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[This story contains major spoilers for season four of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.]
Fans of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel got a glimpse at a Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) in season four that they haven’t seen since season one: a Midge on the edge.
“We met her when she’d hit rock bottom, drunk and half-naked in the comedy club in the middle of the night,” Rachel Brosnahan tells The Hollywood Reporter of the series’ pilot episode. “In some ways, it was fun to return to a version of Midge that is furious and is wearing every emotion she has on her sleeve all at once.”
The 1960s-set fourth season picks up right where season three left off. Midge has been dropped from Shy Baldwin’s (LeRoy McClain) tour after accidentally outing his sexuality during a comedy set at the Apollo. She’s out of a job, beats up a taxi cab with a palm leaf and stumbles upon an illegal strip club, where she decides to start working as an emcee.
Over the course of the season, Midge stands her ground and is open to new gigs but refuses to take on any jobs opening for other acts. Her manager, Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), spends the majority of the eight episodes trying to convince Midge to not be so stubborn and reconsider her stance, to no avail.
It isn’t until the finale that Midge has the sense knocked into her by none other than Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), who, shortly after they finally have sex, criticizes her decision to turn down a high-profile gig opening for Tony Bennett at the Copacabana and accuses her of committing intentional career sabotage.
“Ninety percent of this game is how they see you. They see you hanging with Tony Bennett, they think you deserve to be there. They see you hauled off to jail for saying ‘fuck’ at a strip club, they think you deserve that also,” Bruce tells Midge after his iconic Carnegie Hall act. “If you blow this, Midge,” he concludes, fighting back tears. “You will break my fucking heart.”
Below, Brosnahan opens up about Midge and Lenny’s future, Midge’s thoughts about Mei and Joel’s surprising news, the bittersweet feeling of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel coming to an end with the recently announced fifth season, and how she’s approaching her final run as Midge differently.
The comedian Lenny Bruce tragically died of a drug overdose in 1966. Knowing that trajectory, how do you think Midge will cope with Lenny’s eventual fate after that explosive season finale between them?
I think it would be absolutely gutting for Midge. Lenny’s been her mentor and her hero. In so many ways, she’s modeled herself in her career after him. Even in intention when sometimes she’s wrong, as Lenny points out at the end, I just think she’d be absolutely gutted. And a big part of me hopes we never get there.
Midge goes through the wringer this season and loses her calm on more than one occasion. How did you get into that mindset?
“Loses her calm” is putting it pretty mildly. (Laughs.) It’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen Midge pushed to the brink. We met her on the edge. We met her when she’d hit rock bottom, drunk and half-naked in the comedy club in the middle of the night. In some ways, it was fun to return to a version of Midge that is furious and is wearing every emotion she has on her sleeve all at once. We watched Midge go through her own version of the seven stages of grief as she’s laying to rest a career she thought she was about to embark on and rebuild for better and for worse.
We had been away for a while when we started shooting the season. We’ve been away from the characters and away from each other for maybe a year and a half at that point almost. So, it was fun to revisit and try to make that switch, and as I said, in some ways, return to almost an earlier version of Midge. In some ways, it’s a regression, and in other ways it’s a progression. So, when Midge does anything, she does it at 150 percent, and her outright fury was no different.
Before the season aired, what were you hoping viewers would take away from season four, and do you feel you accomplished that?
After we shoot the episodes, I tend to lay them to rest and I don’t watch the show. So, I often don’t know how something has turned out or what comes across onscreen as opposed to what we shot and how it felt on the day. So, it’s been a fun exercise over the last couple of years to try not to have expectations of what the audience might take away from each season. And then also to try not to let what ultimately they do take away inform too much of what we do as we approach the next season. Some part of me was nervous that audiences would certainly see maybe a much uglier side of Midge than they were used to in moments. Midge certainly steps in it over and over and over again this season, but I also appreciate this portrait of an incredibly flawed woman chasing her ambition as hard as she knows how. And I enjoy watching her stumble as a reader, and I also enjoy playing her crashing around like a bull in a China shop.
Shy and Midge’s reunion was both heartfelt and heartbreaking. What are your hopes for them moving forward?
I think at this stage, it’s probably best for them both to move on. Midge, in particular, has hurt Shy, and she has felt hurt by him, even if, in many ways, she brought it upon herself. That scene is so sad to me that Shy is moving forward in a way that neither of them would have hoped: Getting married to a woman, crawling further inside the closet and, therefore, inside the cage that the society around him in the 1960s has placed on him. I think it’s probably best for both of them if they go their separate ways. But, selfishly, I would love any excuse to get LeRoy McClain back on the show.
What do you think Midge wants from Mei, now that she’s pregnant with Joel’s child? How does Midge feel about her?
I think Midge both has an immense amount of respect for Mei, because Mei, like Midge, is an independent woman who isn’t afraid to say what she thinks and what she wants, and can go toe-to-toe with her. She respects her, even if she doesn’t want to say it out loud. But also, any woman who enters Joel’s life is going to bring up really complicated feelings for Midge, and the idea of Mei potentially becoming a stepmother to her children and being in her life for the foreseeable future is a lot for Midge and weighs heavily on her. But, more than anything, I think that Midge feels concern that Mei and Joel just aren’t on the same page about what they want. And, at the end of the day, her loyalty is to Joel, and I think she’s looking out for him, and that’s part of what that final scene between Mei and Midge is.
One day before season four released, Maisel was officially renewed for its final season, which you are now filming. How are you approaching next season differently — behind-the-scenes or in front of the camera?
I don’t know if this is wildly differently, but there’s a bittersweetness to this season. It’s the last one. So, really, we’re just trying to enjoy every moment of it and to have fun and to spend time with the people we love so deeply on this show. The cast and the crew, we’re trying to make those little moments to be together, even if it means that we might be a couple minutes late getting a shot. I think we’re just trying to have fun and treasure this thing that has changed all of our lives so much.
As far as the character goes, last season and this season were actually the first two seasons where I had no idea what to expect from the season or from Midge. When we started shooting the pilot, I had been loosely walked through what would happen in the first three seasons. And I’m both intimidated but also enjoying heading into these two with nearly no idea of what’s coming. It’s forcing me to be firmly rooted in the moment, and that’s been challenging and also fun for me and for Midge.
Where do you want to see Midge go from here? And do you have hopes for Midge and Lenny, or Midge and Joel?
I would love to see Midge remain unattached — in a formal capacity, anyway. Obviously, you know, I’d like Midge to get some, woman to woman, but I love when Midge is married to her career and striving for a balance that is nearly impossible between her home life and her children and her friendships and the career that she’s trying to build. It feels very honest, to me as a performer, as an artist. I’m team Midge, ultimately.
I’d like to see Midge face even more moments where she’s forced to look inward and decide who she wants to be. The world is changing in the 1960s, and I would love to see her gain a little bit more self-awareness and for that to influence her comedy as time moves forward.
Why do you think season five is the right time to end the series?
I think it’s the right time, truthfully, because [showrunners] Amy [Sherman-Palladino] and Dan [Palladino] feel like it’s the right time. They have crafted these characters and these arcs, and I trust them implicitly if they feel like they have found the endpoint for all of them. But, on a personal level, it feels like we could keep going for quite a long time. The writing is fantastic. This group is unparalleled, and so it’ll be sad to see it go. But, at the same time, better to go out on a high than to drag these storylines on just to stay on the air.
How did you react to the decision to end the series?
It certainly took us all by surprise, but we all got on the phone in various iterations and had our moment together. I got a very boozy dinner with Amy the night they actually let us know, and we came to peace with it before we started shooting, so now it’s all fun. We’re so in the middle of it right now, it almost feels like it’s gonna keep going forever.
Are you looking forward to switching your focus to other projects?
Definitely. We have some really exciting stuff in the works over at [my production company] Scrap Paper Pictures. I’m really excited to dive deeply into other projects that I’m in, and also things that we’re producing and places that overlaps. I’m definitely looking forward to this next chapter. I’m just not quite ready to close this one.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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