s defense, beating up a man who verbally assaulted her with anti-Asian hate and racial slurs. Despite his seemingly heroic moment, which Stella is thankful for, she is still forced to suspend him, especially because the fight happened in public.
“What I loved about their relationship and how their stories played out this season is that it was like an authentic reflection of what's going on for us in real life. In terms of the summer, we had with Black Lives Matter and cancel culture and COVID and then subsequently anti-Asian hate all coming together at the same time,” Lee says. "We didn’t have the ability to compartmentalize each separately.”
Not surprisingly, Yanko doesn’t take the suspension well and Stella tries to tell him that she’s not the enemy here. “That was what was so challenging and heartbreaking about that moment,” Lee continues, explaining that scene “rang true in the way Stella and Yanko are with each other.”
“You can make certain assumptions about the two of them, both coming from immigrant experiences. You could even assume that they’d be best friends and be able to lean on each other. But we see that actually is not the case,” the actress says. “They have very different political views, very different life philosophies, and are totally different animals in a way. And it’s nice that we get to see that just because she is a certain race, a certain age, has a certain experience, it doesn’t automatically mean she’s going to make the diversity choice or honor race over everything else. She's a person first, and that was really important for me to show.”
Of course, to have that tension between Yanko and Stella play out meant bringing in real-life pain and trauma into the series. Something Lee was initially worried about being portrayed onscreen. “I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was absolutely terrified about showing that and how we were going to show it,” she says. “I don't take it for granted to have the opportunity and platform to show something like that, but also knowing that that was a reality that we could not ignore just in the same way we couldn't ignore COVID.”
Because season 2 was largely rewritten to address what was happening in 2020, Lee credits showrunner Kerry Ehrin for hearing her stories and being receptive to what was going on in the real world. “I was sharing personal stories of what I was experiencing, what my friends and family were experiencing. And it just felt dishonest to exclude that and, also, very challenging in terms of how we were going to show it.”
Aware that there’s a balance between what is real and what is shown on TV, Lee found herself juggling with how to stay true to the reality of what’s happened while also understanding the format that they're telling this story in. “You know, not wanting things to be gratuitous, not wanting to do things for the sake of just doing them,” she says. “But I was so happy and relieved to find that there was so much care in terms of showing that.”
While episode six saw Stella in full control when dealing with Yanko, she is still learning how to assert herself with Cory and Cybill, who confronts her over recent staffing decisions. After Cybill dressed down Stella, she attempts to push back as the two go toe-to-toe in their brief but fiery encounter.
“That moment in particular, while challenging, it was ultimately gratifying to see Stella put in her place,” Lee says. “Because up until that moment, she really had these blinders on and is so unafraid to do and say what she feels she needs to. And that moment was a little different in that Cybill was so clearly her superior and Stella is incredibly stubborn in what she feels.”
And as a result, Stella must face the fact that “even though she has certain things she wants to execute, there are other things that are necessary in order to do her job,” Lee says. “And that’s not an easy pill to swallow in any way.”
But as a performer, Lee loved every moment working opposite Taylor. “You can’t wish for anything more,” she says, noting how every day she would just look at what scene she was filming and with who with excitement. “It was like, 'OK, who is Stella facing off with today? Jennifer Aniston. Reese Witherspoon, OK. Holland Taylor? Oh, my god. Here we go.’”
And there’s no forgetting Crudup, who Lee has spent the most time working with this season as Cory and Stella butt heads over decisions made about The Morning Show. “I love that the show sets us up in a particular manner where we are coming in and Stella Bak is essentially the new Cory Ellison, which that in and of itself is so mind-blowing. Then we get to see how differently she's treated versus how Cory was treated and was operating in season 1 in a way that I felt was very honest and uncomfortable,” Lee says, while gushing how “getting to play ball with him really is one of my career highlights.”
As for how the dynamic will play out the rest of season 2, Lee teases, “‘Are they allies? Are they not? Is he a mentor or is he not? Is she a token?’ I think those are questions that we kept asking. And there is so much more to tell in terms of what’s going on between the two of them.”
New episodes of The Morning Show season 2 debut every Friday. Want to watch more? Both seasons are now streaming on Apple TV+. (We may receive an affiliate commission if you subscribe to a service through our links.)