Interview: Cinematographer Michael Grady on ‘The Morning Show,’ ‘The Leftovers,’ & Almost Working on ‘Birds of Prey’

Apple TV+ is here, and with it, comes a slew of original programming that the company hopes will resonate with perspective viewers. It’s flagship series, The Morning Show, hopes to kickstart hype around the service, and did not pull any punches in putting together a cast and crew.

With stars like Steve Carrell, Jennifer Anniston, and Reese Witherspoon in front of the camera, the show needed someone skilled enough behind the camera to aide in capturing the modernist, eerie feel of the timely series. Michael Grady, cinematographer behind The Leftovers, Easy A, and Notorious, worked on six episodes of the series, and was gracious enough to sit down with Talkies Network to discuss his wild career, and his work on The Morning Show. Check it out below!

Nick: Hi Michael, it’s nice to meet you.

Michael: Absolutely, nice to meet you too!

Nick: I first wanted to congratulate you on The Morning Show premiering on Apple TV+. It must’ve been a lot of fun to work on the streaming platform’s flagship show.

Michael: It was a great job, really collaborative group. I am a total Apple dork, so to work on a show in their new studio was awesome. A really good, solid group, where everyone gets along. Actually, in terms of work, it was a lot of fun.

Nick: Right out the gate, I like to ask this question, frankly because I’m new to interviewing. What was your favourite project that you ever worked on?

Michael: Well, that’s tough. They’re all weird in their own way. I still even acknowledge the terrible ones I worked on. My favourite one though? Probably Wonderland, which starred Val Kilmer. Kilmer plays the role of John Holmes, a famous pornstar suspected of being a murderer. Notorious was also a good one, the one about Notorious B.I.G. I just like the idea of true stories, something where the movie is based on something. In a weird way, there’s a movie called The Type Girl, which probably wasn’t seen a lot. But, the direction, acting, script, it was all so good. Those three are probably my favourite actually.

The first project that probably stayed with me the most however, its gotta be The Leftovers. It was an astonishing experience, tackling the big questions. Damon Lindelof asking ‘what does it all mean?’ And at the time, it was so perfect to be working on a series like this. The Leftovers really had everything. Actually, I have to retract all previous statements; it’s definitely The Leftovers that was my favourite project.

Nick: That was probably the best answer I could’ve ever asked for. You jumped from four separate and very different projects before settling.

Michael: *Laughs* My career has been quite a ride.

Nick: So, correct me if I’m wrong here, but in my research that I did, I understand that film and cinematography was not always your first career choice.

Michael: In a sense, yes. I was in college studying marketing, but I was into arts as a kid. Movies especially. They were one of the only things I cared about. I never verbalised it, but it was around the end of college where I realized that film school may be something I want to do. I tried to learn all the roles related to a film, and it was cinematography that I fell in love with the most.

Nick: What were some of your favourite movies growing up?

Michael: Being from a small town, we had a cinema that actually showed everything you could think of, surprisingly enough. But, gun to my head, I’d probably have to go with Taxi Driver and Barton Fink. I really like everything. I loved horror movies as a kid, but now I never watch them. My taste is always changing. Comedies, foreign films. It was really in college where I discovered ‘oh wow, there’s movies all over the world.’ Star Wars was a massive one for me as well.

When you think about it, the movie industry really is a bunch of people trying to figure out what’s cool. You can’t grow old.

Nick: It’s the wonder and excitement of it all

Michael: Exactly! I was the kid that was quoting movies all the time… annoyingly I might add. I would probably be annoyed if I talked to my younger self.

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Michael Grady, on set for On the Basis of Sex.

Nick: Would you say you have someone who you looked up? Filmmakers in the business?

Michael: Martin Scorsese was a big one for me growing up. I was a big Oliver Stone fan for a while. In terms of cinematography, Robert Richardson had a big impact on me. Just that 90s vibe, which wasn’t glossy, traditional cinema. He really rewrote the rules. But my ultimate guy is Conrad Hall. He’s someone who should inspire everyone, someone that prolific. I’m constantly amazed by his work. It takes a lot out of you to do this job. At times, it’s a long grind, and you go so long. I’d watch these movies and see if I could do it… you know, do those shots in a way. Rewriting the rules was something that I always wanted to do.

Nick: I found one interview back in 2009 where you discussed your earlier, much darker projects. But in that year, you made the leap to comedy with Easy A. What was it like moving to a film with such a light-hearted tone?

Michael: I’m really proud of that movie. I really, really, loved working on Easy A. On a pure level, I was super interested in darkness and contrast, so I always just gravitated to those projects, a sense of dark in the human spirit. Easy A, it was simple because with a such a light-hearted story, I think its easier to tackle the photography because you know the tone they’re going for. You always have to think about what would be applicable to tell a story like this. With The Morning Show, we went for a more modernist, shiner feel. And all of that would be described in the script, which is why I say Easy A was easier to photograph.

And when thinking about it, looking back on all the comedies I did, the evolution of how projects look these days, it’s really hard to make something look bad. It’s just easier to capture something, which of course, makes our job easier because everything comes faster. But in another sense, the technology allows us to focus more on the story.

Nick: I think that fuels creativity. It’s easier to take more risks and you know, shoot something three different ways. Especially in comedies which allow filmmakers more leg room to improvise, or try out different shots.

Michael: Right, exactly. It doesn’t always mean the movie or show will be better. But at the very least, it’ll look better. On the other side, I think everything has been homogenized. You have to find a way to pull yourself away from pristine images. It’s hard to make something not look dirty. And I’ve been thinking about how you could mess up some of these images, to give something a grittier feel. The Morning Show doesn’t have any of that. But maybe some time down the line.

Nick: What would you say was your hardest film shoot?

Michael: Oh there’s definitely a couple. Difficulty in the sense of, not people, but logistics. One of them was Hotel for Dogs, back in 2005/2006. The movie literally had a bunch of dogs running around, and it was just such a hard time. It’s a kids movie, but the day-to-day was nuts. I’d also put Notorious or even On the Basis of Sex, simply because of the source material. You don’t want to mess up the story about someone’s hero. The difficulty there was in terms of pressure. But really, all films are difficult. Especially because of the long hours. People think it’s some glamourous industry, but we are working 12+ hour days to get the script to screen.

Nick: Switching gears to the smaller screen, let’s talk about The Leftovers. I should say that when I got the email about the chance to interview you, I remembered your name because you worked on the show, and it finally gave me a reason to dedicate time to watching the series. I’m wondering, what was your favourite episode from the series?

Michael: Without a doubt, “International Assassin” is one of them. The series is just so insane, you never know what it coming next. This whole thing of “did any of that happened?” Love that kind of stuff. My personal favourite would probably come from the first season, in the episode where Patti kills herself, with Kevin in the cabin, and you question what’s real, and why we’re suffering. It’s so rare when you have these kind of, engulfing moments when shooting. Michelle MacLaren was the director on that episode, and she’s terrific. There’s so many of them, they’re all so good. It’s one big 30 hour movie.

In a show like The Leftovers, it was always like “are people going to like this, is this something we can do?” Damon never really gave us a the full scope of the series. We’d get outlines week to week, but he’d never tell us the whole story. Sometimes he’d be vague with the actors, and so we’d have to react, cast and crew, and try to achieve the tone and story he’d want. Damon works different from other creators. People working on the show always wondered about what was going to happen next. This was our version of watching the show because we never really knew, and honestly, neither Damon probably, about what was happening next. All the edges and flows, we just had to move with them. It really was the best job ever.

Nick: I honestly never expected anything less from the guy who worked on LOST.

Michael: It’s a show that tackles religious leaders, and how a world would react to something like the second coming. How would a religious figure react to that kind of power in the world we currently in. I loved working on stories like that. Damon very much liked the notion of science versus spirituality. Which in fact, goes back to the novelist who came up with all this, because he was a spiritual man. And Damon would talk to him, battling ideologies when first crafting the series. Does anything have meaning? Or is it just a random ass number of events? What creates these giant myths to satisfy our loss? It was such a great experience, and I loved every moment of it. And the ending…

Nick: Don’t spoil the ending! I’m only on season 2.

Michael: Don’t worry I won’t! I just love that the ending split fans, but has an overall positive image.

Nick: So, you worked on six episodes of The Morning Show. To start, what drew you to a project like this?

Michael: Well I’ve worked with Mimi Leder, a producer on the series, in the past, most recently on On the Basis of Sex. We’ve worked together for several years, and I love and respect her. So when she brought this series to me, it was almost a no-brainer to join. And then you look at the star power on the series. When you look at the industry now, it’s not like how it was in the past where there were “movie stars and tv stars.” Here, you have three major actors working on Apple TV+’s first major series. It was honestly also nice to shoot in L.A, instead of going somewhere far like in Canada or Europe. And I can’t speak highly enough about the story. Look, when you get an emotional connection, similar to the one I had with The Leftovers, it makes everything an easy decision.

Time is up on these men who feel they can use their power to do these kinds of things. The show very much shines a light on things that have clearly happened in the past, and bad things that are probably still happening. It puts you in the shoes of women who have unfortunately been put in these positions.

Mimi Leder is a pioneer of someone who rose up past the “boys club” of Hollywood, and the show debuting in 2019, it’s very well timed. The subject matter is very timely, tying in to Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer going down. It’s astonishing how many years that stuff like this has gone on. Our amazing writing staff have a lot of stuff that hasn’t even been shown yet, and we’re bringing topical content with this series.

Nick: Did you pull on any films, or news channels, for inspiration when shooting this?

Michael: Oh of course. We looked at the Today Show and Good Morning America, as backdrops for our show. And then we’d pull on fictional films that handle similar subject matter. Just to get an idea on how they tackled news. We watching a solid number of movies together, but I wouldn’t say there was exactly one that really drove our idea on how to tackle this series.

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Apple TV+’s The Morning Show

Nick: What do you think fans should look forward to the most with The Morning Show?

Michael: It’s just such a great piece of television. It’s a little surprising in moments, insanely accurate in terms of what’s happening in our times, and I hope a lot of women watch this show, and see that their workplace injustices are not going unnoticed. It won’t go the way you think, that’s for sure. We hope it’ll resonate with fans, really strike a chord with them.

To tell you the truth, at the end of the day, we hope it catches the eye of viewers. Like, that’s what Watchmen did for me. I mean, I’d look at The Morning Show and Watchmen, and if I’m being honest it’s Watchmen that would catch my eye as a viewer. But, that’s just me being honest!

Nick: This is perfect! I now have my clickbait headline where I can totally bury you for being excited about Watchmen instead of your own show.

Michael: *Laughs* Welp, I guess I can expect a call from Apple now.

Nick: *Still laughing* Did you have a favourite on-set moment from The Morning Show?

Michael: We actually shot through Christmas last year, and obviously no one likes that, but we had an ugly Christmas sweater contest on set, which would up morale in times like that. Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon, who are both producers, would very much take on a leader role in these moments, that one especially. They’d try and up the vibe, just showing how much, they cared about the people working on set. They’d do silly stuff, keeping everyone engaged.

For the show specifically, there are some really strong acting moments. Like, ones that’ll blow you away when you see them. It’s amazing to be there, in person, watching these actors do their thing. I don’t know if I have a specific moment, but in general, it was definitely watching the acting. They’re so dynamic, it was a great sight. Steve Carell in particular was awesome. I can’t wait for people to see his performance. It’s good to see smaller stories like this get made, because you see every major movie being shown at a theatre be a comic book movie or a Star Wars film.

Nick: Speaking of comic book movies, is there a particular character you’d want to work on one day?

Michael: I was never actually a big cape and tights kind of guy. I gravitated towards Sin City and Preacher, but those have already been made. I’d work on a Star Wars film in a heartbeat though. Honestly though, of course it would be Batman. It’s awesome to see Joker getting his own movie, but I’m not sure I’d be into any of this.

I was actually almost in talks to work on the Birds of Prey reshoots. I talked with the film’s DP Matthew Libatique, but I’m always nervous to work on reshoots. Especially when it’s a different DP working on the actual film. You’d have to stay in line with an already-crafted vision. But for Birds of Prey, it just didn’t work out scheduling wise. But that would’ve been cool to work on, especially with it being in the Batman universe.

I’m super psyched to see more DC stuff coming, because I’m getting a little tired of the Marvel universe. It’s weird to me, all the movies kind of feel the same to me.

Nick: Oh this is even better! I can now title my article” MICHAEL GRADY HATES THE MORNING SHOW AND MARVEL!”

Michael: *Laughing harder* Oh that’ll make for perfect clickbait! Which is even funnier because I’d work for Marvel in a heartbeat. I can’t believe I’m getting fired from Apple and eventually Marvel, and just destroyed my career!

Nick: *A slight tear running down my face due to laughter* Oh man, but I see where you’re coming from. The first part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was an episodic film series. Of course you can argue that now, because they’re established, they’ll take more risks. But the first 23 MCU films definitely had a “consistent vibe” to them.

Michael: Well, I mean that’s just what’s cool now. The universe feels so real because of the work put in. No one can be right in this argument. I’d tell any of those stories in a heartbeat. But I am glad they’re taking more risks.

This was, by far, the most fun I’ve had in an interview, and I cannot thank Michael Grady enough for taking the time to talk to us.

The Morning Show is streaming now on Apple TV+

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