The last time director Roger Michell was in New York, it was to shoot “Changing Lanes,” a dark character drama about two men who find themselves tragically intertwined after a car accident. So how did he get to “Morning Glory,” the new comedy from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production house? “It had to rain every day on the film, we have to make it really rainy and dirty,” Michell recalls of the shoot. “Our strategy for this film was that, while you’re inside in these claustrophobic offices, you have to make the film really breathe, to make the film kind of have a spring. We went to great lengths to use bright colors, lots of orange.”
And “Morning Glory” is nothing if not bright. From a script by Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”) “Morning Glory” follows a young associate producer on her dream job: revitalizing a struggling broadcast network morning show. The film moves to the bouncy rhythms and energy of its lead, Rachel McAdams. Despite starring in a number of box office hits like “Wedding Crashers,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and “Sherlock Holmes,” to many this is her first big breakout role, as she is in every scene, carrying the picture opposite a couple of legends in Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. But she almost didn’t think she could pull it off.
As Michell says, “She didn’t feel that she was a comedic actress, and I said, we’ll figure that out. Because funny isn’t about making funny faces or falling over, funny comes from who you are, what your character is about.” McAdams concurs, “Roger had total faith in me, and I trusted him, so I just would jump in, arms flailing, and he would direct me on what to do.”
Of course, there needed to be a verbally acerbic tone as well, as the cast and crew apparently became very familiar with a specific Howard Hawks classic. But they also found that truth resembled fiction much more than they thought. According to Michell, “We went to all morning shows, where a lot of them speak very fast. It reminded us constantly of ‘His Girl Friday.’”
The research was key in helping establish a believability, as “Morning Glory” seems steeped in the traditions of network anchormen and women. Most of the actors took their inspiration from actual living news people. Diane Keaton, who is seen in the film in a sumo suit and rapping with 50 Cent, initially opted to go with Diane Sawyer as a touchstone, but she later revised herself. “I think I wanted to be more bubbly, more like Kelly Ripa,” Keaton claims. “Because my character was never really an anchor. No one really took her as seriously as Harrison’s character.”
The film also deals with the chasm that separates “news” and “infotainment,” a topic that the cast and crew (including Patrick Wilson, the son of a news anchor) could relate to. As Mike Pomeroy, Harrison Ford plays an aging newsman who sees the tide changing, but refuses to acknowledge the new media world. His outlook is a lot more optimistic, however. “As we now have 24 hour news, it’s not really news anymore,” says Ford. “It’s now time allotted for what used to be called features. I do think citizens have a right and responsibility to choose where to receive their information, and they have to be responsible enough to get accurate information.”
The characters in the film hold Pomeroy in high regard given his vaunted stature, which is something shared by the filmmakers in detailed their experiences with the story. Writer Aline Brosh McKenna speaks highly of being raised in a Jewish household where on Sundays, “60 Minutes“ was the most important event. “I grew up watching and revering those guys. And struck me as funny, with the news world changing so much, the idea that those anchors would have to adapt to a changing environment, and I think that morning news encapsulates that. And I always found it interesting that morning news people have to turn on a dime, to do these serious stories, but then also do the lighter stories. These morning shows are in your bedroom, in your living room, when you’re working out. You never really watch at the beginning or until the end. One of the anchors told me they have a very specific type of fame because they are in everyone’s houses every day.”
McKenna, who also has “27 Dresses” under her belt, has another prestige project coming up with Cameron Crowe’s “We Bought A Zoo.” She says about the project, “It’s based on this memoir about a man who had no experience raising animals. He bought a zoo kind of cold, he knew almost nothing about being a zookeeper. It’s about a guy who knows nothing about it trying to renovate this zoo.” Heavily in demand, McKenna is nonetheless not leaving her partnership with producer J.J. Abrams. She refused to share many details about another new project with Bad Robot, but she did tell us it‘s a collaboration with action-genre screenwriter Simon Kinsberg (“Mr. And Mrs. Smith“). “It’s something we discussed with J.J. on this set. It sort of combines what I do with what Simon does, so it combines romantic comedy elements with action elements. I’m also doing a project with Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci, too.” With the rest of Hollywood calling, “Morning Glory”’s possible success could mean big things for Ms. McKenna.