Having starred in Apple TV+’s introductory magnum opus The Morning Show, Bel Powley’s career is taking on a new dimension.
Taken from the Winter issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue here.
Three years ago, Bel Powley received a letter. “Hi, I just want to get in touch with you… I loved you in the movie. I want to work with you.” The movie in question was 2015’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, in which she played a naïve, precocious 15-year-old artist coming of age in 1976 America, and her admirer — amongst many — was Reese Witherspoon.
“So it was really nice, a couple of years later, to have actually been able to work together,” Powley says excitedly, referencing the project that — by chance, manifestation or just the holy power of Witherspoon — has seen their paths align this year. Opposite the London rooftop where we meet, a billboard, printed mega-size on a tower block, announces its arrival: “The Morning Show… The news is only half the story.”
Set in the glossy, corporate and insidiously corrupt world of American daytime TV, The Morning Show, which premiered November 1st, follows the fallout around a series of sexual misconduct allegations against anchor Mitch Kessler — portrayed by Steve Carell — who had hosted the show alongside Jennifer Aniston’s steely Alex Levy for fifteen years. Witherspoon (spoiler) plays his replacement: the brash, reckless reporter Bradley Jackson, and Powley takes the role of her ambitious production assistant, Claire Conway.
“She’s a bit of a ‘fuck the system’ anarchist,” Powley smiles, explaining that her character is caught up in a “completely legitimate” relationship with one of her superiors at work, the impeccably well-groomed weather guy, who — given the scrutiny over Kessler’s discretion — feels compelled to keep their involvement a secret. In one scene, she pushes back while pinning him up against a headboard: “Yanko, darling. My family could buy and sell you, and your entire family tree, a dozen times over. And my father has nothing to do with UBA, but he could still have you fired with one phone call. If there’s a power imbalance in this relationship, it’s… The one I have over you.”
(LEFT) Jacket ASHLEE WILLIAMS
(RIGHT) Dress SHRIMPS, tights CALZEDONIA, shoes MANOLO BLAHNIK
Over ten episodes, the series maps out a convoluted, multi-faceted depiction of the impact of the #MeToo movement – not just in Hollywood, but within any corporate entity and society more generally. Driven by clashing egos and moral conflicts, The Morning Show explores the nuances of victimhood, patriarchal structures, false façades and the humanity buried behind them, in a way that’s often omitted from sensationalised news headlines. “Rather than just studying the subject on a surface level — ‘this is a victim, this is a perpetrator’ — the show delves into the grey areas of how we’re dealing with this post-#MeToo society,” Powley emphasises. “It’s a seismic shift; a huge societal shift, that we’ve gone through. [The series] shows how women and men, people who are in relationships and people who aren’t in relationships, all the different echelons of this corporate world, are dealing with life post-#MeToo.”
With the show set to film a second season in LA in January, the actor is currently taking a short break back in London, where she was born and raised, and has just bought a house with her boyfriend. “It’s nice to have time between projects,” she says breezily. “Working back-to-back in this industry can burn you out and make you go crazy. And you’re never going to be a good actor if you don’t have life experience.” Powley has been acting since school, not because of momager parents (her mum and dad — a casting director and an actor respectively — actually discouraged her from working in the entertainment industry in favour of “something sensible”), but because CBBC series M.I. High hosted open auditions at her school and, after trying out just because, she lived out all of our 15-year-old dreams and was cast as an undercover teenage spy. From there she skipped drama school and spent years in theatre in London and New York, deferring her place to study History and Politics at uni until it became clear she wouldn’t be needing to take it anytime soon.
Since then, she’s appeared in an impressive range of projects – from playing an
addict in White Boy Rick alongside Matthew McConaughey (“yes, I did put his back out”), to a counter-terrorism officer in the BBC’s 2018 drama series Informer. After the relative familiarity of The Morning Show’s TV studio set, Powley’s latest project saw her immerse herself in an entirely new environment again. “She’s a Staten Island girl. Think New York accent, hair extensions, so much makeup, sky-high heels, tiny skirt, tan, contour,” she says of her role in the currently untitled, semi- autobiographical story of Pete Davidson’s life growing up in the borough, directed by Judd Apatow, in which she plays his girlfriend. “She couldn’t be further from me. I love doing shit like that.”
“You’ve just got to fucking get out there and do it. You have to just be brave, loosen up and go for it, and that helps you for the next time,” Powley considers, when I ask how she’s consistently found the confidence to take on such challenging, meaningful roles alongside some of the industry’s most established actors in the early stages of her own career. With the success of The Morning Show and Apatow’s film lined up for release next summer, it feels like a pivotal time for the actor, and — just as it always has done — it’s learning to sit with the uncomfortable, and tackling the unfamiliar that’s guiding her creative decisions moving forward. “I don’t do that whole, ‘I want to win an Oscar in five years,’” she laughs, momentarily slipping into a satirical Cali drawl before reverting to earnestness. “Variety is what keeps it interesting to me… I just want to keep doing good work. I want to keep myself interested.”
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Megan Anne Mandeville
Josh Knight at Caren Agency using EVO
Gina Kane at Caren Agency using MAC Cosmetics