Mrs. Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan on season 3: Bigger crowds, personal growth, and 'so many good hats!'
For the woman at the center of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, season three is all about growth. Not only is comedian Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) performing before bigger audiences than ever before — as the opening act for megafamous singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) — she’s also facing some hard, but character-building, realities about her life on and off the stage. “Midge is realizing that she’s not the center of everyone’s universe,” says Brosnahan, “and that’s a difficult pill to swallow.” The actress called EW from the set of her upcoming film I’m Your Woman to preview all the marvelous and maddening things ahead for Midge in season 3.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I was on set in March for Midge’s USO scene in the season three premiere, which featured 799 background actors. What was your first reaction when creator Amy Sherman-Palladino told you about her idea for that scene?
RACHEL BROSNAHAN: [laughs] I was instantly petrified. I’m pretty sure I have that text exchange from her somewhere. She was like, “Oh by the way, there’s gonna be 850 people there, are you cool with that?” [laughs] No! But if that’s what it has to be, I’m ready. It was insane, I’ve never been on a stage in front of that many people before I don’t think. Someone said we broke the record for the most number of background actors in one scene in the state of New York or something? We do like to keep biggering and bettering it.
It was insane, though. What a way to kick off the season. I mean the energy in that space — I want to bottle up and hold on to for the rest of my life. I’ve never felt anything like that before. It launched us into season three.
What is Midge’s character arc this season?
BROSNAHAN: She’s taking the next big step. She’s learning what it’s like to perform in front of new audiences from all over the world, that’s a totally different thing from the small bubble that she’s been in in New York and in the surrounding states. We saw her go on the road a little bit last year but it was pretty local. Suddenly in Vegas there are people there from all over the world and it’s a little bit different from the crowd at the Gaslight, and she’s having to learn how to adjust her material to different crowds, her timing to bigger spaces. We’re watching Midge grow even more… as a person and as a professional.
Does she go overseas as well?
BROSNAHAN: She’s not overseas in this season. She’s touring the states with Shy Baldwin although there’s a European tour on the table.
Midge is playing to new audiences, she’s also a white woman opening for a black star to presumably more diverse audiences than she’s played before — how will that factor into the story and her experience?
BROSNAHAN: Well largely at this point our Shy Baldwin character is a big enough star not unlike, someone like Johnny Mathis, that he’s actually playing on this tour to predominantly white audiences. I think hiring Midge was also strategic for this specific tour. I can’t say a whole lot about it… but in our world Shy is a huge star for all audiences and the kinds of venues that we’re playing in this season are pretty high-end, which makes them predominantly white audiences…
She’s wrapped up in her own world and she’s ambitious and confident — I admire a lot of things about Midge, but her worldview up until this point has been pretty narrow. And as you mentioned, certainly going on the road with somebody who comes from a very different background – even though he’s a huge star and in some ways has transcended the late 1950s relationship to a black man – in a lot of ways he hasn’t, he can’t. And that’s something that Midge will have to, um, I’m trying not to spoil again… wrap her head around. I think that’s an idea that she never considered carefully before, that somebody’s relationship to the world around them could be so different from her own. And obviously you know we’re a comedy, but I think that’s certainly something that she gets confronted with.
In season 2 she gives that disastrous wedding toast and she realizes her sense of humor doesn’t always carry over—is that something that she deals with this season, playing to bigger crowds?
BROSNAHAN: Definitely. So much of midge’s comedy is about her own life, and her own life has thus far been largely isolated in New York and in her family and in people who are like her and come from similar backgrounds. So certainly something that we dip our toe into this season, but we’ll certainly be exploring more in the coming seasons.
Joel and Midge left things on an interesting note — what can you preview about their story?
BROSNAHAN: It’s just as complicated as ever, as love is — love is complicated sometimes. I can’t say a whole lot. Joel has stepped up in a big way. We saw this at the end of last season. After they got over the initial shock and hump of Midge pursuing a career that Joel was potentially interested in pursuing, which is difficult for his ego, after they got over that hump, so far Joel has actually been really supportive. He’s really happy for her that she’s getting this huge opportunity to accompany a star as big as Shy Baldwin — that’s life-changing. So he does agree to hold onto the kids and pick up some of those responsibilities on the ground, and that’s huge for Midge, and it’s big for them. Together or not, someone having their back like that is big.
Is there any hope for Midge and Zachary Levi’s Benjamin?
BROSNAHAN: I’m getting abused on Instagram about that one. My goodness, people love Zachary Levi! We do, too! Yes, people have a lot of questions about Benjamin… They want to know where he is. Anytime I post a photo that involves anyone from the show, they ask why he’s not in it. [laughs]
What do you want to happen — do you want Benjamin to come back?
BROSNAHAN: People always ask whether I’m Team Benjamin or I’m Team Joel, and I always answer that I’m Team Midge. I personally don’t necessarily believe that you have to choose between a personal and professional life. That’s an idea that a lot of people, men and women alike, still embrace. And at least at this point, I think Midge is one of those people. She says to Joel, “I’m gonna be alone for the rest of my life and I’m okay with it.” I think she believes that she has to be alone for the rest of her life to achieve the height of her ambition, and that’s what she’s decided is the most important thing to her. And I’m curious to see how and if that idea is challenged, if she finds that maybe a balance is possible. Or maybe a balance is never possible, but you keep trying anyway?
Midge still doesn’t know that Sophie Lennon asked Susie to be her manager. What can you tease about that?
BROSNAHAN: You’ll have to watch to find out about that. But Susie has been slowly trying to let Midge in a little bit more and highlight the ways in which their lives and the way they’ve been brought up and the way they interact with the world and the way the world interacts with them are different. I think Midge is beginning to hear that more than she has before.
Sterling K. Brown joins the cast this season. What was he like to work with?
BROSNAHAN: He’s so, so incredible. We are so lucky that we were able to nab him away from This is Us for a hot second to come play with us in New York. He is, he was, he continues to be phenomenal. I think you’ll get to see a different side of Sterling, which is exciting for me as a fan of his, and he’s such an exciting addition to the show and to the Maisel world. He gives Susie and Midge a run for their money.
As a die-hard Gilmore Girls fan, I screamed when I saw Liza Weil in the trailer.
BROSNAHAN: I screamed when I heard she was coming to hang with us. I don’t think anything has been said about Liza’s role so I certainly don’t want to be the person to spoil the surprise, but she’s fantastic. I grew up on Gilmore Girls, I loved her then, it was such a thrill to get to share a scene with her — I mean, we have more than one scene — to get to share the screen with her I guess.
Midge has so many gorgeous clothes. Do you have an all-time favorite outfit? And what’s one of your favorites from this season?
It would be impossible to choose an all-time favorite. Every time I think I have one, [costume designer] Donna [Zakowska] outdoes herself and I have a new one all over again. There were so many good ones this season — the Miami stuff was fun. Midge likes to accessorize for the occasion, so we got to play with new colors and new patterns and new hats. So many good hats!
One of my favorites which hardly gets any screen time actually, though I think it’s in the trailer for a hot second, is this navy kind of sailor dress with a bright pink bow and this incredible navy hat with a navy coat that had a pink lining. It was so stunning and so different from anything else we’ve worn. The hats really make a lot of the outfits this year. There are some gorgeous, gorgeous hats.
Is there anything you’ve ever wanted to “accidentally” walk away with?
Definitely. All the jackets. Almost none of the clothes are vintage, not Midge’s anyway. And a lot of Rose’s are built now as well. So when I look in the mirror and they fit so well, I want to take them all, but definitely the coats. There were a couple of outfits this season, one of which I think you saw in the trailer, it was this orange dress with these white flowers on it, and the hat is the reverse — it’s a white hat with orange flowers. Oh, my heart! That’s one of my all-time favorites.