The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Alex Borstein on fast-talking and '50s underwear
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the new Amazon series from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino about a 1950s housewife who sets out to become a stand-up comedian, features two relationships at its heart. First, there’s Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) and her milquetoast husband Joel (Michael Zegen), who butchers stolen Bob Newhart jokes and leaves Midge for his secretary. But perhaps the more important pairing is Midge and Susie, the androgynous manager at a comedy venue who sees Midge’s spark and decides to help turn her into a real comedian. Susie (Alex Borstein) is abrasive and tough, no-nonsense but with a heartbreaking vulnerability that slowly emerges like the sun from behind a lunar eclipse.
To get to the heart of Susie, we spoke to Borstein about all of her character’s fast-talking, as well as being forced to wear 1950s undergarments.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You were briefly involved on Gilmore Girls, so what was it like working with Amy Sherman-Palladino again?
ALEX BORSTEIN: It’s exactly how I thought it would be. It’s the best thing in the world, and the most frustrating thing in the world, but that’s what makes it the best thing in the world.
What’s frustrating? Is it the pages of text?
Oh, yeah. Memorizing. I’m so old, I can’t remember s—t anymore, and you know, it’s the most comforting thing working with someone who knows exactly what they want and exactly where they’re going, but it’s also hard, because you really want to give them exactly what they want, and sometimes you feel like, oh my god, I’m never going to do what’s in her head. So it’s challenging, but it’s fun — the material’s great and that’s pretty rare, so what’s not to love?
Was it difficult to master the famous Sherman-Palladino fast-talking?
I think Amy tends to hire people she already knows are fast talkers. I’ve always been a big mouth and a fast talker, and I think Rachel’s the same, and I think Lauren Graham similar, so it’s interesting. People always ask that question, but I think [Amy] instinctively, when she casts, sees who can kind of rattle stuff off. She gets a sense of that very, very quickly.
Even though she plays such an integral part of the show, we don’t really get to find out much about Susie’s life outside of Midge…
I’m like a character on a Law and Order show right? Like, here’s what you need to know… I think you do learn some, and you do see a little bit of Susie in the first season and you’re going to learn a little bit more of her backstory. But are you going to follow her home, and really go into her world? I don’t know. I’m curious to see. I’m also hesitant. Sometimes I think it’s more fun to play a little bit of a mystery. Amy always has great ideas. You never feel like, Is this going to suck? Where is she going to take this? She’s got it all planned out in her little head.
So as Midge wears a ton of incredibly structured dresses and elaborate 1950s undergarments, but your costume seems to be a lot more straightforward.
Well, I do have to wear 1950s bras, which I hate. I hate the way my boobs look in that bra. It’s like a cross-your-heart, very simple, no underwire, and pointy. I’m just not used to having pointy boobies. I like a little round handful of boob — that’s my liking. But in the ’50s, it was all about lift and separate and point. Point forward, ladies, let your boobs lead the way!
I wear my own underwear, which, thank goodness, that’s nice and comfortable. And when I went in, I sent some pictures to Amy first: some things I liked, some pictures of hair I liked, and certain hats that I liked — I really wanted to wear a hat. And we forwarded it to the wardrobe department and we talked on the phone and agreed that I should be in pants, sort of dungarees, and they brought in these amazing high-waisted work pants of some kind, men’s old pants. And I loved them, and they had another pair made, so Susie has two pairs of pants and I had about — I don’t know — six shirts, which was kind of great. It’s a very male wardrobe, and very realistic, like, this is what you have! And I really liked that. I think the next season might be a different season of the year, temperature-wise, so we’ll see what they pull out for Susie then. If it’s hot weather, is she going to be in shorts? Is she a shorts person? Does she still wear pants? Should there be sneakers? We’re not sure. So we’ll talk about it and see.
What was it like re-creating real, historical places like The Gaslight and Stage Diner that are so iconic of New York in a certain era?
Amy talked us through a lot of it early on and, of course, having heard of a lot of those places from film and TV and endless word of mouth — when my mother first immigrated to the United States she lived in New York so a lot of those things rang true to her and I heard many of those names. It’s very cool. It’s nostalgic and — look, it’s not a beautiful time period. There’s a lot of strife, a lot of struggle, civil rights — it’s not a perfect and pretty picture. But in terms of the richness of the color of the world and the costumes, it’s beautiful to look at.
The chemistry between you and Rachel Brosnahan is spectacular. Did the two of you click right away?
We did. We got into the room together because when I auditioned, she had to show up to read with me, to see how we would work together. And that’s always a strange thing, because she’s in the position of — it’s not like she’s an old hired hand; she’s still new and kind of proving herself, and she’s the girl, they’ve chosen her, but she’s still in the position of s—t, I could lose this at any moment if I f—k this up. So we’re both nervous, we’re both on edge, and when we walked in, it felt like someone had opened up two different cages at the zoo and completely different species were circling each other in this pen. Like, we’re both animals, we’re both female, but we’re so different. And I think it works immediately. We attack our material differently, we hold ourselves differently, especially in the characters, and I think that’s what they liked. We complemented each other even though we’re such different species.
The two of you really have the most important relationship on the show.
I like to call it a womance.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is currently streaming on Amazon.