How Martin Short Channeled a #MeToo Monster on ‘The Morning Show’
The comedy icon breaks down how he got in the head of a “deep predator” for his Emmy-nominated role on “The Morning Show.”
The first time we meet Martin Short’s character on The Morning Show, he’s playing a spry game of tennis with Steve Carell’s disgraced TV anchor Mitch Kessler. When the two men sit down together for a post-match drink, we quickly learn that they share a unique bond. Short’s Dick Lundy is also a recently exposed #MeToo predator.
The role, which just earned Short his 18th career Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, represented a rare opportunity for him to show off a darker, more menacing side to his far more familiar comedic persona.
With CNN host Brian Stelter’s Top of the Morning as its source material, there is no doubt that Carell’s character on the Apple TV+ series is based on the Today show’s Matt Lauer. But the filmmaker whom Short portrays is a bit of a mystery. Is he Woody Allen? Roman Polanski?
“They didn’t say, ‘This is based on blank,’” Short says of his initial conversations with the show’s creators. “They kind of left it to, how do you feel? Whom do you feel it could be based on?”
The actor had some people in mind, but of course he’s hesitant to share their names. “Maybe not even obvious choices, maybe someone who is an accomplished director, but hasn’t been #MeToo’d, or is indeed a predator,” he says. “So you can apply one to the other imagining how he might feel were he suddenly brought down.”
His first big scene with Carell builds to a chilling exchange when Mitch starts talking about the difference between the “first wave” of #MeToo, which was “really bad” and what he believes are overblown allegations against himself.
“Spell it out for me, won’t you Mitch?” Dick says, ominously.
“Well, you are actually a predator and people are going to want you to own that,” Mitch replies.
After a long pause and sip of his drink, Dick says, “As opposed to… what are you exactly, Mitch?”
“I think that was a profound moment for Dick Lundy, the character, and also for Steve Carell's character,” Short recalls. “Because he sits back and says, ‘I might have been inappropriate, given the era.’ You know, there’s always a caveat. ‘But I’m not Harvey Weinstein here.’ And that’s the mistake, that’s the delusion.”
It’s a deadly serious scene that is performed by two of the funniest actors to ever grace the screen. But Short insists that neither man was tempted to push things in a comedic direction.
“If you view yourself as a comic actor, then part of that phrase is actor,” Short says. “So I don’t think you sit back and say, ‘Oh, I should spit water out here.’ That’s not the job you've taken on. I do think the mistake sometimes happens when you have a history of comedy and then you think when you do something dramatic that you must be very serious and never smile. Just because they’re predators doesn’t mean they can’t be playful with each other.”
“Both Steve and I are improvisers too,” he adds, noting that Carell came up at Second City in Chicago while he got his start at that improv theater’s Toronto outpost. “You go into something like that scene with an open mind. What can you experience just from working with that actor, listening to that other actor? Suddenly the way you might have thought you were going to play it is played differently.”
While the lines didn’t change, the way the two men reacted to each other differed from take to take—a kind of silent improvisation of pauses and facial expressions.
For Short, the biggest challenge of the role was trying to imagine what it must feel like to go from being widely beloved in the entertainment industry—as he is in real life—to being brought low by devastating allegations of sexual misconduct.
“What I found interesting is this perception—and I think The Morning Show did a brilliant job of it actually in later episodes—where any form of a predator feels that he is a victim, feels that ‘she was just as turned onto me as I was to her,’ even though there’s a 45-year age difference. Because people delude themselves. They say, ‘Hey, you know what, I’m still looking pretty good now that I’m 74.’”
To get in the mindset of a “deep predator” like his character, Short says he thought a lot about “the idea that everyone believes that they are vindicated, that they are a victim.” Men like that, he says, truly believe, “Boy, if you’d been there, you’d see how innocent I was.”
“When O.J. got out of that car after he got released, I remember thinking, I wonder if he really now believes if he didn’t do it,” Short says. “I mean, is Donald Trump mentally ill or does he really believe the stuff he says? That’s the age-old question. I think it’s kind of intriguing to think, if you're going to play that person, that they really believe it.”