By Samantha Highfill
October 30, 2019 at 08:00 AM EDT

Jennifer Aniston couldn’t have played Alex Levy five years ago.

In The Morning Show, Aniston stars as a veteran news host who wakes up one day to discover that her cohost of 15 years, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) has been fired following allegations of sexual assault. Levy is then tasked with delivering the news to the nation while also grappling with what her friend has done and renegotiating her contract with the network. In other words, she has a lot to juggle, both emotionally and professionally, which is what made the role so difficult.

“This role never could’ve come to me any sooner than now,” Aniston tells EW. “It’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve had. I knew I was up to the task, but then there was the excavation of all the emotions in order to create this world for this woman. All of her lifelines are falling away. I would walk out of some of those scenes feeling like a manhole cover just came off my back.”

Credit: Frank Masi/Apple

Because, much in the way that America feels like it knows Alex Levy within the world of The Morning Show, America feels like it knows Jennifer Aniston in real life. “I understand that, with people having connections to Friends,” Aniston says. “I understand the isolation — not wanting to be seen, not wanting to be public, not wanting to have to go on a red carpet. It’s not always easy to go out there and have to be the person that you have to be.”

Speaking of the audience’s connection to Friends, fans of Aniston’s portrayal of Rachel Green on the mega-successful sitcom are in for a surprise when Apple TV+ launches. “This is such a different performance from Jennifer Aniston, and I feel like people are going to lose their minds,” Morning Show director Mimi Leder says. “No one has ever seen Jen Aniston jump into the deep end like this. She’s totally a woman on the verge.”

Aniston’s Morning Show costar Reese Witherspoon adds, “I loved her performance in Cake, and how stripped-down and honest that was, and I think people will feel similarly about this performance, because I think she’s really gotten to an emotional truth that feels very raw and very real.”

Ultimately, Alex Levy is the kind of role that gets Aniston to say yes in 2019. “Time is precious, and what takes me away from home has to be really worth it,” Aniston says. “This is not like when I used to go away and do a silly rom-com for two months. In the last 10 years, I’m just having more fun and exploring characters I wouldn’t have normally thought to do. But I still love a good romantic comedy and a laugh — that will never not be in me.”

The Morning Show debuts Nov. 1 on Apple TV+.

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