From Midge Maisel’s classic fashion to the spectacular sets, every detail in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is carefully thought out. Factor all of that into the talent the cast brings to the screen, and it makes sense why the show has over 50 Emmy nominations and 20 wins. But every fan of the series can tell you all of that. To find out the true story behind Rachel Brosnahan’s intense audition process and learn who the show’s creator drew inspiration from for her iconic characters, keep reading.
1 Rachel Brosnahan didn’t think she was funny enough for the role of Midge.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else as Miriam “Midge” Maisel—but Brosnahan wasn’t sure she was right for the part at first. “I spent my whole life being told I wasn’t funny. And I lost a lot of jobs because [casting directors] agreed,” she told Parade. Multiple comedy Emmy nominations (and one win) later, it’s safe to say everyone was wrong.
2 Her audition didn’t go as planned.
Brosnahan thought she “ended her career” by messing up the heavy dialogue in her first audition. When she got the callback, things took an even worse turn. “I thought I had the plague, I was sweating. I was so sick, I couldn’t touch anybody. My feet were sweating so much I had to take my shoes off part of the way through the audition,” she told Vulture.
3 She landed the part with one stand-up trick.
Casting Brosnahan was one of the easiest decisions show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino had to make. “Rachel [Brosnahan] was the only actress we saw who didn’t have a fear of stand-up,” Sherman-Palladino told Parade. “Stand-up is terrifying, and she came into the audition and knew to lean into the microphone. The moment she did that, we knew we’d found our girl.”
4 Midge is based on a real person.
Show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino dreamt up the character with her father in mind. Like Midge, her dad Don Sherman was a comedian in 1950s New York City. Through his experiences, including opening for Dinah Washington and Johnny Mathis, she was able to learn about the “the highs and lows of a working comic.”
5 The show draws inspiration from the life of Joan Rivers.
Fans of Joan Rivers might have caught some similarities between the late comic and Midge—and it’s no accident. Brosnahan prepared for the role by watching Rivers’s past stand-up specials and performances. “They’re very different, but something about their drive is similar, I think,” she told InStyle.
6 Susie Myerson was written with Alex Borstein in mind.
The role couldn’t have come at a worse time for Borstein, who’d just moved to Europe and quit acting before getting the call from Amy Sherman-Palladino. “Part of me didn’t even want to read it, because I knew if I read it, I’d want to do it,” she told Vulture. “I read it and of course I loved it and I texted her, ‘F*ck you, now what do I do?’ I couldn’t possibly say no to it because I don’t know if anything like this would ever come up again.”
7 Lenny Bruce is also based on a real person.
There’s more to Luke Kirby’s character than his “will-they-won’t-they” scenes with Midge. Lenny Bruce was a real comedian of the ’50s and ’60s, known for his controversial acts and bold personality. The show tries to do his legacy justice, often including true stories about him throughout—his Elizabeth Taylor joke and performance of “All Alone” both really happened.
8 Midge often wears pink for a reason.
It represents the character’s positivity. As costume designer Donna Zakowska put it to Parade, “It became her signature shade because, to me, it referred to the rose-colored glasses through which Midge sees the world.”
9 Midge’s style is influenced by Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.
Costume designer Donna Zakowska flipped through vintage Vogue magazines and found her muses in Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. Everything from Midge’s dress silhouettes to her choice in patterns and hats are inspired by the retro stars.
10 She has a signature stand-up look.
She always wears a black or a very dark dress and a bright red lipstick. Makeup artist Patricia Regan said it’s supposed to represent her as a strong female growing into becoming a comedian.
11 Rachel Brosnahan wears a wig.
12 The Gaslight Cafe was a real spot in NYC.
The venue where Midge makes her stand-up debut is based on a real place, located at 116 Macdougal Street in Greenwich Village between 1958 and 1971. Famous names that played there include Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, and more.
13 There are some historical mistakes.
Eagle-eyed (and -eared) viewers might notice a goof or two throughout the years. The famous Cafe Wha? is repeatedly mentioned in season 1, despite it not opening until 1959—one year after the series supposedly begins. Also, Don Rickles is brought up in a sentence with Bob Newhart, despite Rickles not becoming famous until years later.
14 There are a lot of lines to remember.
Scripts for an episode are typically 10-15 pages longer than most shows. “Midge is a lot! It helps when you really love the project and the role; that makes it easy to come to work every day, even when you’re falling over tired,” Brosnahan told Harper’s BAZAAR. “But as we went on, it definitely involved digging pretty deep, and a lot of coffee. Lots and lots and lots of coffee.”
15 Filming the show is really, really hard.
The series is known for its long scenes shot in one take. “We’ll shoot an entire six-page scene that moves through multiple rooms in one single shot, which means you have to have it so well-memorized that you never mess up a line or a beat,” Brosnahan told Harper’s BAZAAR. “It’s like shooting a play with no rehearsal, so it’s really challenging.”
16 Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein grew up near each other.
Brosnahan is from Highland Park, Illinois, while Borstein is from a town less than 10 minutes away called Deerfield. Their relationship—or “womance,” as they’ve called it—off-camera is as close as their on-camera one. “She’s a very delicate, feminine creature. And I’m kind of like a bulldog. And it just worked. It was an immediate amount of trust,” Borstein told the Los Angeles Times.
17 Alex Borstein nearly missed her big Emmy win in 2018.
18 The title’s font is the same one from ‘The Osbournes.’
The typeface actually has a name: Sparkly. It was invented by Stuart Sandler of Font Diner.
19 The switchboard scene in season 1 was filmed in one long take.
And the switchboard wasn’t a prop—it was a real one from the era. Drilling holes into it wasn’t possible, so lightbulbs were mounted around it to light up each actor’s face. It was hard to navigate camera equipment in such a narrow space, but with some movie magic, they made it happen.
20 Rachel Brosnahan thought her nude scene in the pilot was “funny.”
While the actress is normally “frustrated” with nudity on screen, she thought her scene in the pilot was the right call. “It’s not about sex or being sexualized. [Midge was] hitting a bottom she couldn’t have imagined,” she told Modern Luxury in 2018.
21 Marin Hinkle learned French for her role.
When production decided the character of Rose Weissman would be starting a new life in Paris in season 2, they asked Marin Hinkle to brush up on her French. The show gave her a tutor, but didn’t reveal why she needed one at first. “I had no script,” Hinkle said. “Basically, I was told that I should learn French. What I did was, I learned how to conjugate verbs,” the actress told Vanity Fair.
22 Heavy rain almost stopped those Catskills episodes from being finished.
For season 2, the show taped at 150-year-old Scott’s Family Resort. The owners even provided pictures of the property from the ’50s and ’60s to help with setting the scene. “The Catskills were a hoot, but hard, hard work, because it was raining so much, and it was so humid and there were many bugs,” makeup artist Patricia Regan told Parade.
23 The Wonder Wheel scene took two days to film.
The scene from season 4’s premiere was super complicated. “The way we did it was we all took turns spinning in one Wonder Wheel car. The rest of the cast would be off-screen shouting the lines at each other,” Brosnahan told Entertainment Weekly.
24 Background actors are essential to the show.
Watching the actors behind the leads can be just as entertaining as the stars, and there’s a reason for that. The show often casts professional dancers for these parts, and sometimes brings in a choreographer to time their movements.
25 Milo Ventimiglia has a special connection to ‘Mrs. Maisel.’
It’s not an accident that he was cast in season 4. The actor was on Gilmore Girls—the early ’00s teen drama that Mrs. Maisel‘s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, also created. “There is a Milo effect when you have Milo on the set,” she told Variety. “Everything just seems a little more livelier and more colorful.”
26 Barbra Streisand licensed her songs to the show.
The singer is known for not usually allowing TV or movies to use her tracks. She made an exception for Mrs. Maisel after Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote her a note “pleading” to use certain songs and sent her the pilot episode with “Come to the Supermarket” edited in. “I don’t license my songs very often, but I was impressed with how the show digs deep into the song catalogs of the era and doesn’t just go with the obvious hits,” Streisand told The Hollywood Reporter.
27 Rachel Brosnahan considers Midge her alter ego.
Everyone can use Midge’s “unshakeable confidence” from time to time—even Brosnahan herself. “When I’m nervous, ‘What would Midge do?’ is the first thing that comes to mind,” Brosnahan told Parade. “I try to channel her on red carpets when I feel particularly vulnerable.”
28 Lighting is tailored to where the cast is filming.
When the crew went to Paris in season 2, the city had a type of warm lighting that didn’t exist in the ’50s and ’60s. “Unable to change that, I had to embrace the warmth that they gave the night exterior scenes. I decided to give some scenes back in New York a colder winter look to create color contrast,” cinematographer M. David Mullen explained.
29 Filming during the COVID-19 pandemic was extra costly.
The show runners were determined to hold onto the high-quality visuals that make Mrs. Maisel so special. Unable to travel and shoot on location, new sets had to be built in New York City—which weren’t cheap. Spending more on sets, along with testing cast and crew daily, paid off, as production was never shut down due to a positive COVID case.
30 You can become Midge in the ‘Mrs. Maisel’ board game.
Fans of the show can play The Game of Life: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Edition. You’ll be able to live through your favorite episodes, try your hand at stand-up, and more.
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