Actor Bel Powley has plenty to say, and she’s someone worth listening to. Here she talks to Stylist about putting #MeToo on screen in new series The Morning Show.
Stay there, don’t hang up OK?” Bel Powley says before placing me on hold. “I’m trying to track down this fucking bed.” Right now, Powley is in Los Angeles, where she is tied up promoting her new Apple TV+ series The Morning Show. Interviews. Red carpets. Smiling. But back in London, real logistical problems are underway. She’s needed to solve them. And where is the damn bed?
Last month, Powley bought a house in east London with her boyfriend, actor Douglas Booth, and there is still a lot to do. “Why does everything take 5 million days longer than it’s supposed to?” she says, back on the line, disheartened. “They said the bed’s not going to be ready until after Christmas.” This means the house’s decoration (“A lot of pink, but not bubblegum pink – chic, Parisian apartment pink. And a lot of wood”) will be a little delayed. But this isn’t really about the house, is it? It is, of course, about the life she’s building inside it.
At 27, things have been busy for Powley since she broke out in the cult classic The Diary Of A Teenage Girl in 2015. In the last two years alone there’s been White Boy Rick with Matthew McConaughey, Mary Shelley with Elle Fanning and the BBC series Informer. She’s just finished shooting a Judd Apatow comedy alongside comedian Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live fame, in which she plays a girl from Staten Island (“crazy New York accent, fake tan, very high heels”).
And right now, there’s The Morning Show, which follows TV news anchor Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) as she’s left to deal with the fallout of her co-anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) being sacked for sexual misconduct. Powley plays Claire Conway, an assistant on the show who is having a hush-hush affair with the weatherman, Yanko Flores (Néstor Carbonell). It was a fun set to be on. When filming began, Aniston had everyone over to her house to make pizzas and drink martinis.
But glamour aside, Powley is actually daydreaming of heading home. To her new house. Christmas. Normality. It’s the first time she’ll be in London for the holiday in three years. “I’m getting a Christmas tree on 1 December,” she says giddily, like this thought alone is much more exciting than all of LA’s glitziness. “And we’re having a party for all our friends.”
How did this project come to you?
I was on holiday with my friends in Italy and I got sent an audition tape. But it was so secretive! All the email said was that it was a TV show for Apple’s new streaming service with Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. But I thought, obviously this is going to be a great show if they’re involved. The scene I shot for my audition tape was an early one where Claire and Yanko are in bed. I remember thinking, ‘Woah, this is such clever writing’, the way Claire’s talking to this older man. We’ve seen the PA and the older man on screen a lot before, but this is a different approach. They’re not just going surface-level with this shit.
The show addresses the murkier areas within #MeToo really well. Have you had any of those conversations with your friends since?
Yeah! There are so many things to talk about. Even in terms of Yanko and Claire’s relationship. Like, how do relationships that look a bit odd, or exist in the workplace, function post-#MeToo? It’s thrown up a lot of questions about how we interact with each other. It will be an ongoing conversation, I think, because it’s such a seismic shift in gender politics – for the better.
Yeah, Claire insists that she still has agency and control despite the power dynamics in the situation, with him being her boss. Did you share her view on that?
I definitely agree with her, thinking on it. That’s why #MeToo is so complicated, isn’t it? Because Mitch has been taken down so Yanko feels like, ‘Am I going to be taken down too?’ But Claire thinks, ‘Why should our happy, consensual relationship be affected by something that Mitch did? I don’t want you to feel like you’re taking advantage of me. I feel independent and strong and I don’t feel like we’re doing anything wrong.’ That gets more and more intense. HR might get involved! I’m warning you. And she, like a lot of women, feels backed into the corner.
I remember feeling quite frustrated when the #MeToo movement first happened, like it was suddenly up to women to fix it. The hashtag is speaking to women which, of course, is an amazing thing, but I felt like, OK, where are the men saying anything about this? Why is it our problem to have and also our problem to fix?
What do you admire about Claire?
Oh my god. Everything. She’s way cooler than me. She’s the epitome of a true fourth-wave feminist, with a side of anarchy. She doesn’t give a shit! I love that about her. She’s really clever. She doesn’t think before she speaks. I love how obsessed she is with Bradley [a news reporter played by Reese Witherspoon], which is just as obsessed as I am with Reese Witherspoon.
How was it working with Witherspoon and Aniston?
Ah! So good! Obviously, they’re both idols of mine. I’ve been watching them since I could watch TV and movies. They both produced this show, as well as played the leads in it. It was incredible to watch them work so hard, but still be so nice and so supportive.
What was your first day on set like?
Oh my god. The first day was the scariest day of work I’ve ever had. I’d never done a TV show in the States before and it’s so different. You’re working on this huge set on a lot. The hierarchy is different. New directors come in every episode, so the producers and show runners have more power. I’m used to small films and the stage, where it’s just you and the director holding hands on this journey that you’re going on. This was just a much bigger beast. Also, it’s a show within a show, so I walked onto set and I was like, I don’t know who our PAs are and who are the extras who are playing PAs. Which are our cameras? Which are the fake cameras? And then Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are there and they’re talking to me and I’m, like, freaking out.
Do you get nervous or intimidated in those situations?
I try not to be intimated. You have to remember everyone’s a person, it’s everyone’s first day and everyone’s scared. But I do get nervous, for sure.
What do you do when you feel nervous?
Gahhh. I just try to rise above it and push it away. Otherwise you let yourself spiral, right? And you get out of control.
Who do you go to for advice?
My parents have always been very good at keeping my feet firmly on the ground. The best advice I’ve probably ever got was from my mum, who said, “Just. Don’t. Be. An. Arsehole.” That’s it, man.
What have you learnt between your breakout role in The Diary Of A Teenage Girl and now?
Well, it’s taken me until recently to really understand what I want from a project. After The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, I got a lot of opportunities thrown my way and I think I said yes to a few things just because I could, rather than asking myself, ‘Am I passionate about this? Does this director inspire me?’ Now I’ve grown up and I understand what I want. I’m closer to 30 than I am to 20. But there’s always learning and growing to do, isn’t there? I don’t think that ever stops.
What does 27 feel like for you?
Weird… You’re firmly in your late 20s. I feel like I’ve become more comfortable being in the here and now. When I had just started out, I was like, ‘This is where I want to be when I’m 30. I want to buy a house. I want to get married. I want to do X, Y and Z career-wise.’ All that stuff. But now I’m about doing what makes me feel good. It’s not all about the accolades.
The Morning Show is on Apple TV+ now
Photography: Caitlin Cronenberg/Trunkarchive.com