The opening scene of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the new Amazon show starring Rachel Brosnahan as a ’50s Upper West Side housewife turned downtown stand-up comedienne, finds Midge Maisel delivering a giddy, champagne-tipsy toast at her own wedding. We soon learn that lack of inhibition is one of Midge’s defining traits, along with a talent for cooking brisket and a motormouth with a witty bite.
Off-screen, Brosnahan is far less boisterous. At an awards ceremony on Thursday hosted by Stonestreet Studios, a conservatory within New York University’s Tisch School, Brosnahan accepted the program’s second annual Granite Award with modesty and gratitude. Soon after graduating from Stonestreet, Brosnahan burst onto the scene with her Emmy-nominated turn as an ill-treated prostitute on House of Cards. But that character, like her more recent role in the 1940s-set TV drama Manhattan, was far from funny. That’s why it’s a bit of a surprise to watch Brosnahan, as Midge Maisel, hit all of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s — the brains behind Gilmore Girls — rapid-fire zingers with a comic agility that rivals some of the best in stand-up.
Bedford + Bowery chatted with Brosnahan before the awards ceremony. We spoke about elevating women, performing drunken stand-up, and buying vintage Vogues.
Horrifying. Every single second of it has been terrifying. And by the same token, exhilarating. A dream I didn’t know I had. But it was unexpected. Mostly I just loved working on this show with these people and on this extraordinary woman.
In the pilot, the first time you do stand-up you’re in this crazed state because your husband has just left and you’ve downed a bottle of red wine. What did it feel like to just let loose on that stage?
By the time we got to the actual shooting of that scene, it was thrilling. So much of this process has been terrifying– every time you try something new, it’s terrifying– but by the time we reached that scene we’d had so much rehearsal. I’d read that scene so many times and been given a lot of guidance by Amy. When we finished, it felt like we were really on this train, doing this show, and Midge had arrived, and we were all making the same story and excited to move forward.
Research. I love to research. I think in a lot of ways though, people are people throughout the course of history. And it’s the world around us and the expectations that are placed on us in different periods, women and men alike, that inform the way that we think. So they’re all still people, at the core. But for this role specifically I got on eBay and got some vintage Good Housekeeping magazines and Vogues to read articles that were geared towards women at that time to see what kind of content they were taking in and what they were being influenced by.
This is also an interesting time for women, as we’re increasingly recognizing how pervasive sexual assault and harassment is, especially in this industry. What influence do you think a female protagonist like Midge can have in this moment?
It gives the show an extra level of importance. It’s a show that’s one part of a multifaceted solution to that problem. It’s created, written, directed and produced by an extraordinary woman and extraordinary man about an extraordinary woman at a time when it wasn’t acceptable or encouraged to be extraordinary. This is a show that lifts up women, highlights their battles, and employs them in front of and behind the camera. It’s felt good to be a part of something like that in the wake of all this turmoil.
Not about the same things. I can’t with the makeup and the hair. I don’t know how to do my own makeup or hair. I have a lot of help. But let’s just say I had a way in. I can be a little bit tight-gripped. I think what Midge and I share in common is that we can both be singularly focused. To me, that was at her core and was a way in.
Not stand-up, certainly. But I’d love to explore more comedy. At the moment we have another season, so in the immediate future it’s more of this! It’s nice to have a job, and it’s nice to be able to continue with this group of people that I love and with this woman that I love. I don’t know what’s next. I’m open. I’m on the hunt.