When you consider the kind of year women have had, it’s all too fitting that a character like Midge Maisel has captured our attention, something which delights Golden Globe-nominated star Rachel Brosnahan.
“The reaction has been huge. Women love Midge, and love seeing somebody like Midge on TV,” she told IndieWire. “One of the things that struck me about this project, when I first read the script, that I’ve almost never, maybe never, read a woman as unapologetically confident as Midge. And I’ve definitely never played one.”
In “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the Amazon comedy created by Amy Sherman-Palladino (“Gilmore Girls”), Midge is a ballsy Upper West Side housewife in the 1950s whose life turns completely upside down after her aspiring comedian husband leaves her. But she finds new purpose in her own innate talent for stand-up comedy, turning not just her personal tragedies but her singular point-of-view into punchlines that delight the crowds.
For Brosnahan, the power Midge finds in not just being a confident woman, but a funny one is especially significant. “It’s enormous. I think comedy is universal. It means that you can talk about difficult issues and subject matter that is taboo in a way that is less affronting to people,” she said. “But being funny gets you far. And I think Midge’s unique skill set allows her to approach some of these subject matters that were completely off limits for a woman like her. And that’s thrilling to watch — and for me, thrilling to perform. And seems to be thrilling for audiences as well.”
While Brosnahan performs many sets as Midge on the series, she does not consider herself to be a true stand-up comedian. “That is a badge of honor I can’t claim to bear,” she said. “I’ve had no experience with standup, but bow down to those guys. It’s braver than anything I could possibly imagine doing, and I am not that brave. So much of standup comedy is that you’re up there as you, putting your very being and self-worth on the line to make people laugh. And you perform in front of different audiences every day and you’re never sure what’s going to land and what isn’t, based on the house that you’re in.”
By comparison, it might seem like Brosnahan is in a similar boat while playing Midge, but it was under, in her words, “the most controlled environment you could possibly imagine. The jokes were brilliantly written for me. I was playing somebody else, and there was an audience full of people paid to laugh at my jokes, and I got to try it again if it didn’t land. I think I play a stand-up on TV, but really can’t claim to have ever had any similar experience, still, at this point.”
That said, in scenes where Midge bombs in front of an audience, Brosnahan still felt the impact of those moments. “The bombing stuff is just terrible. Looking out into a room that is completely silent, and even though [the extras] are all acting brilliantly when judging you, it’s a horrible feeling,” she said. “I have some friends who do standup comedy who just said literally there is nothing worse. It makes you want to crawl under the covers and never come out. I can’t imagine it.”
Though, to be fair, stand-ups only have to live those moments once. Meanwhile, Brosnahan said, “sometimes I would have to run through those monologues 25 times.”
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was picked up for two seasons following the premiere of its pilot in March 2017, and according to Brosnahan shooting on Season 2 may begin sometime this spring.
What might we expect to see happen when the show returns? “I’ve been told a few things that I cannot share at this time,” she said. “But without giving anything away, I know that’s certainly something that we’ll be exploring in Season 2 is Midge’s three very distinctly different worlds. She’s a mother and a daughter and a wife…ish. By the time we leave her at the end of Season 1, she’s a working woman with a job, and she’s also trying her hand at stand-up comedy. And those three worlds, they don’t work together very well. So I look forward to watching her struggle to maintain those three different identities simultaneously.”
It’s a tricky situation for even a fictional character to manage, but if Midge had to choose one of those identities over the others, Brosnahan isn’t sure which she’d pick. “I don’t think that she’d know at this very moment. I expect that as we go along further in the series that answer will become clearer to her. Right now, she’s obviously giving standup her all, but she still feels very much rooted in those other worlds.
“And the working world is new for her, as well, and she really loves it,” she added. “It gives her a new sense of purpose that she wasn’t expecting. But she is still very much rooted in her identity as a mother and a housewife. But at this point, I don’t think she’d have the answer. And neither do I, but I do expect that to become clearer as we move forward.”
In the meantime, audiences get the joy of observing that journey, one that’s a true rarity on television. “Midge is one woman. This is one woman’s story. But it’s a different kind of woman’s story, especially for this period. History is so often told by men about men. And this is a story about a woman, written by an extraordinary woman and an extraordinary man who loves extraordinary women,” Brosnahan said. “People want to see more women like Midge on TV.”
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Season 1 is streaming now on Amazon Prime.