Reid Scott Explains the Key to Playing a (Charming) Asshole

The "Veep" alum tells IndieWire about joining "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" as a brusque TV host — and possible romantic foil.
A man laying on an ice rink lifts his whiskey glass up at a woman in a plaid blue dress and magenta coat who stands looking down at him; still from "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"
Rachel Brosnahan and Reid Scott in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"
Philippe Antonello/Prime

Reid Scott might be best known for playing an asshole, so it’s understandable if fans of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” are on high alert this season.

Scott joins the Prime Video comedy in its final season as Gordon Ford, a late-night talk show host and Midge Maisel’s (Rachel Brosnahan) new boss as she tackles the unruly territory of an all-male television writers room. In Episode 3, Gordon tries to kiss her, and in Episode 4 he boldly asks her out despite being married (“I’m not that kind of married,” he tells her enigmatically).

“I’m drawn to these characters that have these different sides to them, where you can see underneath the surface,” Scott told IndieWire via Zoom. “And that was the great thing; every script, episode-to-episode, we get to peel back another little layer and learn a little bit more about this guy and it just keeps you renewed and refreshed.”

Scott’s performance is an amalgam of late-night hosts from throughout history; young Johnny Carson at his core but with elements of Jack Paar, Steven Allen, Jack Benny — all stamped by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino and infused by a certain type of Hollywood personality that Scott knows too well, but can’t resist.

“He can come across as brusque, but I loved how the writers in ‘The Gordon Ford Show’ clearly revered him and feared him but also respected him because he was just so good at his job,” Scott said. “That, for better or for worse, is kind of an apt reflection of Hollywood. A lot of times bad behavior gets rewarded in Hollywood it because someone’s just good at it.”

Scott chatted with IndieWire about expanding his role, joining the Palladino-verse, and what may or may not transpire between Gordon and Midge in the final episodes.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

IndieWire: When did you know Gordon was going to be a bigger part of Season 5, and what was your reaction?

Reid Scott: Between Seasons 4 and 5 [the showrunners] said that they wanted me to be a regular, they really wanted to explore this world. Amy and Dan are just massive fans of all forms of comedy, so it was clearly very important to them that this seemed to be the one format that hadn’t really gotten played with yet. Once they told me… all the juicy stuff behind the scenes that they wanted to get into, I was way in, and I loved it.

It’s very cool to chip at. I thought it was just going to be a cameo in Season 4. 

We weren’t sure. We really weren’t sure. Yeah.

Did you look to any particular talk show hosts or other types of roles for inspiration as you built out the character?

I did a fair amount of research. My real formative years were the ’90s, so I was hooked on late night which was maybe at its peak because you still had Letterman on the air, you had Jay Leno. You had Conan coming up doing something completely new which really captivated my generation and kind of reintroduced us to late night, and my parents were huge Johnny Carson fans and my grandfather as well.

I was very intent on not making this guy an impression. I didn’t want to base him on anyone in particular, but I wanted to make an amalgamation of all those greats that came before. It was fine just sort of playing with the different mannerisms of one, voice inflections of another, how this guy delivered a joke, how this guy would work the room, how this guy would conduct an interview — and it was fun trying them out.

There is the infamous Amy Sherman-Palladino dialogue rhythm. You did it in Season 4 too, but how was it doing that for the first time and then this time coming in and being more comfortable?

Oh, I loved it. There’s such a musicality to everything that they write, and I’m certainly not the first person to to point that out. To service their words is an honor. And it works — especially in the larger group scenes, that real give-and-take, that fast-paced passing the ball, it really feels more like a dance troupe or like a sports team. You’re all sharing it. And then the one-on-one scenes that I got to have with Rachel are really this give-and-take, this rapid-fire — but then the pace kind of changes. It’s so fun. It keeps you on your toes, it’s incredibly exhausting. You never want to miss a word or an “um” or a comma, honoring every little bit, but then you see the end result and you realize it’s all part of their grand design.

A group of men surrounding and sitting on a 1960s ice rink zamboni on the ice; still from "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"
A feudal lord and his fiefdom; “The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselPhilippe Antonello/Prime

What has been the learning experience then as an actor? Because it does sound kind of like a crash course in a writer’s own style.

It is. It’s different coming from “Veep,” which was also incredibly well-written but we were obviously encouraged to do a lot of improvisation and also keep it messy. Coming into Dan and Amy’s world, where it’s all incredibly specific, it was an adjustment. It brought a lot of things about my acting into focus that I had not necessarily forgotten about, but you’re using different muscles depending on the different style of show. I love getting back to this which really felt more like theater. You’re hitting a mark, you’re dancing with the camera, you’re playing opposite your partner, you’re using these wonderful words. It’s unlike anything else on television, I can tell you that, and the experience — I brought it over into projects I’ve done since because I love working that way, and I didn’t know that I would.

You mentioned “Veep”; you have played now a few charming assholes or should I say asshole charmers, maybe? Where does Gordon kind of fall in this repertoire?

This was the thing that we got the biggest kick out of: everyone on “Veep” was just morally reprehensible. Every single person was just a horrible, horrible, horrible human being. Gordon is not a horrible human being. I think deep down he’s a good guy. He’s just so driven and so success-obsessed, and laser-focused on being number one that he runs this little fiefdom of “The Gordon Ford Show” with such an iron fist that sometimes his ambition clouds his judgment. I think he’s a results-oriented kind of guy, so it’s like, “Whatever needs to get done, if you’re not the guy, if you’re not the gal, then get the fuck out of the way. And on to the next one and boohoo for you.”

Were you rooting for Gordon and Midge? Should the audience root for them?

I certainly was. I think Gordon is absolutely fascinated by her. First he gets a few chuckles when he sees her do her set at the Wolford, and then he’s charmed by her beauty and her attitude, and then that charm sort of morphs into — he’s beguiled by her, he can’t quite figure her out. Usually, these conquests are not so elusive for him. But he’s an intellectual guy, so I don’t think he’s the kind of guy who’s just out there trying to bed women. I think he’s like, “Oh, this one interests me,” so he wants her — and the fact that he can’t have her just makes him want her more.

How do you play a role like that where you have to kind of toe the line between again creepy and still being this charming, respectable figure? 

Certainly the writing sets our course, and they did such a wonderful balance of that where it never really dipped into being creepy. Coming at it from a 2023 perspective it’s like, “Well, this behavior is absolutely inappropriate.” But you try to get yourself in the mindset of 1961, you realize this happened, so let’s just go with it. Let’s play it out for what it is. I think the worst thing you can do is to cheapen it by softening those blows. No, no, no — play it for how inappropriate or misogynistic it was, because that’s real and that gives her character something to push back against.

I like playing these characters who are a little bit rough, mean, awful at times, because I think I know some of these people. And I don’t like those people, which is odd that I’m drawn to playing these characters. I think it’s because I want to represent them in a way that you can do both; you can hate them, which you should at times, but I like making them human. And knowing that even if there’s someone that you absolutely hate, somewhere in there was once someone who is deserving of love — so where is that and how can we show that? This is the way we need to be treating each other in the world right now. Someone could be awful, but how can we help change them?

New episodes of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” premiere Fridays on Prime Video.

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