More than half a decade ago, Rachel Brosnahan stepped in front of a vintage microphone to deliver a standup routine as 1950s Upper West Side housewife-turned-comic Miriam “Midge” Maisel. It was early on in production for the first season of “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel,” and she was terrified.
In an interview with EW and Variety, Rachel Brosnahan reflects on working with show creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino on that final monologue and the cast’s tearful last day on set.
SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from the series finale of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
What does it feel like when you look back on these five seasons of playing Midge? How has your approach to her changed over these years?
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: The approach has been the same, because it’s been so by the seat of our pants. It’s been, from day one, kind of bend your knees and ride the wave, and trust this foundation that Amy and Dan have built beneath us. When you have brilliant writing like this, and when you’re surrounded by a cast of this caliber and a crew at the top of their game, it becomes a lot easier to trust fall. In that way, the approach has stayed the same, but it’s been really fun to get to explore these different sides of Midge, especially in this fifth season.
While Midge has always been somebody who’s been confident, it’s been nice to watch her get a little more comfortable with this new stage of her life. More confident in her ability to take up space in a way that feels different from how she used to.
She seems more secure in herself in the sense that she knows she’s funny. She knows she can do this. And she’s really trying to live up to what she says to Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), “I’m not letting this window get past me.”
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: He really humbled her at the end of last season, so we find her deeply committed to that promise that she makes to him, and to herself, and to Susie that it’s about the two of them at the end of the day. She owes it to Susie to deliver on the promise she made to her in season one.
Tell me about your conversations with Amy and Dan, and also with Alex, about the idea that this series really is about Midge and Susie at the end of the day. This is a roller coaster of a friendship that they have over decades.
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: Midge and Susie are the romance at the center of the show. It’s a love story about the two of them. Alex said it earlier, but it’s the way every great rom-com begins. Midge quite literally stumbles into Susie at the Gaslight at a time when her whole life exploded. These are two people who maybe would never have crossed paths, were it not for this fateful night where they met and where Susie saw something in Midge that she couldn’t see in herself.
As we’ve been talking about the show, we’ve realized that both of them started out with worldviews that were as big as their backyards, for different reasons. Midge’s was shrouded in privilege. She carefully crafted and built this perfect life for herself that she’d always dreamed of, and she was satisfied with that. For Susie, it was out of necessity. It was out of survival, looking to what’s right in front of her face and trying to make it to the next day. Because of this relationship, their worlds have gotten bigger, their ambitions have gotten bigger. They’re able to see outside of themselves in brand new ways. It’s one of my favorite love stories, and it’s been really cool to hear that reflected back from our audiences.
What was it like saying that final “Tits Up”?
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: Oh, man, hard. Alex and I couldn’t even look at each other that day. We shot that scene on the last day. We came in for rehearsal early in the morning, and we literally couldn’t look at each other. I was looking at Alex’s forehead and she was looking at my chin or something. We just blocked it out for the crew, and tried to save it for when we had to shoot that final piece together.
It was emotional for everyone. But it was really special because we got to close out the chapter together with almost every part of the family, and almost everyone who had been there on the show over multiple seasons. We had to land the plane together, have our big feelings together and say goodbye to this thing that has changed all our lives. It was the perfect way to end.
What was it like preparing for that final set? Was it tough?
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: Well, in true Maisel fashion, I had about 36 hours. In all honesty, I think that [Creator] Amy [Sherman-Palladino] had a hard time writing it. Not because she couldn’t write something f–ing brilliant, but because it meant that this was the end. She kept promising that I would get the pages and promising that I would get the pages, and I was really starting to panic. Finally, she sent me the pages and figured out how to give me an extra day to learn it. I guess it was about 48 hours. Not a whole lot of time. Lots of words, lots of fast talking, but I had a ton of support from Amy and [executive producer] Dan [Palladino], from our entire Maisel family who was on set that entire week, from all of our crew. It was a pretty special way to go out.
How emotional was that final “Tits Up” between you and Alex? Because it’s emotional to even watch.
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: Oh, we were both sobbing. We couldn’t look each other in the eyes during rehearsal. I had to look at her forehead and she was looking at my chin. We were half-dressed and literally couldn’t look each other in the eyes. Alex has never been the crier, but she’s been real weepy since that last day.
It really cracks the audience’s hearts open, because as you’re performing that final four minutes, we’re also seeing the growth, and memories from the series rush back. When did Amy and Dan tell you that this would be how things end?
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: They didn’t really. We got the script for the final episode probably the day before the table read. The script showed up in our inboxes, and we read it and all kind of texted each other like, “Holy shit, they did it!” And what a gift to all of us.
Then, one of the greatest gifts that Amy gave to me was to let me choose what the last moment we shot would be. So, the very last shot we did was of Midge on the couch when Gordon Ford says, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Now, I’m gonna cry. It was very emotional.
How did that moment evolve from script to set? Because yes, it is already kind of perfect, but then you have to be in the moment and hear those words come from Gordon’s mouth.
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: There was no acting necessary. I looked out into the audience and Marin is crying, Caroline [Aaron, as Midge’s ex-mother-in-law Shirley] is crying, and Alex is crying — I couldn’t even look at Alex. Reid was such an amazing partner for that moment — shout out to him — because he was also a part of a show that went seven seasons, “Veep.” He knows what it’s like to close out a chapter this big. He was so generous that entire week, but especially that day, and especially in that moment.
How did performing that four minutes stack up against all the other incredible standup runs you’ve had to do on that show? Was it high-anxiety, or did you feel very settled into it?
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: I felt settled into it in a way that I really wasn’t expecting, because it kept changing. Amy wanted it, rightfully, to be the perfect final set for Midge to go out on, so she was tweaking and tweaking it until about 48 hours before we shot it. So, I sat there with the script, feeling very intimidated about learning this volume of material with 48 hours to go. But I’ve always felt immensely supported by this cast and crew — and I realize what a rare gift that is — but I have never felt more a part of a team in that moment, in the hours that we spent shooting that scene.
I couldn’t help but reflect on one of the first sets that I ever shot, where I was so petrified, heading into this show, having no experience in comedy, not really knowing anything about the world and being surrounded by giants like Alex, Tony, Marin and Michael, who have so much experience. I remember turning to Alex during one of the earliest sets in the first season, and going, “Please don’t let me suck.” Like if you see something, say something; like, please, any advice at all, I’ll take it. And she looked at me and said, “I can’t help you. Take up your space, and ask for what you need. And bring this character into the world. Nobody knows who she is but you.”
I just was so struck by how far we’ve come, and so grateful for how far I’ve come from those earliest sets to the very end. It was really special, and just a wild experience.
What a life lesson: “Take up your space, and ask for what you need.” I mean, it’s what Midge learns. It sounds like it’s what you learned on this series as well.
Absolutely, yes. And I feel so lucky to have been able to work with folks who helped me learn that lesson for so many years.
Now not to be vain, but I have to ask about the dress that Midge chose to wear, because it is also perfect. Did you have any hand in selecting it? Might it be in your closet at this moment?
It really is such a beautiful dress. It’s not in my closet. I think that dress is gonna go on tour. I wish. Maybe one day.
One of many best parts about being on this show has been collaborating with Donna Zakowska, our brilliant costume designer. And Donna has taught me so much about Midge and her journey through her clothes. Midge is someone who puts a lot of thought into the way that she presents to the world, and leads with that in many regards. That’s something that Donna brilliantly crafted for her — Donna is a beautiful storyteller — and that costume came out of Donna’s brain and was the perfect thing to end on. I was happy to trust fall into Donna’s capable hands for five seasons on the show.
As you mentioned, you chose the final shot to be Midge hearing “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Why?
It was a scene that everyone was in. We all got to do it together. But it was one of those moments where, when we read it at the table read, it was really emotional. It just felt like the perfect button on the end of this marvelous chapter, if you will. Forgive me for that [pun].
I was thinking I should’ve been working “marvelous” in more often.
I know, it’s terrible. But it’s the first and only time we ever hear it on this series, and it just felt like in that moment, everything came full circle.
What did you do immediately after Amy said, “That’s a wrap.”
Amy kept shooting, actually. We just kept going, and I kept wondering if there was something wrong or if she wasn’t getting what she needed. Then later, someone said, “I just don’t think she was quite ready to let go, so she kept calling for another take.” And we’d do it again. And we’d do it again. Then I think it got late. There was no more time. We all just cried. They popped some pink confetti in perfect “Maisel” fashion, we all had a toast together, and then we all went home.
Midge puts a lot of her mission statement forth in that set, with wanting to be so famous that everyone who knows who she is and wanting to have a big life. We’ve seen in snippets this season that she got those things. Do you think she thinks it was worth it?
She’s proud that she did exactly what she set out to do after doing exactly what she set out to do the first time and having the rug ripped out from under her, that she rebuilds, that she headed in a completely different direction that she didn’t know was possible, that she found a partner and the love of her life in a lot of ways in both Susie and stand-up. She’s proud and she’s fulfilled. Is she happy? I don’t know.
In the 2005 scene, she looks very fondly at this wedding picture of Joel (Michael Zegen). Michael thinks Joel’s dead. What do you think?
Well, I know Joel’s dead because I asked Amy. [Laughs] I think everyone’s dead at that point, except for Midge and Susie. Those two broads are like cockroaches. They’re never gonna die. They get stepped on over and over and over again, and they got a thick exo-skeleton.
That final scene where she’s alone in these palatial beautiful rooms and talking to Susie halfway around the world, should we celebrate that? Or take it as a cautionary tale?
I think it just is. What it is is Midge’s journey and Midge’s life. It’s been full of contradictions and big dreams and high highs and low lows. Amy said to me during the first season, and it’s something that I’ve held near, because I find it both really beautiful and also deeply sad — I asked Amy during our first season what was going to happen to Midge and Joel, and if they would ever get back together again.
She told me that they would never get back together again forever, because they would never be able to be on the same page at the same time again. But that Midge, when she lived in her Park Avenue penthouse with 20 poodles, the poodles were mysteriously absent from the finale, but that Midge would always look back on the day before Joel left her as the happiest day of her life.
I saw you fiddle with something on that table. Is that Lenny’s (Luke Kirby) fortune?
I don’t remember.
Do you think she kept it that long?
Definitely. Because our production designers are geniuses, if you look in the background of that scene of Midge when she’s on the phone with Susie, it’s that tiny cozy room in her house filled with all of her memories. There’s a big bulletin board behind her on the couch that has napkins from the Gaslight and flyers from Carnegie Hall and newspaper clippings. I think Midge kept everything.
What was experiencing that old age make-up like?
Sobering. Brutal. Amy will be paying for my therapy for the rest of my life. Nobody deserves to have to glimpse their own mortality like that. But also, we all need Midge’s plastic surgeon’s number if she looks like that at 85 or 75 or whatnot.
Were you surprised by the final shot or last couple of shots?
Yeah, I did not see that coming. I was surprised that we got to flashback to Lenny because if Susie and comedy are the loves of Midge’s life, Lenny is her fairy godfather and one of the few people who’s ever seen her exactly as she is. I love that he’s one of the people who lays out her fate, and that he’ll always be there, out there somewhere encouraging her.
Do you think Midge is an EGOT winner?
She won a Grammy, right? And I know she has two Emmys because they’re in one of the scenes. What would she have won an Oscar for? I think the Oscar has alluded her and she’s come for the Academy with everything she has. But she’s a terrible actress.
Were you personally happy with her ending?
Yeah. I didn’t have a doubt that Amy and Dan would figure out how to land the plane. I love that final set so much. Even though I had all of 48 hours to memorize it, it was actually easy to memorize because it was exactly the kind of storytelling that Midge was building to throughout these five seasons. It ends with her being unapologetic for her ambition and encouraging other people to find the courage to make their own lives that she’s found and to find the people who have made that possible. It leaves just enough questions hanging in the air.
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Source: EW / Variety
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