Glass interviews actor Rachel Brosnahan


THE definition of “quiplash” is two-fold – the word refers to a board game, and also, in my opinion, the sense of being ricocheted between sentences while watching The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel. A show that, along with defining a new era of happier TV storylines, has catapulted Rachel Brosnahan into stardom in the title role.

“‘Quiplash’ – that’s hilarious,” Brosnahan says, when asked how she keeps on top of the frenetic, pun-laden script. “I drink copious amounts of caffeine, and I do jumping-jacks between takes to keep my adrenaline going. I learn by doing, so I have help running lines all day long – basically any free moment between takes or in the hair and makeup chair, I’m talking someone’s ear off.”


Rachel Brosnahan. Photograph: Ssam Kim

But she does sometimes take her character home, which has mixed results: “I also enlist my poor husband to help me with lines when I get home, but we can’t do it too close to bed or I start running them in my dreams.”


By now, we all know that Brosnahan plays the heroine of the show, Midge Maisel, a 1950s housewife who converts her personal downward spiral following her husband’s affair into the upward rocket launch of her own comedy career. Season 3 launched last December on Amazon, already garnering a gong at the Screen Actors Guild Awards this year, which Brosnahan attributes to the universal themes of the show: “The show follows a woman finding her superpower, it’s beautiful to look at and there’s an element of fantasy – there’s something in there for everyone.”

Rachel Brosnahan. Photograph: Ssam Kim


So it only makes sense that she features in our “Fresh” issue, as we move into a new decade, discussing how Midge is reshaping what we understand about the women of our past.


Midge Maisel seems to have been purposely designed in sharp opposition to the onscreen representation of women of the late fifties. The closest cultural marker may be Mad Men, which shares a similar colour palette and sense of design. You can easily compare Betty Draper and Midge; they are both characters inhabiting the same time, the same place, the same challenges – marriage failures, kids, New York (the city where Brosnahan lives and works, and characterises as “one tough broad”) – but they are two different universes. Betty the ephemeral and neglected housewife; Midge the brash and vivacious comedienne. Two women, two shows – and two very different lenses. Writing women has gone from a telescopic lens to a kaleidoscopic adventure, and it’s only getting better.

Rachel Brosnahan. Photograph: Ssam Kim

Brosnahan was a theatre kid, who knew that the stage would eventually be her home – but it seems like Maisel is the perfect mix of stage and screen, an opportunity rare on the ground. “Theatre is my first true love but the screen, big and small, has my heart as well. They feed me in different ways, but Maisel has been an intersection of the two mediums that I didn’t know I was craving,” she says.


Prior to Maisel, she was kept busy, and much has been made of her star turn on House of Cards. Her chemistry with Michael Kelly was so strong the character ended up being named – you guessed it – Rachel, and her run was extended to three seasons. A turn on Manhattan followed and then she was cast in Maisel. Each role has been vastly different to the last. Was that on purpose, this idea of freshness and renewal of self and character? “Absolutely,” she answers, “and I’ve been incredibly fortunate that I’ve been given the opportunity to pursue roles that feel out of my reach from early on in this journey. A lot of people say this, but it also rings true for me – I’d like to never do the same thing twice and to continue to pursue projects that scare the crap out of me.”

Rachel Brosnahan. Photograph:

Brosnahan fought tooth and nail – a bad dose of the flu nearly wiped her out at her audition for the show – to be part of the conversation about who would play the truly marvellous Mrs Maisel. But the show is not without its challenges, with the title character struggling with identifying as a comic in a staid and stuffy era. While Midge is a comic, Brosnahan herself is not, which she believes is a strength of the show: “I think that a lack of experience in comedy was a blessing and a curse coming into this job. It meant the only way I knew how to bring Midge to life was as a three-dimensional person that defied any kind of genre.”


But Midge is not a perfect comic, and the show presents a flipside to the many made-for-TV success stories, where everything the protagonists touch turns to gold. Brosnahan’s perspective is that the failures that Midge encounters serve a greater purpose as “they teach her that she’s not invincible and that she can’t always get by on charm and wit. Those humbling experiences motivate her to do better and keep growing”. This, admittedly, is a pleasure to watch as it energises the comedic form through normalising the bumps in the road.

The ability to admit to the people around us, and even to ourselves, that we want to bare our souls and engage with people via the big and small screen can be daunting enough, and both Midge and Brosnahan herself grapple with the desire to prove oneself in a brutal industry. “It’s still hard sometimes to shake that feeling of needing to prove that I’ve made the right choice or have something to offer in this space,” she says. “It’s also difficult at times not to compare your artistry to other people you admire, but I’ve learned that there is no one way or no ‘right’ path to being an artist. It’s also difficult sometimes to feel like I’ve earned the title ‘artist’ but I’m motivated by that feeling and happy to spend the rest of my life in pursuit of whatever that means for me.”

Rachel Brosnahan. Photograph: Ssam Kim

This chase for acceptance and understanding within herself has been a journey that she continues to make, citing her “own fear and self-doubt” as being her biggest career challenge so far.

The clothes on the show are works of art, with each character having their own palette. As Midge is the star, her sartorial choices are the lifeblood of the show’s design. I remember being brought up on the adage that “blue and green must never be seen unless there’s a colour in between”, but Midge is a risk taker and plays with such rules to make them work for her. Blue and green look wonderful together, I realised, when someone who doesn’t care about why they should be apart in the first place wears them. Brosnahan has a similar attitude, saying: “Fashion always feels like the opportunity to play a character, so I enjoy it.”

As Maisel gathers praise and accolades, has Brosnahan slowed down to appreciate the unique space that it occupies in our collective viewing? “Not yet,” she confesses. “I’m hoping that comes with age … I’m so grateful for the whirlwind that has been these past few years but as we enter this new decade I’m certainly looking for ways, both big and small, to stop and smell the roses.”

For our Fresh issue, I have to ask her: what is to come for you, as we begin this new decade? “I haven’t a clue and I prefer it that way. Whatever happens in the next 10 years, I hope there’s room for reinvention, on a personal level and also as a global community. I read recently that kids in the ‘80s predicted that the 2020s would be all about robot overlords, bubble cities and teleportation. I vote for teleportation in this decade, but we can leave the other stuff in the imaginations of children of decades past.”

By Simone Williams

From Spring 2020 issue of Glass magazine. To make sure you never miss out on a copy of Glass and Glass Man, please visit here to subscribe.



Photographer SSAM KIM
Production coordinator JENNY EOM
Photography assistant KEVIN LIU
Styling assistant MEGAN VO
Make-up assistant JACKIE PICCOLA



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