Tony Shalhoub says Abe is 'stepping out into the void' on 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'
There are few actors who do hilarious exasperation better than The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s Tony Shalhoub. And in Maisel‘s third season, there are few characters more likely to be hilariously exasperated than Abe Weissman. First his daughter Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) abruptly ended her engagement to Dr. Benjamin Ettenberg (Zachary Levi) so she could go on tour with Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain). And now Abe has decided to plunge headlong into the unknown by leaving his jobs at Bell Labs and Columbia — which means he’ll have no income and no place to live. EW spoke to the 5-time Emmy-winning actor about Abe’s next move, whether we’ll see a return of the “romper,” and where he puts his many, many awards.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on your latest Emmy. You must be running out of storage space?
TONY SHALHOUB: [laughs] Well, you know it’s funny. It’s always a bit of a little dilemma. You don’t want to just sort of hide it under a bushel. Having one sitting out is nice, but when you start to have more than a couple sitting out, then it starts to look a little… ehhhhh. Not really sure how visitors might perceive that.
So what do you end up doing?
SHALHOUB: You just kind of like discreetly shove them into a corner or kind of tucked behind a book, sort of peeking out around the edge of something. I don’t know. [comically heavy sigh]
This will be the first season everyone is aware of Midge’s career — is that a relief for Abe and for you?
SHALHOUB: Abe has seen that she is pursuing this, but he’s not exactly a show business kind of guy. He doesn’t quite understand how this is going to work and if she is going to able to succeed on any level. I think there’s that one episode from season 2 where he sees her on the telethon. It’s not just a club, it’s not kind of the blue act that he first witnessed, it’s on his TV — and then he started to think, well wait a minute, maybe this isn’t just a flash in the pan. Maybe she isn’t just a dilettante. But not having a lot of experience or understanding about how the entertainment industry works, I think he still holds a lot of questions and suspicions about how difficult it’s gonna be. And how it’s going to change her even more as a person into someone even less familiar than she already feels she is.
He begins to reassess his own life, and we see at the end of season two he’s bailing out of his two different jobs that he had on this career path that he’s been doing forever. Then he is kind of stepping out into the void and he has to figure out a way to reinvent his life.
Do you think that Abe’s decision to change his path in life was at all inspired by his daughter, consciously or unconsciously, as he sees her following her passion?
SHALHOUB: I don’t think it’s that conscious a thing. I think the conscious part is that he assumed or believed for many years that there was stability in his life. He had his career in place, his marriage was solid, he knew what his children were doing, they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, he didn’t have to worry too much about them. Until of course, her marriage dissolved — that was certainly a bit of upheaval.
But now he’s really understanding that everything he thought he knew was wrong. Both of his children aren’t who he thought they were. The son is in the CIA, he had no idea about that. He realizes that the ground beneath his feet is not only shifted, it’s fallen away. And so that has caused him to reevaluate everything, every corner of his world and his existence, and it’s thrown him back to a time as we see in the end of act 2, it’s thrown him back to a time to before he was a father and before he was a teacher, and what path was I originally on and how do I recapture that old Abe, that former Abe. So that’s catapulting him to what we discover in season 3. But it’s not a clear path before him — it’s got all kinds of twists and turns and uncertainty and possibly nothing, possibly failure and the end of the line for him.
By the end of the season, he’s decided to leave Bell Labs, leave Columbia, and get back to activism. What can you tease about what’s next for him for activism?
SHALHOUB: Well I’m not supposed to talk about [season] three at all, I wish I could because it’s just so… I only see one script at a time, I don’t see the whole arc. I’m kind of discovering these things as Abe is.
We also saw him hiring a lawyer to go up against Bell Labs. What can you tease about how that plays out?
SHALHOUB: At this point, in between the end of two and the beginning of three, there’s a lot of anger that’s bubbling up in him that maybe was always in there, always kind of simmering in there somewhere, but now he’s removed the lid and it’s boiling over. He’s realizing now that he’s got to find some release. I think it’s interesting too now because it’s kind of coincidentally, or not, we’re moving out of one decade into another decade. We’re moving out of the ’50s — there was a level of prosperity and security and blah blah blah. And now we’re moving into the ’60s, which becomes a different thing and volatility starts to emerge at the cultural level. He’s moving with the times I guess you could say, changing with the times.
Abe and Rose had such a great arc last season, with her sudden departure to Paris and then their second honeymoon of sorts overseas. What is their arc like this season?
SHALHOUB: Abe’s life is not the only one that’s impacted by the changes that Midge’s life has wrought. Rose, too, has kind of a new path to discover too. Even separate from her husband and again I can speak too much to that, but Abe and Rose do find themselves together on some things but pursuing their paths individually, too.
He had a bit of an awakening in terms of feminism starting to surface and yeah he’s having a little bit of a moment, but they all are. This is such a great tribute to the writers, because they’ve done this with almost every character — Joel, too. He’s on a brand new trajectory and I think that’s kind of what season three is about, it’s mostly about new paths, undiscovered territory for almost all of us. Susie, too, in a way, because of her arc. We find out Sophie is pulling at her, no one is just in a state of complacency or security… For good or for ill, they’re moving on.
Will we see a return of “the romper”?
SHALHOUB: [laughs, then sighs] Again, I can’t really say. The romper, that’s another secret I can’t divulge.
Okay, but please tell me everything about the creation of/fittings for the romper.
SHALHOUB: There were two fittings, and I kept thinking, you know, “Shouldn’t I be wearing some kind of Spanx or girdle or something?” I just have this image of Jack LaLanne, when I was very young, Jack LaLanne was on TV and all the mothers used to watch [his show] — and this guy was so fit. And so the romper on me just didn’t quite have the same impact. [laughs]
You know, just going back to the Emmy for a second, I really feel like that Emmy belongs to Donna [Zakowska], our costumer, because unfortunately for all the other actors in my category, they did not get to wear a romper, and I really think that that was it. I think that’s what every Emmy voter was thinking. I’m serious! Did you see any other romper out there? No! So, they’re all so fantastic in their brilliant shows, so the only thing that’s different is that I got to wear a onesie.
Do you get to wear anything crazy this season?
SHALHOUB: Well, there’s Miami, so that’s all I’m going to say.
Lot of fans are pretty worked up about Midge’s decision to choose comedy over Benjamin — how does Abe feel about it?
SHALHOUB: I think at that point as we see Abe at the end of season two, he is just kind of throwing up his hands. He’s just going to step away from this part of her life. He’s going to let Rose lose sleep over that part of Midge’s life, and I just think really Abe just feels like he’s so lost in that area. He has to just give up.
It’s a weird thing for Abe. I guess it’s that thing where men reach middle age, a person can feel a certain level of success, in different areas of their life. He’s a successful father, took good care of his kids, blah blah blah, they had educations, blah blah blah, he’s a provider, he’s got his career. And going from all of that to none of that, to realizing that they’re not who he thought they were, and he’s not through he thought he was. And his life — he’s a sort of semi-successful Upper West Sider — it isn’t really his destiny. And it’s all up for grabs now.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 3 premieres Friday, Dec. 6 on Amazon Prime Video.
Rachel Brosnahan stars as Miriam "Midge" Maisel, a 1950s housewife in New York City who discovers she has a knack for stand-up comedy after her husband leaves her.