Rachel Brosnahan on the Legacy ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Leaves Behind: “Stories Being Told About Women, by Women”
[This story includes major spoilers for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel series finale, “Four Minutes.]
Miriam “Midge” Maisel officially became the “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” in the series finale titled “Four Minutes.”
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The final episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel saw Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) take the biggest risk of her career when she finally got the chance to make an appearance on The Gordon Ford Show — against Gordon Ford’s (Reid Scott) wishes.
When Gordon’s wife, Hedy (Nina Arianda), forces the talk show host to put Midge on his show, he begrudgingly obliges and breaks his rule that employees can’t appear as guests on the show. But, instead of introducing her as a comic, he introduces her as the show’s “resident lady writer,” while the two sit on stools instead of the couch his guests usually sit on.
With four minutes left in the broadcast, Gordon cuts to commercial, much to Mike Carr’s (Jason Ralph) dismay. The show’s executive producer encourages the host to fill the time somehow, and he insists he’ll just “vamp” for the final few minutes. Midge quickly pulls Susie (Alex Borstein) aside and tells her that she’s thinking about doing something that could end up hurting both of their careers.
“Something reckless that could go very badly for both of us. It could ruin us. Definitely me, but you by extension,” she tells her manager, before glancing at the mic standing on the stage. “You started your career by standing on a stage that no one told you to get up on, saying a bunch of shit that no one wanted you to say. So, tits up,” Susie replies, with their signature salute for the last time on the series.
With her manager’s encouragement, Midge tells Gordon she’s never been good at following rules before she takes the mic and gives an inspired four-minute set, with her parents Abe (Tony Shalhoub) and Rose (Marin Hinkle) and ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen) in the audience, cheering her on.
Brosnahan says nobody could have ever seen the series ending the way that it did but, at the same time, she feels it’s the only way it could have ended. Though everyone was nervous to see how the cast and crew could “land this plane,” the actress explains she never had a doubt co-creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino would find the perfect way to say goodbye.
“It felt like this particular set wrapped up so many of the different themes and ideas and questions that Midge has been grappling with throughout the course of the series,” Brosnahan tells The Hollywood Reporter of the four-minute set that launched Midge to superstardom. “What it means to be a woman; what it means to be a mother; what it means to have great ambition at a time when that was frowned upon, when it made you less attractive as she says; what it means to be bold and brave; what it means to be alone; and also what it means to have love and support.”
In a conversation with THR, the Emmy-winning actress opens up about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s legacy, Midge and Lenny Bruce’s final scene together, the cast and crew’s final day on set and much more.
There are so many heart-wrenching and heartwarming scenes in the finale episode. What scene has stayed with you the most since wrapping?
There’s two. Probably the final “Tits Up” scene with Alex because it just felt like such a full-circle moment for us, and we literally couldn’t look each other in the eyes when we shot it. Alex can be kind of a brick wall. She doesn’t give a lot away and can be a little bit like Susie in that way. So, when Alex was the first one to start crying on the last day of shooting, we knew we were all fucked. And then the couch scene with Gordon where he calls her the “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” for the first time. That was the last scene we shot, and my coverage of that scene was the final shot of the series. So, that’s the moment that’s burned in my brain forever.
It was so emotional and everyone was there. I was looking out into an audience of our cast but also our crew because the shot was on me. So everyone was just standing in a semicircle — Marin and Tony and Michael and Joel Johnstone, who plays Archie, and Bailey De Young, who plays Imogene, and Alex and our Steadicam operator and all of our Amazon executives and Amy and Dan and our writers and our focus puller and just all of our cast and crew. It just felt like the only way that the series could have ended was all of us together. It took a small nation to make this show and to be able to end it with everyone was really special.
To expand on the scene where Midge is sitting on Gordon’s couch, what was it like finally hearing the words “the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and why was it so important for them to come from Gordon?
The coming from Gordon, that’s a question for Amy [Sherman-Palladino] and Dan [Palladino]. I looked at the script, and that’s who it comes from, and so that’s the moment that that I’m responding to, but that was the moment that struck me the most in the table read. It brought me back to hearing the title of the show for the very first time when none of us knew what it was, when it was a script that was sitting in my inbox at a time when I was pretty certain I wanted to not do any more television for a while. Being a part of this show and embodying this person over the last six years of my life has changed me in more ways than I can count, and it’s never said out loud on the show. And so just hearing it out into the open with everyone in the room, just struck a chord in my stomach and my heart and my brain, and I instantly burst into tears when we heard it at the table read. So, when Amy gave me the opportunity to choose what the final moment we would shoot would be, that felt like the obvious choice. And it was kind of nice that it came from someone like Gordon because it meant that we, all as people who had been a part of this show for longer than that character has, got to hear it together and experience it together.
When we shot that scene, you shoot in both directions. So, we actually shot the coverage of the audience first. So, the very first time I ever heard it on the set was on coverage of I think Tony and Marin and Caroline [Aaron, who plays Shirley Maisel]. And I’m glad, ultimately, that we did it that way because I just instantly started sobbing, and they had to redo all my makeup. So, by the time we turned it around, it was still a very real reaction but one that felt more fitting for the moment in the story.
Over the course of the show, Joel, Abe and Rose have all expressed not wanting to be the butt of Midge’s jokes, but here they all were cheering her on and laughing along. What was it like for you to see that growth in their characters?
Cathartic is always the word that comes to mind. It felt like it put a button on the journey that Midge has had with all of these different characters over the last five seasons. It brought them all together and brought them all together in support of her in a way that felt really satisfying as someone inside the story but hopefully also for audiences watching at home. I love each of those individual relationships so much. I love how jagged the relationship between Midge and Joel has been and how honest it feels that one moment they’re completely on the same page and the next moment they couldn’t be further apart, and then they find their way back to each other over and over and over again — sometimes as friends sometimes as lovers, sometimes as soulmates.
I love the relationship between Midge and Abe. Theirs feels like one that maybe has grown the most. When we first meet these characters, Midge is really close with her mother, and her dream, her biggest goal would be to be exactly like Rose. She wants to be as fabulously dressed and as thin and wants to move up just a couple floors in their building and is modeling herself after her mother, who she looks up to and admires. But over the course of the show, she realizes that she’s a lot more like Abe than she ever thought possible, and he realizes that he’s a lot more like her — or wants to be more like her — than he ever realized, and the growth of their relationship has been so moving.
I realized in doing that last set that I had actually never performed for, or it had been years and years since I’d done a set for any of those characters. But I had never done one in front of everyone all together, and there was just something extra special about being able to do that and feel the support not only from the characters but from the actors behind them.
How did it feel to be on The Gordon Ford Show stage and taking such a risk for both Midge and Susie, which culminated in Midge’s career finally taking off?
Even though we never could have seen it coming exactly like this, it felt like the only way the show ever could have ended. Obviously, we were all nervous about how on earth we were gonna land this plane. And I never had a doubt that Amy and Dan would figure out how to do it. It felt like this particular set wrapped up so many of the different themes and ideas and questions that Midge has been grappling with throughout the course of the series: what it means to be a woman; what it means to be a mother, what it means to have great ambition at a time when that was frowned upon, when it made you less attractive as she says; what it means to be bold and brave; what it means to be alone; and also what it means to have love and support. I just loved it, and I loved every second of getting to do it.
I’m still, as much as I’ve been talking about it, grappling with those last couple of days and the end of this series. I probably won’t have smart words for a long time, but it just felt so full circle and shooting a lot of that speech, you can see it. The camera is literally circling around me and Midge and bringing us back to the lighting that feels reminiscent of the Gaslight in the early seasons. It just felt like we were both in the moment and also back in every set that Midge has ever done all at once.
In the finale scene of the series, we see that Midge and Susie are still friends 50 years after the start of the show. Why do you think this was the perfect way to end the series, and what does it say about their friendship?
It’s forever. It’s the two of them against the world until the bitter end, and they go out laughing. That’s the only way the two of them were ever gonna go, and no matter how far apart they are, what experiences they’ve had together and apart, no matter how much they’ve fought and laughed and cried, they’ll always have each other, and they’re soulmates. They are the love story at the center of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Throughout the finale, we see two very emotional scenes between Mitch and Lenny. What was it like filming them?
This felt like an important nod to the real way that the real Lenny Bruce’s story ended but also a celebration of who Lenny has been in our show and to Midge. Obviously, at the beginning, we get to see a little bit of the beginning of the end of Lenny Bruce, and I think Midge and Susie both can see the writing on the wall, and that’s a very dark and difficult moment for the two of them. And then, we end Midge and Lenny with a flashback that takes them back to the aftermath of a moment where their relationship changed and also didn’t change at all. Lenny has always been this kind of mythical creature on this show. He’s Midge’s fairy godfather. He’s her intellectual equal and the person who she admires the most and whose career she wants to emulate, and maybe the person outside of Susie, who she trusts the most, and she feels like sees her and understands her in a way that almost nobody else does. I love that Lenny, as he always has, predicts the future for Midge. He’s the closest thing she’s got to a crystal ball.
The final episode featured an end card that thanked Lenny Bruce’s daughter, Kitty. How much of a part did she play in the way Lenny’s story was portrayed?
I know that she’d had some conversations with Amy and Dan, and she came to set in one of our earlier seasons, and we had the opportunity to meet her, and she was so lovely and so supportive of the show. I don’t know if there were conversations with her about how the series was ending, but her blessing was really important to all of us. We’re just huge admirers of her father and her by extension. I’m very grateful to her for allowing Lenny to be such an important figure in our show.
You’ve touched on your last day on set a bit, but can you break it down a little more? What was it like saying goodbye in this way?
Oh, the whole day was surreal. We felt like we both had our feet firmly planted on the ground and also like we were up in the cloud somewhere looking down on this chapter coming to a close. I feel like we were crying — everyone — from the minute we arrived on set that day. And in a really beautiful and sort of poetic way, we felt the gravity and the weight of this being the end of this huge chapter, and it also felt like every other day in the very best way. We had a lot of work to do. So, we savored every moment and also needed to get the day done at some point, so we came in and got ready for the last time. Put the hair on, and the makeup on, and the thousands of layers of undergarments on, and I’d actually been in this dress all week. We shot all the Gordon Ford stuff the last week, so I put that dress back on.
Before we got dressed, we walked onto the set and did some rehearsals. Like I said, Alex and I just couldn’t even look at each other. And Amy and I couldn’t look each other in the eyes either. So, everyone was just sort of looking anywhere but at each other and saying the words out loud and standing approximately where we were supposed to be so that everyone could light the scene and figure out what the camera was going to be doing and then started shooting.
I can’t remember in exactly what order we shot everything, but I do remember that the very last scene we shot was my coverage on the couch with Gordon Ford. We did a take or two, and it wasn’t the most difficult scene to shoot, especially compared to some of the other stuff that we’d been shooting that week, and that was by design.
Amy kept calling for another take. She kept going, “OK, one more.” At first, she’d come in and give little notes, and then she stopped coming in, and we would just hear, “OK, one more.” And I kept going, “Well, what does she need? Am I doing something terrible that I don’t realize I’m doing?” And we all later realize that Amy just wasn’t quite ready to call that final cut. And we finally did. And I think we all just kind of sat there shell-shocked for a moment. Nobody moved, and then they popped confetti, which was shocking. Pink confetti fell everywhere, and there’s a video. I mean, we all just kind of like wandered toward each other and started crying. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. All our gruff camera dudes and gaffers and grips and electrics, everyone was crying. We all did a little toast, and then at around two in the morning, we all went home.
I saw the video on your Instagram earlier.
We didn’t know what to do. The nice thing about just the way that television works is that we finished that day, and then they were in post-production, and then we got to start coming back together again to start promoting the season. We had a finale event recently, so at least the cast, we’re not getting rid of each other anytime soon, but we miss our crew. We miss this group. Every single person on this show was at the top of their game going in and just continued to raise the bar for themselves season after season. I think it speaks volumes about the culture that was created on this set that so many of our crew were there from season one till the very end. It’s a family. You spend more time with these folks than you do with your real family half the time. So yeah, we miss each other. But if I’ve learned anything in the 10-plus years I’ve been doing this it almost is never goodbye. It really is a “See you later.” We all find ways to cross paths again and again.
Did you have any say in the finale?
I don’t have any say in what happens or has happened to Midge or any of these characters over the course of [five] seasons. But it’s also been a real gift to be able to show up as just an actor, where you have one job, and it’s to say these brilliant words and wear these beautiful clothes, and live inside these gorgeous sets and be lit and shot beautifully by David Mullen and the entire camera crew. But Amy has had a crystal clear vision for what this show is and who this character is from minute one. The show leapt off the page from the pilot, and I remember so clearly our first camera tests where she had an image in her head, and we were all just doing test after test trying to bring it to life. She knew exactly what she wanted Midge’s iconic haircut to look like and her makeup and the outfits, and she knew exactly what she wanted her to sound like. So, it’s just been a really wonderful challenge of trying to live up to Amy’s vision for this character in this show for six years.
Did Amy and Dan have any conversations with you all about ending the series now as opposed to in another year?
It was a surprise that we ultimately ended after five seasons. I’d caught some rumblings of conversations about a sixth season. There’s a big machine at work that I’m not always privy to the conversations within, but I think, ultimately, once it was decided that the fifth season would be the last one, everyone got to work to make sure that this season did justice to the story, and these characters that we set up. It was a rarer gift than it should be to know ahead of time that this would be the last season because that’s not always the case. We’ve all been a part of shows — I’ve certainly been a part of shows — where you say “see you later” at the end of the season, and then find out that you’re not coming back, and the story ends unceremoniously right there in an email or a single phone call. So, we had the opportunity to land this plane together.
Have there been any discussions of a possible spinoff?
(Laughs.) I mean, everyone’s got an idea for a spinoff. There’s been so many pitches through our junkets over the last couple of weeks and months. I know that Michael Zegen is angling for a Marvelous Mr. Maisel spinoff. Alex Borstein has pitched the musical. Jason has pitched the Marvelous Mike Carr, so there’s endless opportunity for spinoffs should Amy and Dan decide that they would like to do one.
Maisel helped put Amazon on the map with your popular, Emmy-winning series. When you look back to the beginning and look at what both Amazon and streaming have become since, what amazes you most about that journey of where things started and where they’re heading now?
Hmm, a big question. One of the things I’m most grateful for is that when we started this journey with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I really had never seen a character like Midge or a friendship like Midge and Susie’s onscreen. Since this show has come out, there are so many more that follow women of all different kinds, groups of women, female friendships and sort of put them at the forefront in a way that is really exciting. I hope that this show is a part of a new wave of stories about women and that shows us women in unexpected lights and centers them in stories that aren’t usually about them. And this is one of those.
History was told about men by men for men, and this was what I hope is the beginning of a wave of stories being told about women, by women, for women and men and everyone else. So, that’s one of the things I’m most excited about is a space that it feels like the streamers because of the volume of projects that are being made, that there are so many more stories that are being told, that weren’t given the space before.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
All five seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are now streaming on Prime Video.
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