‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Star Rachel Brosnahan: ‘I Would Be So Traumatized If I Did My Own Standup’

RACHEL-BROSNAHAN Variety Facetime Interview
Celeste Sloman for Variety

It’s one thing to take on a starring role in any TV series — it’s quite another when that series is written by “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. A standout for her work in “House of Cards” and “Manhattan,” Rachel Brosnahan time travels back to the ’50s for her turn as housewife-turned-standup in Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — a performance which just earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

Why did you want to play Miriam “Midge” Maisel?

There were a lot of reasons. I really love period pieces. I think history is often told by men about men, so it was exciting for me to see a woman at the center of a period piece. Midge is also unwaveringly confident. I have never played a role like that. I don’t come across a lot of women like that in scripts. Trying my hand at standup was exciting to me. And I was really excited to work with a female creator, and that female creator being the brilliant woman that is Amy. I could go on.

Were you intimidated by the thought of doing standup?

Yes, very, very much. I had never really done comedy, let alone standup — and man, I don’t know how those guys do it. It’s one of the bravest things I can possibly imagine. I will never be that brave. Getting up in front of an audience like we do on our show has given me a taste of it — and those guys were paid to laugh at my jokes! So I had it a little bit easier.

How did you prepare for the role? Did you do any standup yourself?

Absolutely not! I would be so traumatized if I did my own stand up I would never be able to do it. If you play a doctor on TV, you probably shouldn’t try performing surgery. But I did a lot for research about standup comedians of that time. I looked at a woman named Jean Carroll, who is arguably one of the first female standup comedians. Joan Rivers. Phyllis Diller. The whole megillah. And Amy was a great resource for me as well. She’s one of the funniest women I’ve ever met.

Her scripts are famously long and detailed — how did you learn that patter?

Definitely not like anything else I’ve ever worked on! It’s just even more words than you think possible to speak. And faster than you can imagine your mouth can move. It’s tough. They’re about 15 pages longer than normal hour-longs. And on a show with a woman who already talks a lot, that’s intense. I slept very little. I drank a lot of coffee. And I spent all my downtime memorizing. But once you get into the rhythm, it takes an episode or two to find Midge’s voice and Amy’s voice at the same time.

I think there should be a support group for women who’ve starred in Amy’s shows.

I agree! Lauren Graham can lead us. She’s the OG. I reached out to her before I started work on the pilot just to ask her if she had any advice. We’ve been trying to get coffee ever since, but we’re on opposite coasts. I’d just love to pick her brain.

Where does Midge’s abundant confidence come from?

To some degree she came out of the womb that way. I also think she’s a little bit naïve. Her worldview is very narrow. She’s led a very privileged life and that has helped. I also think she’s somebody who does have a vision and doesn’t know any other way but to keep going forward and execute it. With a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance, she has achieved everything she set out to do. In the pilot she says at 6 she wanted to be a Russian literature major and at 12 she found her signature haircut. And at 13 she decided she was going to go to Bryn Mawr. She was going to get married and have kids. And she did all of that, exactly how she wanted to. But obviously that’s a challenge when everything she’s ever known and understood and falls apart. That’s where the naïve confidence helps her. She doesn’t know any way but forward so she keeps pushing through.

The show also pays deep homage to Midge’s Judaism. Are you ready to convert at this point?

I grew up well versed in Jewish culture. A lot of it was familiar to me. I grew up on the north shore of Chicago, and I don’t think I had a friend that wasn’t Jewish. I spent more time in a temple than any other house of worship. I’ve been to about 150 bar and bat mitzvahs. And so this felt familiar to me in a way lovely way. I have so much love and admiration for the community, the culture, and I love that this show is unabashedly Jewish. There’s some real inside humor in here. There’s a really extended joke in one of the later episodes about a mezuzah that I was on the floor about. It’s hilarious.