It is easy to fall under Luke Kirby’s spell as Lenny Bruce. He always appears rather unexpectedly, but he disappears like a plume of delicate cigarette smoke. There is a buzz whenever Kirby is on screen, especially when he and Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge are flirtatiously dancing with their words. In the fourth season of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel we see a different side to Lenny. The relationship and bond between Lenny and Midge will never be the same again, and we are all the more thankful for it.
Of all the shows that I was eager to see return as the pandemic slowed down, Mrs. Maisel was at the top of my list. Since the production is huge and filmed in New York City, I was curious to see how creator Amy Sherman-Palladino adjusted this year. It is just as grand as ever. For Kirby, he was able to attach himself into Bruce’s rhythms to get back into character, and he deeply missed playing his old friend.
“Because I have such affection for Lenny, it felt so good. That’s a simple answer. It’s a question of adjustment just in terms of re-greasing the wheels, but since I have such a love for him, he just came knocking. He was like, ‘Are you ready?’ Rhythmically, he had such a specific cadence and way of speaking, and the rhythm of the scene is from Amy and Dan. There, thankfully, wasn’t a lot to fix. It was such a delight to be back together, and it felt like fell back into place. It had been a long time. It was unknown how Midge and Lenny were going to see each other again after that hot night in Miami. I do like the old friend perspective.”
When Lenny wakes up in Midge’s apartment, they end up fighting on the sidewalk, and she is shocked to discover that he has children. He has never mentioned them until now. Holding that knowledge and research of Bruce’s family is something that Kirby is very conscious of, and he continuously wants to honor Bruce’s legacy as much as he possibly can.
“I think about it quite a bit since there is a dance with him in the show. We are having fun with his legend, and we feel honor bound to reflect on him historically. We cherish who he was even though this is fiction. I’ve always kept in mind his daughter, more than anyone else. Kitty Bruce was the person who I was most concerned about upsetting when we started the show. She is still around and she knew him the best, and she has been a real presence for me. We aren’t telling a factoid version of his story, but I have thought a lot about her. I like that they touch on it this season as a surprise. I thought that was sweet. Lenny is coming clean with Midge in that moment about the severity of entering the world of showbusiness. He does dance a lot around the truth, but I love that we are slowly cracking away at the façade.”
Many people love that Mrs. Maisel feels like a fantasy or a confection, but the dramatic heft is very real in this fourth season. Every actor gets a moment to show off their dramatic chops. Maybe it’s because Mrs. Maisel will conclude after the next season, but there is a lot at stake.
“It excites me as an actor since we are getting to the core of things. We have this woman on the sidelines of comedy and she is entranced by her own talent. She then starts following a bliss, but the harsh reality of following your bliss is that you need to find a habit of it. You can rely on that talent in the early days, but you need a little more than luck. I love that she is having to confront that now, and I can relate to that a little bit.”
The final scene between Lenny and Midge in Carnegie Hall knocks the wind out of you. She sees first-hand what a truly successful career in comedy is like, but he isn’t there to placate her. He genuinely wants to know why she is turning down gigs to fulfill a fantasy of a path she has set for herself. When she rebuffs the notion that she is hiding on the stage of the Wolford, he quickly responds, ‘The fuck you are.’ It’s one of the strongest scenes the series has ever filmed.
“The way Amy and Dan work set you up in such a way that as long as you show up on time with your homework down, you can crush it. That’s how that day went. Everyone was on pins and needles since we were in Carnegie Hall. I think that certainly raised the stakes in any scene by virtue of being in that space. I never had any design or fantasy of Carnegie Hall, but as soon as I stood on that stage saying Lenny words, it felt so powerful. This is a place that vibrates sound, and to be able to breathe the same air as Lenny was very, very cool to me. That space is very special so everyone felt like they were on top of their game.”
Mrs. Maisel was the first show to film on the stage after the pandemic hit. When you are on that stage, you get the sense that the seats go on forever. Even Lenny getting to perform at Carnegie Hall is like a wish fulfilled. Kirby didn’t take that history lightly.
“To be in that space and saying those words, you usually have to do a little more work to feel the resonance of a space. When he says, ‘This is what I wanted and it’s right there,’ you realize that so many people felt the same way. They wanted to create magic. I found the writing of that scene to be very poignant. You can’t just plan it everything out and things will fall into place. You can’t be this in order to not be that–that’s not where the truth lies. Lenny hopes that Midge doesn’t just get high on her own supply.”
I suggested that, on a story level, it would be tragic if Midge only got to experience the stage of Carnegie Hall by Lenny letting her through the door. He gently reminded me that it is deeper than that.
“Our show is about a woman who, on paper, is perfect. She is what the world says is perfect. The world continues to do this, and she is so good at it that she’s not herself. Midge finds a way in, through talent, to become herself, and it’s not just a tragedy if she doesn’t pursue a life in showbusiness. It would be a tragedy if she didn’t pursue herself. She cannot pursue the lie, and that’s what Lenny wants her to avoid. I re-watched the first episode recently, and you just want to put her in a box and ship her out and charge everyone fifty dollars–she’s to that. What I love about the show is that she isn’t that. She’s an asshole. She’s fucked up and monstrous and sympathetic and beautiful. Midge almost had it all, but all would’ve been nothing.”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is streaming now on Amazon.