Jennifer Aniston says there was a time when Hollywood was “a man’s business”, but now, partly thanks to streaming services, things are changing.
Speaking to Kay Burley @ Breakfast for the launch of her new Apple TV+ drama The Morning Show, the Friends actress says she can see a shift.
Aniston, along with her co-star Reese Witherspoon, leads the 10-part drama examining the power dynamics of the TV industry in a post-Me Too world.
It’s one of the flagship shows for Apple’s new streaming service which hopes to rival Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and the forthcoming Disney+.
The Morning Show’s themes are timely; however, scripts were already in development by the time the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in 2017.
The first episode opens with the 3am sacking of news anchor Mich Kessler (played by Steve Carell) ahead of his exposure in the papers as a sexual predator.
A key scene in which his co-host Alex Levy (played by Aniston) announces her departure to viewers is said to be an almost shot-by-shot replay of the NBC announcement of the sacking of presenter Matt Lauer.
The character goes on to fight her corner in an industry ruled by men – so is gender inequality still such a problem in TV and film?
Aniston says there has been improvement: “I think over the last 10 years, there’s been really big changes, swings have happened.”
Witherspoon agrees: “There’s more transparency about salaries and the way women are treated.
“I’m enormously grateful for the women who spoke up and told their stories because they didn’t have a lot to gain in many experiences, but their truth has led to this reckoning on it.”
Aniston thinks the new way people consume content has been a positive agent in the change.
“There was a time specifically where it was a man’s business. The men were the movie stars. The men were the producers. The men were running the studios. I mean, it’s really shifted. And it’s not that long of a period of time.
“I think the streaming services have helped tremendously because they’re willing to tell stories. I mean, you can’t just tell the story of half the population.”
Witherspoon says they themselves are proof of the change: “That was what was happening at the traditional studios.
“And it was much more acceptable for male movie stars to be producers even seven years ago, 10 years ago, for us [herself and Aniston] to be producers, as well as starring in the show and being taken seriously and really consulted.”
Aniston adds: “And not just patted on our heads as if it’s cute.”
As well as leading the cast, both women are executive producers on the show.
They are said to be earning around $ 1.25m (£966,000) per episode, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
It’s already been recommissioned for a second series.
It’s not the first time working together for the leading ladies, with Witherspoon playing Aniston’s younger sister Jill in a couple of episodes of season 6 of Friends back in 2000.
But The Morning Show tackles much darker themes than the long-running sitcom.
Based on a book called Top of the Morning by journalist Brian Stelter, there is of course a certain irony in the industry harvesting its dark history to inform TV shows and films for profit.
Another theme in the drama is the malleable line between entertainment and news, with the inevitable argument of what constitutes fake news.
Witherspoon says they’re issues she’s struggled with personally: “Journalism has changed a lot and where people get their news.
“You know, I read something recently that 70% of people who share articles on social media don’t read the entire article, which is appalling because you’re disseminating information and not knowing its veracity.
“So we go into all that detail and I think people out in the world are legitimately confused. I’m confused. I look at Twitter, I look at the morning news. I look at CNN. I try to balance where I’m getting news from. But it’s hard to know.”
Aniston admits journalism is a career she’d never want to pursue in real life.
“For who I am as a person, the fact that you could never not be taking in the news as it’s coming in every minute of every day. I love that I can walk away from it for a day because I just want to shut down. You guys [journalists] don’t have the opportunity to do that.
“Or friends of ours who are night-time talk show head writers, they have to constantly be ingesting what’s going on in the world, and it takes a toll.”
So what advice would they give to young women trying to make it in the industry?
Aniston counsels: “Keep learning and perfecting what you do. Don’t let anything hold you back at all.”
Witherspoon says her suggestions have changed in the face of industry improvements: “I used to tell people just to be an actor because that was the only possibility.
“When I started, no one told me to be a director or a writer or producer because there weren’t any women writer, director, producers.
“There were a few, but it wasn’t really a path to success. And now I would tell girls, make your own material, write your own shows because you can, and it’s a real path to success now.”
The Morning Show is available now on Apple TV+