One of the big stories of streaming television last year was the success of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Well, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 2 is upon us. The show is a comedy-drama set in 1958 New York, following a Jewish housewife, who, after her marriage takes a hit, discovers that she has an ability for stand-up comedy that can be honed and possibly lead to great things. Rachel Brosnahan plays the title character, Miriam “Midge” Maisel, while Alex Borstein is Susie Myerson, an employee of The Gaslight Cafe (a Greenwich Village coffeehouse showcasing entertainers). Pretty soon after the show debuts, Susie ends up becoming Midge’s manager.
Mrs. Maisel won a number of awards last year, most notably Emmys in the categories for Outstanding writing and directing (both going to series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who also created Gilmore Girls), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Rachel, and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Alex. Now, on the eve of the show’s second season streaming premiere on Wednesday, Dec. 5, we sat down for a few minutes with Alex for a fairly wide-ranging exclusive conversation.
How would you describe the sort of changes that Susie is going through as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has gone on?
I think she’s been forced to be cracked open a little bit. Susie is very guarded and has never really had friends. Traditional friends. I think she’s got cohorts and she’s got compadres, and she’s got people at the club and other comics, but a true friend she’s never had. And even though she doesn’t want to admit it, Midge is that. She isn’t just a client. So she’s changing in that way.
She’s still aggressive-aggressive, whereas Midge is passive aggressive, but I think her aggression is becoming a little more controlled. She’s realizing she’s got a temper and a kind of disdain for the universe. She’s learning from Midge that you can catch more flies with sugar. So I think that’s changed. We meet a little bit of her family in season two and as a result, a little bit of Susie is opened up. And that’s telling. I think it helps explain a lot about who she is. So, yeah, there’s definitely a lot of growth.
Are you feeling a connection with her?
There’s definitely things that I connected with. When Amy was developing this show — we’ve been friends for 20 years — she was, like, “Oh, there might be something in this for you.” Then she’s, like, “Okay, I wrote this with you in mind.” I can definitely see things that are, in a sense, stolen from me, and the more we shoot the show, things that I’ll do or the delivery that I’ll give, she’ll run with and put more of that in. Susie and I are both very abrasive, we’re both driven. I’m becoming less so in my old age, but especially when I started out working, I was very, very driven like Susie. And intent upon leaving something behind in this world.
I think the biggest difference between us is that Susie would be okay alone. She says, “I’m okay being alone, I just don’t want to be insignificant.” I don’t think that’s less true of me, but I know I would not be okay truly being alone. I have my children, they’re my world. I have my group of friends, my parents, and my family, so that wouldn’t really be an option for me. I would not be okay. Whereas when Susie says it, she actually means it. At the same time, she’s welcoming the fact that she has Midge in her life.
The show is set in the 1950s and a point where you’re seeing these women push back against society’s barriers. How reflective is that to what we’re going through now in the aftermath of #MeToo?
I think it’s telling in a way that nothing’s changed really. Things kind of changed shape, but it’s the same animal. It’s just a shape-shifter. I was talking to this woman in Barcelona, and she said, “We’ve pushed so hard to be able to work, but now I feel like I’m not doing anything well. I’m forced to work so hard at this job, but I also have to take care of my children. I almost feel like we’ve now hindered our plight rather than helped it.”
In her field, men are able to surpass her because they don’t feel like they have to straddle these two roles. If you work in the sciences and you are a father, you can be in the lab all day every day and no one questions that you are a scientist. You become the best in your profession and the best of the best, and you’re going to make more and you’re going to run the department and you’re going to end up getting those grants. But a woman who’s still trying to straddle both and do both is not going to excel. Not going to be able to have the time and will be judged harshly when she’s spending that much time away from her kids, and then judge herself harshly for not being able to parent as well as she’d like to. She’ll not be able to move up and not become a manager and not get the grant, because we’ve just kind of tied our own hands in a way. We’ve made leaps and bounds, but in a way, our feet are still bound.
Because you’re stretching yourself out so thin, that nothing is getting done as effectively as it should be.
Exactly. People ask about balance, but there’s no such thing. But I like that we’re able to use the period the show is set in to still highlight some of the same things, and maybe it helps us figure out how to problem-solve our current condition. Maybe by looking back, we can go, “Ah, maybe here’s where we made the misstep; maybe here’s how we can fix that.” I mean it is nice that Susie is such an anomaly, and that we have so many jokes about, “Who’s this guy? Who’s this young man? What’s this little bulldog?” She was such an anomaly to the 1950s picture of what a woman should look like.
It’s nice now that that’s not the case. You know, half of New York women are parading up and down the street today looking a lot more like Susie than they are Midge. It’s nice that we can be more comfortable and that we don’t have as many visual standards to live up to. I mean, of course, it’s still there, but it’s more widely accepted to kind of look how you look in this day and age. But we’re still fighting the same battles. We’re still trying to not so much find our voice, but to have our voice be heard.
Earlier you pointed out that things haven’t changed in all this time. You could say that the same goes for a lot of things that we think we’re beyond, but we’re not.
It’s all fear. I think a lot of men in power fear strong women and fear the takeover; fear immigrants, fear people of different races and cultures. People hate women so much, which is so bizarre because we’re all brought into this world by a woman. Every person you see is here because of a woman. And now, with egg harvesting and sperm donation, and IVF, men are seeing themselves as becoming less and less useful, and the fear grows. I think it only makes men more terrified that they’re no longer here for a reason. Why are they here if they don’t have to provide, and if, you know, even the mechanics for breeding aren’t required anymore? What’s their role? Like I said, fear drives so much of it.
Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will be available for streaming Dec. 5.