Interview with the creators and cast members of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel talking about the writing and the resonant characters brought to the screen.
At the opening of the interactive exhibit Making Maisel Marvelous at the Paley Center for Media, I had the opportunity to speak with the creators and cast members of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Our focus was on the writing of the series and the resonant characters brought to the screen. The show recently received 20 Emmy Award nominations, more than any other comedy, including nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series.
About The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
In 1958 New York, Midge Maisel's life is on track—husband, kids, and elegant dinners in their Upper West Side apartment. But when her life takes a surprise turn, Midge has to quickly decide what else she's good at—and going from housewife to stand-up comic is a wild choice to everyone but her.
Kouguell: What initially attracted you to the material and the role of Midge Maisel?
Rachel Brosnahan : I knew I wanted to do this project from the bottom of the first page. The first scene of the pilot, at the wedding, Midge is really patting herself on the back. I loved how sure she is. I loved her world. I loved how unburdened she is. She’s funny. She’s smart. She’s flawed. She’s selfish. She believes she’s the center of the universe. We’re watching her grow and getting taken down a peg.
Kouguell: Some of the choices Midge makes are nontraditional for that era, and perhaps some might even consider for now. What’s your take on some of the criticism about Midge’s character regarding her mothering?
Brosnahan: I find some of that criticism valid at times but also frustrating. The kids have two loving parents, four loving grandparents. They have a village, including a nanny who is devoted to them. They have a mother who’s not always around; she’s pursuing her dream and as a result, is asking their father to step up, asking the neighbors to step up, and asking the grandparents to step up and help raise them. The kids aren’t wanting for anything.
I was asked once in an interview if I thought Midge loved her children, and Alex Borstein (Susie) turned around and said, “Well, do I not, not love my children because I’m here doing press and I feel the same.”
I get frustrated when people say that it feels like lazy writing as opposed to attributing it to her character; she’s not a perfect 1950s ideal of a doting mother that we’re used to seeing on television. In a show like this, I appreciate the idea of what a good mother could be—someone who is out to provide for her children, looking to make herself satisfied, and to grow. I don’t know what part of that makes Midge a bad person.
Kouguell: What drew you to the character of Susie Myerson?
Alex Borstein: I was on my way out of the country when Amy (Sherman-Palladino) said, ‘I have this part I want you to audition for.’ So, I read it and I said, ‘Oh damnit it, it’s so great, how do I not do this?’ I like playing characters with a unique voice and Susie’s got that. I like playing people who are dissatisfied and angry, there’s some joy in that for me. Someone who’s battling uphill. And Susie is all of that, a perfect storm of what I want in a character. She is strong yet incredibly vulnerable and that’s hard to find in female characters. Susie’s really fun to play, and I get to wear flat shoes.
The way that Amy envisions things is extremely thorough. She uses as many words as she can in any given sentence. It’s really challenging to memorize it all sometimes, to find a pattern that feels somewhat theatrical yet somewhat believable. Her material is theatrical in a sense, in a good way. It feels like a Katherine Hepburn-Cary Grant relationship between Midge and Susie sometimes. It’s fun to have it feel like a game, but you want to find the truth in it, the reality. That’s always the challenge but that’s what’s fun about this material.
Kouguell: The relationship between Susie and Midge continues to be realistic, unpredictable, and not stereotypical.
Borstein: Yes! It’s a love story. A platonic love story. You rarely get to see a good one of those regardless of gender. It’s more interesting in a way because you don’t have this, ‘Will they, won’t they’ type of element that you would have with a Kathrine Hepburn-Cary Grant comedy or Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd—remember Moonlighting? Those kind of shows and films where you’re always teetering on that ‘will they won’t they?’ and this is not what it’s about. It’s: Will Midge trust Susie with her career? Will Susie trust Midge to give up everything at the Gaslight and really move forward and just focus on her? It’s terrifying but that’s what makes it fun for both characters.
Kevin Pollak: (Moishe Maisel) As a proud member of the WGA since 1987, I love Script magazine! Everything starts on the page and in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel the subject matters and the relationships jump off the page. I’ve never personally played a loud obnoxious Jewish man, which is a weird irony, starting out as a stand-up comedian and then becoming somewhat of a loud obnoxious Jew in my real life. The show continues to raise the bar and then top it.
Kouguell: Joel’s character, Midge's husband, is not the stereotypical antagonist. He’s empathetic; he’s both sympathetic and unsympathetic.
Michael Zemen: When I read the pilot I thought he was going to be the villain, but as the season progressed, there was a peeling away of layers, and I realized he’s not the villain, he’s a human being who’s made some mistakes. That’s what I love about him; there are so many layers to him. It’s apparent that he’s a good guy, he’s a good father, and he does care for Midge. I don’t feel bad for him; he did this to himself. At the same time, he was the catalyst for Midge to pursue her stand-up career and without him she wouldn’t have discovered her secret talent.
Carolyn Aaron: I play Shirley Maisel, not the Marvelous one, but the other Mrs. Maisel. Joel’s mother. I have a daughter who watched Gilmore Girls incessantly. When my agent called me about auditioning for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I said you know my status with my daughter is going to be incredible.
We talked about our respective 20-something daughters growing up watching Gilmore Girls, and how Carolyn Aaron was struck by the unique mother-daughter relationship portrayed in that series, and the humorous yet realistic portrayal of the family relationships in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Marin Hinkle and I talked about the choices Rose (Midge's mother) makes to seek more independence, pursuing her own goals and dreams outside of her marriage, and a voice within her marriage. Hinkle stated: “There are few roles out there for women (air quotes) of a certain age, and one that is so complex like this one.”
Sherman-Palladino: We have complete creative control. That’s the only way we’ve done things ever. We had complete creative control over Gilmore Girls because they kind of forgot we were there.
We talked about the layered characters in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which each of the actors with whom I interviewed, marveled and admired.
Daniel Palladino: That was the goal, to have multi-dimensional characters who had depth.
Kouguell: What advice can you give to writers trying to break into the business?
(There was a beat and then the three of us chuckled, saying “OYE” in unison, like right out of an episode from Gilmore Girls—for fans of that show, we did not add the infamous phrase: “...with the poodles already” though I whispered it under my breath.)
Palladino: There are a lot of hurdles. Stay true to your core. Even if they (executives) are happy, the audience won’t like it. They’ll sniff it out. The audience has the final say.
Sherman-Palladino: You got to keep remembering why you love the project in the first place. The deeper down the rabbit hole you go, the more people that chime in, the more people who have ideas, good, bad or indifferent, you got to keep remembering why you love the project.
The exclusive New York engagement of Making Maisel Marvelous is free and open to the public and will run at the Paley Center for Media August 10 through September 6.
Season 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will air on Amazon Prime at the end of 2019.
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