Jennifer Aniston Has Found Her Power
"I’m sorry it’s not clearer,” says Jennifer Aniston. She is standing in the living room of her gorgeous hilltop home, looking at the epic view that spans all of Los Angeles — the skyline, the boulevards, the palm trees — and extends to the Pacific Ocean. Granted, there’s some smog, but the vista is spectacular by anyone’s standards. Not to mention the property’s lush green gardens, giant pool, and living-room bar. Just navigating the long, winding road that leads to Casa Jen gives the whole experience a James Bond feel. “Jane Bond,” corrects Aniston with a chuckle. “But I must admit it took me about a year and a half not to have to look at a map to get here.”
Fortunately for the rest of us, Aniston’s internal GPS has recently led her back to TV in a major way. She and her good friend Reese Witherspoon both star in and serve as executive producers of The Morning Show, a fierce drama débuting this fall on the highly anticipated Apple TV+ streaming service. It was among the first shows that the tech behemoth picked up under its new television division, and, yes, the two A-listers and their creative team had to personally pitch the idea to the heads of video at Apple. “This was something that didn’t even have walls yet. It’s so exciting to be a part of that,” Aniston says.
VIDEO: Beauty According to Jennifer Aniston
Whereas her former television mainstay, the ’90s sitcom Friends, was as frothy as a Central Perk cappuccino, The Morning Show is more like a double espresso straight out of bed. Abrupt and to the point, it tackles the conversations currently happening in HR offices worldwide. “The show gives you a behind-the-curtain peek at a lot of things — what it takes to pull off a morning show, the unique lifestyle of these anchors, the obsession with celebrity culture, and humanity in the midst of corruption. Plus we’re addressing the ugly truths of how men have treated women in our society, particularly in the workplace, for all these years,” Aniston explains. “We’re looking at the ways in which we’ve all normalized this behavior and how we’re all by-products of our environment, having grown up with sexism encoded in our messaging, however extreme or subtle. This show looks at how a culture of silence can slowly evolve and how we sometimes participate without even realizing it.”
If that seems like a lot to unpack, that’s because it is. By Aniston’s own admission, her role on The Morning Show is her most complex to date. She plays Alex Levy, the ambitious co-host of a television news program who confronts the sexism, ageism, and other -isms foisted onto her by a troubled male co-host (Steve Carell), her network’s male executives, and, in some respects, herself. “Alex’s sell-by date expired long ago, and she’s trying to stay relevant,” says Aniston, whose research included going behind the scenes at Good Morning America at 5 a.m. to get a sense of the matrix.
Remarkably, the Aniston-Witherspoon pitch meeting occurred before #MeToo revelations rocked the entertainment industry. “The show was always about the abuse of power, and women and sexism. We sold it in the summer, and then Harvey [Weinstein] happened in the fall,” Aniston says. The allegations against CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose and the Today show’s Matt Lauer came next. “Reese and I were like…‘The show is writing itself.’ It was as if the universe were begging for this patriarchal society to be exposed. It’s crazy.”
Aniston hopes that the show, which delves into the gray areas of #MeToo, will also inspire deeper conversation about the norms of the workplace. And the dialogue should not just be limited to men either. The reckoning affects all of us. “There’s a new playbook that’s being written in real time, and this show looks at how we’re finally taking steps to acknowledge and dismantle the old, dysfunctional ways of doing business so we can level the playing field.”
The role of Alex is made all the more interesting given Aniston’s most recent milestone. This past February she turned 50, an age that was once a career killer for even the biggest female stars. (Can you imagine banishing Aniston — or other 1969 babies like Gwen Stefani, Cate Blanchett, Ellen Pompeo, and Jennifer Lopez — just because of a birthday?)
“Fifty was the first time I thought, ‘Well, that number,’ ” Aniston says. “I don’t know what it is because I don’t feel any different. Things aren’t shutting down in any way. I feel physically incredible. So it’s weird that it’s all of a sudden getting telegraphed in a way that’s like, ‘You look amazing for your age.’ I think we need to establish some etiquette around that dialogue and verbiage.”
Aniston admits that, if anything, she feels more in control than ever. “Women were never allowed to have power,” she says bluntly. “Power feels sexy to me today, as does women’s intelligence and how capable and creative they are.”
Not surprisingly, The Morning Show crew has many cool ladies both in front of and behind the camera. “There are a lot of women running this show,” Aniston says of the team, “and it moves really smoothly.” They include showrunner Kerry Ehrin and trailblazing director Mimi Leder, both of whom are also executive producers. Still, the shift to Apple TV+ was an adjustment for Aniston. Friends, which débuted 25 years ago this fall, was a breeze in comparison. “To me, a TV series used to mean a studio audience and five cameras. I got in at 10 and was out by 5,” she recalls. “The Morning Show was like doing two films back-to-back over seven months. After a full day of shooting, I’d go home and keep working, looking at cuts, weighing in on casting for the next week, preparing for the next day’s work. When the show wrapped, I crawled into my bed for a solid week.”
Pushing herself out of her comfort zone wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Aniston’s loyal and supportive assistants, glam squad, and fashion aides, all of whom have been with her for 10 years or more. In shaping her character’s look, she brought in her secret weapons: twin-sister stylists Nina and Clare Hallworth. “We went with beautifully tailored men’s fabrics in shades of gray, blue, and brown. It was a conscious decision not to be in canary yellow or fuchsia or cobalt blue,” Aniston says. Her inspiration for Alex? None other than Diane Sawyer, the legendary TV journalist renowned for her skills and style. Aniston sighs just thinking about her. “I’ve known Diane for years, and I had the joy of getting to pick her brain when I was doing research for the show. Diane’s always been so elegant and classy.”
The Hallworths have an undeniable eye, having dressed Aniston in many a showstopping dress. Among her favorites are the custom Schiaparelli Haute Couture gown that she wore to the 2018 Golden Globes and a sequined cocktail frock by Stella McCartney that she wore to the première of her Netflix film Dumplin’. It’s no secret that Aniston gravitates toward black for the red carpet. It’s also her preferred hue for her T-shirts, jeans, and wedge heels. She’s a queen of consistency, whether she’s choosing her clothes or who’s in her inner circle. “Some people would call that playing it safe,” she says. “But I know when I’m comfortable with something [or someone], and I know when I’m not.”
From time to time the Hallworth sisters provide a glimpse of Aniston on their Instagram account, but the actress herself still maintains an aversion to social media. It’s not that she couldn’t be bothered with uploading her life — she worries about the damaging effects of social media on young people figuring out their identity. “They’re doing it through someone else’s lens, which has been filtered and changed…and then it’s ‘like me, don’t like me, did I get liked?’ There’s all this comparing and despairing.”
Could Aniston imagine that when she was a kid? “When I was younger, I was in hell,” she says, referring to her untamable curly hair. “I tried every product known to man.” By the time she was 25, Friends had launched, and Aniston was thrust into the spotlight, where she has remained ever since. “I was such a grown-up by then,” she says, shaking her head. “I had moved away from home. I had been on six failed television shows. I waitressed for years in New York before I got anything. And I was a telemarketer selling time-shares in the Poconos. I didn’t make one sale. I was terrible at it. I was like, ‘Why do we have to call people at dinnertime?’ ”
Other odd jobs: “I cut hair for 10 bucks a head in junior high. I could probably cut your hair,” she says. Her longtime hairstylist, Chris McMillan, her “brother from another mother” who created the Rachel style for her in the ’90s, might disagree. See also: her father, the actor John Aniston. “I cut my dad’s hair, and he was on a soap opera [Days of Our Lives]. But then he admitted to me 15 years ago that he would go in and have the hairdresser on set clean it up.”
Speaking of hair, I mention I couldn’t help but notice that her character Alex had perfectly highlighted tresses while Carell’s coif was fully gray. Women might have more power today, but they still often choose to color their hair. Aniston confides that she plans to keep her monthly colorist appointments until the bitter end. “I’m not gonna lie — I don’t want gray hair,” she says.
Skin care, however, is her real obsession. “I think it’s because my mom told me to start moisturizing when I turned 15,” she says. “I’ve been using Aveeno since I was a teenager.” (And, in a lovely kismet twist, she became the face of the Aveeno brand in 2013.) Aniston is a facial aficionada and rattles off the names of her go-to pros: Georgia Louise in New York, Lupita at Mila Moursi in Beverly Hills, Joanna Czech in Dallas and New York, and Melanie Simon in Montecito, Calif. She also swears by her daily glass of celery juice and E3Live superfood supplements, as well as a series of complexion-friendly tools, like the vibrating 24-karat-gold sculpting bar from her friend, the makeup artist Jillian Dempsey. “It feels so damn good to put oil on your face and just roll,” she says.
One of Aniston’s beauty regrets is not using sunscreen when she was younger, but she hopes her good genes will prevail. “My grandmother, at 98, had the most stunningly soft, gorgeous skin, and she would just put olive oil on her body.”
Would Aniston like to live as long? “I am all about living to whatever age I’m supposed to,” she says. “As long as I’m thriving.”
When you think about the arc of Aniston’s career, she is gaining momentum rather than slowing down. So, yes, thriving seems to be a pretty apt descriptor. With Season 1 of The Morning Show completed and Apple committed to a second season, even Aniston is allowing herself to experience a rare moment of pride. “When we found out that we were among one of the first shows to be bought by Apple, Reese and I both had this pinch-me moment,” she says. “The first women to help launch a network as actors and producers, having a beautiful piece of that pie that we really earned and deserved. We had a big toast to that.”
And, of course, the Genius Bar perks aren’t bad either. “I have to get those Apple guys on my speed dial,” she jokes. “When we went to Cupertino for the launch of the show, I was chatting with one of them and said, ‘You know, I have a couple of things I’d like to talk to you about.’ ”
Photographed by Michael Thompson. Styling: Julia von Boehm. Hair: Chris McMillan. Makeup: Nina Park. Manicure: Miwa Kobayshi.
For more stories like this, pick up the October issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Sept. 20.