Interview: Director Jennifer Morrison shares her creative visual choices to tell Dr. Death season 2 story

The talent was behind the camera for the first four episodes of the true-crime anthology starring Mandy Moore and Édgar Ramírez.
(Photo by: Todd Williamson/Peacock)
(Photo by: Todd Williamson/Peacock) /

Jennifer Morrison has been around cameras from a young age — starting out her career as a child model in advertisements, and eventually becoming the talented actress we know from shows like House, How I Met Your Mother, and Once Upon a Time. In 2017, she launched her directing career and hasn't stopped impressing us since!

Dr. Death season 2 debuted Dec. 21, 2023 on Peacock, and Morrison took on the task of directing the first four episodes of the true-crime anthology drama based on a true story. The second season focuses on Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon who claimed artificial tracheas soaked in patients' stem cells could be used as a replacement to real organs. Unfortunately, that claim was a lie.

Hidden Remote had the opportunity to speak with Morrison about the creative visual choices she made to tell this season's story, working with the actors, and reuniting with This Is Us co-star Mandy Moore. And don't worry my fellow Oncers. I had an important Once Upon a Time question lined up for the actress/director as well! Read on below for the full interview.

Dr. Death - Season 2
Courtesy: Peacock /

Hidden Remote: Of course you were a big star on House, playing Dr. Allison Cameron. When you came on to Dr. Death, did you impress everyone with your medical knowledge?

Jennifer Morrison: I have no idea [laughs]. You'd have to ask everybody else if it was impressive or not. But it's definitely a comfort zone for me when you've spent six years on a medical set, dealing with surgeries, terminology, medical cases, patients, and all of the gack and gear and props and stuff. That could be really intimidating if you hadn't been around it a lot. So for me, that is definitely a weird comfort zone.

HR: You directed the first four episodes of Dr. Death season 2. The first episode of a show really establishes the tone of a season and where the story is going. So what tone did you want to set, especially since this is an anthology series and you previously directed two episodes in season 1?

Morrison: It's interesting because with an anthology series like this, I was really grateful that I had worked on the first season because you want there to be some continuity of tone. You want there to be a little bit of overlap. But you also want it to have its own identity. And the great thing was, this story itself had its own identity in such a clear way because Paolo and Benita's love story was also mixed into this medical issue that was going on with Paolo.

He was hustling her in love just as much as he was hustling people in the medical system. And I think by adding that element in this story, this season, it immediately gave me a position to be able to bring some new visuals in. Because there were two timelines, it also gave me opportunity to do something different visually. So we very intentionally wanted to differentiate the past timeline of Karolinska and the beginnings of the whistleblowers starting to realize something was up and something was wrong. We wanted to give that its own look. And then I also wanted to give Benita and Paulo's story its own look as well and make sure that as audiences were watching, even though there's chyrons and text indicating where we are, that the visual kind of tells you where you were as well.

When we are in Benita's story, we use anamorphic lenses because I felt like her world was so bent by him and things weren't quite as linear or rigid. It's much more romantic, and I wanted there to be that romance to the visual as well. So the world was lit, very warm, and then the lenses were very soft and bent. Whereas when we were in Karolinska, it was spherical lenses where everything is very crisp, all the straight lines are very crisp, and everything's a cooler tone. Those were just some physical ways that we could differentiate those timelines. But it also automatically sort of gave this season its own identity to be able to differentiate those timelines.

I also really wanted to use movement to try to give the audience a sense of what these people were going through. So you'll notice that there's times where the camera has its own perspective. There's times it's very much Benita's perspective, there's times it's very much Paulo's perspective, there's times it's the whistleblowers' perspective. But there's times where the camera leads everyone and does its own thing. And I really wanted to establish that as part of the storytelling visually in order to give the audience that ominous feeling. That almost The Shining kind of feeling of like, oh shoot. The audience is in on some of this information in a way that the characters aren't yet. 

HR: Directing four episodes is kind of a luxury in TV. Directors usually get two episodes, especially if it's a shorter season. So what was it like for you to be able to spend more time with the story, the actors, and the characters? 

Morrison: I really enjoyed doing a four episode block. I think it's really hard on the department heads because with production, things are changing constantly. Someone gets COVID and you have to shift the schedule, a location has some issue, or there's some weather issue. So I think it's really tricky to have to prep four episodes all at once like that because while you're shooting the first four, you're prepping the next four all together. So it is a huge undertaking. And I knew that going in. So I tried really hard to be as clear and decisive up front as humanly possible. And hopefully people felt like that was helpful. 

But for me it was great because it needs less company moves, which means more time actually shooting. And anytime you get more time shooting, it's better. And also you have that continuity of time with the actors where you get to get all the way into the characters with them, have a longer stretch of time to be able to work together to really find that cadence together in the character. So that's also really wonderful. I was also really lucky because it was an incredible ensemble of actors and everybody was up for rehearsals. Which is not always the case. A lot of our weekends were people being generous enough with their time to spend a couple hours on Zoom going through scenes so that we had already talked through things and sort of worked through, at least from an idea perspective, scenes before we are on set rushing.

Also, you have this longer stretch to establish the vibe of what you're doing. I was able to start episode 1 with the blood dripping onto the frame of the camera and the beginning of episode 4 with the blood dripping on the dress. You just get a longer stretch of time to be able to establish a visual language [and] it just gives you a chance to really kind of plot out all of those visual ideas and let them live across a longer stretch of time.

Dr. Death - Season 2
(Photo by: Todd Williamson/Peacock) /

HR: You and Mandy Moore previously worked together as co-stars on This Is Us. What was it like to reunite and work with her in a different capacity?

Morrison: It was so wonderful. Mandy is one of those people that I couldn't say enough nice things about honestly. She's just the real deal. She is exactly what you see. There's no presentation of a different person, and then she's different behind closed doors or something. She's just so genuine, professional, and incredibly talented.

She shapeshifts every time she's working on something, and it was just a joy to work with her [on Dr. Death]. We crossed paths on This Is Us, but we didn't really have any screen time together. So we didn't really get to spend a lot of time together. Being able to do this where it was such a deep dive and so much work so fast, she jumped on very late in the process and she also had just had a baby. It was incredible what she showed up and delivered immediately. And she's just a team player. She was a great partner for Édgar [Ramírez], she was an incredible partner to me, [She was] someone who was ready to go all the time [and] game to try anything. 

A really great friendship blossomed out of it. We already liked each other and admired each other, but didn't know each other well. And now I feel like we've known each other forever. So it was really such a cool experience to be able to get to know her better both professionally and personally. 

HR: Do you have any acting or directing projects coming up that we can look forward to?

Morrison: There's always so many things brewing, and it's always just a matter of what's going to fall into place first. I am in the process of negotiating the next acting thing. And then I've written a script that I'm going to direct, and we're in the process of putting together the financing for that. I'm really, really excited for that because it'll be the first thing that I'm directing that I also wrote.

Courtesy: ABC /

HR: Everyone's doing reunion movies right now. And I have to preface this - I was a big Once Upon a Time and Captain Swan fan. So would you ever be open to a Once Upon a Time reunion movie if that ever came by? 

Morrison: Of course! I mean, it's one of those things where, how could you not with a show like that? It was something that was just - these characters are characters that everyone's so familiar with. So there's something so fun and satisfying about watching them all be mashed up together and be friends and enemies and all sorts of things. And you know, Eddie Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the showrunners, are such brilliant minds in terms of the way that they wove all those stories together and found all the right people that played all the right parts. Yeah. If there was ever a reunion movie, I definitely would be in that conversation.

HR: Any closing thoughts?

Morrison: I'm just so excited that people are enjoying Dr. Death. It's one of those things where it's so hard to believe it's a true story, and yet it is a true story. We did everything we could to make it as visually compelling as possible and I feel like I'm so proud of that group of actors. I think they're all incredible and I'm just really excited that people seem to be enjoying it so much.

All eight episodes of Dr. Death season 2 are now streaming on Peacock.

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