“You know, when I set my mind to something, I can’t stop until it happens,” says Rachel Brosnahan. The actress is drawing a parallel between herself and her latest role, Midge Maisel in Amazon’s hotly anticipated “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” She stars as a Fifties housewife who begins anew as a standup comic, and no example of this comparison is as strong as the actress’ mid-flu audition. But more on that in a bit.
After breakout roles on “House of Cards,” for which she earned an Emmy nomination, and “Manhattan,” a Forties drama that was critically lauded but “never really caught wind,” Brosnahan is stepping fully into the spotlight with “Mrs Maisel,” from “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino.
“I’ve never played a character — because honestly, there aren’t very many of them — who is so unshakably confident even when her whole life falls apart,” Brosnahan says of Midge.
The 27-year-old, who resides in Harlem, N.Y., was raised in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. Her aunt, it so happens, is the designer Kate Spade, though Brosnahan’s own interest in fashion is “from afar,” she says. “But people around me have said that I’ve inherited little pieces of Katie’s style. For example, I love a good shoe and a good bag, and I know that she was largely influenced by my grandmother, her mother, June. Who actually, fun fact, Midge is slightly inspired by.”
When it came time to audition, Brosnahan was in the midst of being “the sickest I’ve ever been in my life.” But letting the part slip to another actress was out of the question.
“Perspective: you know normally when you get the flu after four or five days you start to see the light? Like 10 days later, I still could not get out of bed I was so sick,” Brosnahan says. “I was snotting and sweating and at one point took my shoes off during the audition because my feet were so sweaty. They kept having to pause so I could like powder my face and blow my nose. It was a mess. But Midge is a mess and so I’m sure in some ways it helped a little bit.”
Midge is a woman who, after her husband leaves her for his secretary, finds her way into a Greenwich Village comedy club and drunkenly takes to the stage in a rant — only she happens to be delightfully good onstage.
“This is both a person I recognize and also didn’t understand at all. I haven’t seen very many period pieces where a woman is the lead, where it’s a woman’s story, because at that time history is not told through a woman’s eyes,” Brosnahan says. And though empowering, Midge is a product of her time — she’s not particularly feminist.
“She’s the perfect woman of the Fifties. She’s a perfect mother and a perfect housewife, and a model citizen, and arguably not a feminist,” Brosnahan says. “And that’s something that I don’t understand and can’t relate to. We’ve been fortunate enough to have some stories about incredible women — real and fictional — who kind of came out of the womb wanting to change things, who didn’t belong in the time they were born in, who were different in that way, and Midge is not one of them. So this is a different look at a woman’s story in this time — not more or less valid, but different.”
After “House of Cards” and “Manhattan,” Brosnahan wasn’t exactly eager to do another television series — though having wrapped the period piece of “Manhattan,” “I wasn’t ready to leave the Forties, so the Fifties was very appealing.” But Midge was unshakable.
“This is a time, where we’ve come so far — particularly women from the Fifties — and also not, in a lot of ways, and may in fact be regressing someway at this very moment in time. So I think it’s very timely in that way, and it’s fun to watch a woman discovering this new frontier. I like to say that this story is a second coming of age.”
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