Welcome to My Favorite Scene! In this series, IndieWire speaks to actors behind a few of our favorite television performances about their personal-best onscreen moment and how it came together.
The actress is up for her fourth Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series as Miriam “Midge” Maisel in Amazon’s breakout comedy — which she won in 2018 — and when she hopped on the phone with IndieWire, she was torn between two Season 4 highlights.
The scenes bookend Season 4 and explore two of Midge’s most important relationships: Susie (Alex Borstein) and Lenny (Luke Kirby). The first scene is near the top of Episode 1, when Midge and Susie are left behind by Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) after Midge all but outed him in the Season 3 finale. Shocked and stranded, Midge cycles through the stages of grief — with a little laughter and humiliation thrown in — eventually tearing her clothes out and throwing them out the window before beating up the cab (and Susie) with a tree branch.
“I love that scene for a million reasons,” Brosnahan said. “As soon as I read it, the first thing I thought was ‘What a gift. This is a present to me and Alex and hopefully to our audiences after we’ve all been away for so long.’”
Brosnahan’s other favorite appears in the season finale, when Midge and Lenny Bruce, seeking refuge from a blizzard, finally “do the deed.” The actors are professionals, but the scene broke new ground for their characters’ relationship and made it difficult to stay serious.
“We’ve been working together for so many years and it was brand new territory for Midge and Lenny and therefore for us,” Brosnahan said. “But it also felt like it paralleled what was on the page in such as fun and funny way. He says to her ‘I’ll be laughing the entire time,’ and that’s exactly what we did.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
IndieWire: I’ve heard a lot about Amy [Sherman-Palladino]’s scripts and how dense they can be. What was it like reading this breakdown scene on the page?
Brosnahan: We’d been on lockdown for a long time when we first got the script. It was the opportunity to throw down in a scene, to give it everything you’ve got, every emotion that you could possibly be bottling up in one person to come to the surface, and Alex and I got to beat the shit out of each other. It was all kinds of dreams come true.
How much of the physicality came out during rehearsals and performance — or was it right there on the page?
Every moment in this story is on the page. From when she first picks that stick up to which pieces of clothes she’s throwing out the window and in which order and on what line — it’s all scripted. So we have a really clear roadmap and then it’s our job to flesh it out and make it even more colorful than it already is.
You and Alex has done so many scenes together by now, I imagine you have a very lived-in dynamic.
We do, we love working together. Alex always says her favorite scenes to shoot together are the ones where we fight. I don’t know what that says about about me, but I agree! It’s really fun to push these characters to their limit, and it’s the most fun that every time we finish the scene like that, it results in them hacking out a new path together.
They bicker a lot, but this is one of the rare times where it gets physical — what was that like?
Like I said, I’ve always wanted to punch Alex in the face, and she definitely wanted to punch me. We really got to get out years of aggression towards one another in a single conflict. It was fun the first take, and then by take six we were, “No more! I’m sorry, I love you!”
What was it like to actually film?
It was the middle of the night and it was freezing. It was maybe our first night shoot back after a long time away, so we were so out of practice. We started rehearsing at about 3 p.m. and then shooting at maybe 8 or 9 p.m. From the moment they get out of the cab to maybe three quarters of the way through that next scene, it’s a oner, so there’s nothing to cut to. It’s just us, and that branch was actually heavy and we were actually — safely — beating the shit out of each other.
The take that ended up in there, I remember seeing it in ADR. I was so out of breath that I was crying by the end of that scene, I could hardly get words out. I think it adds something. It was one of the hardest things in so many ways that we’ve ever shot. It was really challenging performance-wise, it was challenging physically, it was the middle of the night and we were tired. So we left it on the mat, as they say. It launched us face-first into the rest of the season.
Were there challenges that came up with the single take, anything unexpected from reading and rehearsing?
I just wasn’t expecting the branch to be that heavy! The first take it was great. I could pick it up and whip it over my head and really hit that car. And then my third take I could hardly lift it anymore. It took everything in me to keep hitting that car. Our show is so musical — everything has a rhythm, there’s a metronome under all of these scenes, and I knew that I couldn’t break it. So I was just trying to keep up to pace, with this HIIT class that I was accidentally doing on screen. I couldn’t move for like five days after we shot that scene, couldn’t lift my arms above my head. We were covered in bruises, but it was a blast.
Let’s talk about Midge and Lenny.
It’s one of the relationships that has evolved the most and they have met their match in each other. They are mentor and mentee and intimate friends and have this sparkle and this chemistry that you can’t wrap up into a singularly defined relationship.
Even though this is a very sexy scene and something that has been building for a long time, the piece I loved the most about it is that it is the moment where he acknowledges that she’s a brilliant comic and that he respects her, because he feeds one of her own lines back to her from a set that came from a really emotional place. In a season where she was trying to figure out what kind of comic she wanted to be and what feels really and truly her, from the gut, he listened. And then they got to bone. Many, many wishes came true in that moment for the characters.
What was it like to read that scene?
It was something that I was really resistant to for a long time — the idea of them getting together romantically or sexually — because I just loved their relationship so much, and I felt very strongly about the idea that it could stand alone and didn’t need to cross that line to be fulfilling. However, I changed my mind in that moment. I knew it was coming — Amy let me know because she had for many years told me it would never happen, so she pulled me aside to let me know that she lied — but once I actually saw it on the page I completely changed my mind. I can’t imagine a more perfectly-written scene to culminate in them finally getting together, so I ate my shorts. It’s a real testament to what a brilliant writer Amy is.
Compared to you and Alex, you and Luke have fewer scenes together but the chemistry is insane. Even in previous seasons, did you ever think “We just need these characters together as often as possible?”
Oh, yes, absolutely. I love working with Luke. He’s a really singular performer. He’s electric and strange and such a generous scene partner. His well is so deep. I always want more Luke on the show, and therefore more Lenny and Midge. He’s one of the only actors who is allowed to come in and change the metronome of the show, change the pace, change the tempo. As someone who’s there operating at a certain pace most of the time, it always feels like a breath of fresh air to try something else and explore a different part of this character that I’ve lived in for so long.
How did you go about approaching that scene to nail the dynamic and the pacing?
We’re good friends, and we were like, “Oh god, how do we do this?” There were many, many, many giggles; it was so awkward and so fun and so goofy. There’s nothing more awkward than pretending to have sex with someone in front of 150 people, but you figure out the moves and you pray that it looks [natural.]
Has that happened to you before as an actor, with intimate scenes?
It’s always ridiculous. It’s always the goofiest thing to do. I’ve been very fortunate that to have not had any uncomfortable feelings in that environment, and that is such a privilege as a young actress growing up in this industry. But they’re all totally different and it is so dependent on who you’re doing those scenes with. We had a blast — we always do — and this was no different, just new for us.
I love that you’re giggling at just the memory.
Oh, my God. I think Luke planked over me at one point, and that really sent us.
This scene does have a lot of coverage, as opposed to the one-shot with Susie. What was it like in contrast?
We don’t always get the opportunity to do that, so it always feels like a luxury to have the time to really dig into something, to really beat-by-beat and moment-by-moment make sure that we’re getting exactly what we want. We really took our time with that moment because it is so [pivotal]. It launches out of this season and into the next.
How did you react to watching it afterward?
I actually don’t watch my own work unless I have to in ADR or unless it’s something I’m producing, so I have no idea what it looks like! But the response has been positive, so it seems like we were able to accomplish our goal.
How do you feel on this side of it, now that you’ve come around to them having that relationship?
It was such a perfect scene that it felt like the only way that could have ever gone. I learned a long time ago to stop predicting what was going to happen next, because I’ve never been right and it’s always been better than what I could have hoped for, and I certainly feel that way about this scene. We’re a little over halfway through this fifth and final season, and I have no idea where it’s ultimately headed.
Looking forward, what can we expect of this relationship now that they have crossed that line?
I think as always with this show and with them, you can expect the unexpected. I think people will be surprised — hopefully in a good way. That’s very vague but about as much as I can without getting fired with only a couple months to go.
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