Rachel Brosnahan has quietly built up a brilliant career. That was until one drunken and despondent night that ended in an impromptu stand-up performance at the Gaslight Café (as well a night in jail). She put her well-heeled foot down, delivered an effervescent yet risqué monologue and got everyone paying attention. This was the defining moment in Rachel’s portrayal of Miriam “Midge” Maisel. Her flawless vintage New York accent broached every syllable dead on the comedic beat. It’s shocking that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was her first comedic role and we’re left wondering, how did it take so long? In a way, she dared it all to happen. And then beat them to the punchline.
An actor in the most distinguished sense, Rachel grew up practicing technique at the Wilmette’s Actors’ Training Center, performed in musical theatre and polished her craft at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. As striking as her credentials prove, Rachel is not pretentious. She possesses a fortitude, a prevailing aura of wit and charm that could easily translate as dull. Instead, she comes off as magnetic. And yes, electrically smart. By the time she graduated from NYU, Rachel starred in films and on Broadway, cultivating a remarkable catalog of work. She also made a number of singular appearances on popular television shows including Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomyand Orange Is The New Black. From the onset, Rachel has been fascinating to watch—almost otherworldly, exceptionally uncanny in talent. She is the kind of actor who operates from a deep instinct, which is most evident in her performance as former sex worker Rachel Posner on House of Cards. Her ability to get lost in the emotional weight of this character, and the unyielding chemistry with co-star Michael Kelly inspired creator Beau Willimon to further develop her arc in the drama. With a unique reserve, she conveyed a character with an interior world that’s rich in complexity and texture. Originally cast for several lines, Rachel ended up staying on the Netflix series for several seasons. Her work was so outstanding, she was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Emmy.
Rachel’s tongue tripping stand-up performance as Midge on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel did not go unnoticed either. The Amazon series won 14 awards from 11 guilds and societies, making it the most successful run in a single year ever by a comedy series. It is pure and quintessential Amy Sherman- Palladino, famously known for creating Bunheads and Gilmore Girls. The series features Rachel as an Upper West Side Jewish American Princess with a pitch-perfect New York cadence, embellished with a confection of beautiful costumes and mid- century design. Midge is comfortable with the life prescribed to her—doting wife, loving mother, the most superb Yom Kippur host—perfection is her job. But when its flaws start to show its thorny underside following the end of her marriage, Midge delivers a sharp comedic performance that vacillates between fury and amusement. She is layered with quirks, seamlessly blending an earnest vulnerability with gusto and moxie. The series is utterly delightful, and Rachel is the reason why. She has been awarded a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy and two consecutive Golden Globes. She brings depth and pathos to her roles, whether it’s a former prostitute in a political drama or 1950s housewife with a high octane flair for comedy. Her range as an actor is truly exceptional. She is stunning, funny and empathetic. It is no wonder the world is responding in kind. Rachel Brosnahan is in every single way, truly marvelous.
When you were eight-years-old and dreaming the dream, is this what you imagined it to be like? What do you think the younger version of yourself would think of everything?
I assume she’d be thrilled! And in complete disbelief. When I was eight and imagined being an actor, I thought being an actor meant being on Broadway. I had done a few class plays, caught the bug and wanted to live on the stage. Then I saw the movieZenon: Girl of the 21st Century and wanted to do movies like that. I was fortunate enough to make it to Broadway a few years ago, so I’m on the lookout for a big fantasy film to live out all my eight-year-old dreams.
You mentioned you were involved in the performing arts growing up, but you were also on the wrestling team. Any regrets in not pursuing it further?
No! I loved wrestling, but I don’t think a career in wrestling was in the cards. But maybe I’ll get to play a wrestler in a film one day. Or join the cast of Glow.
Tell us a little more about your time on Broadway. What do you love most about the theatre? What parts of this craft do you take with you when working in film and television?
Theatre is my first true love. My favorite part of doing theatre is rehearsal. You get to spend weeks in a room with incredible artists, and you get to try things. It’s a safe space to take huge risks and craft a piece of art together. There’s also nothing like the energy of a live audience. Theatre feels like this elusive magical organism that lives and breathes and is constantly evolving. It’s addicting. When I’m doing film and TV, I try to take a sense of spontaneity with me and to treat each take like a rehearsal en route to a performance that gets more and morerealized. I also search for the same sense of community and collaboration I’ve been so grateful to find in the theatre.
You were fantastic as Rachel Posner on House of Cards. She was complex, layered, fascinating and you were ultimately nominated for an Emmy. How did you approach this character?With an open heart, mind, and energy. She evolved so much from my first episode. Rachel was initially “call girl” in the pilot and was only meant to be around for an episode or two so when Beau Willimon found a way to keep bringing her back I just wanted to be able to do the brilliant material he was writing me justice. The character was so different from anything I had ever played and often felt out of reach. I learned so much about myself as a performer through the process of discovering this character and working with Beau and Michael Kelly (who played Stamper).
Is it true you kept the rock used to hit Doug Stamper [Michael Kelly] in the head? Have you kept any other pieces of memorabilia from your times on set?
I did! It’s one of my most prized possessions! I usually only hold onto my scripts with all my notes in them or save call sheets from projects I loved. But I did manage to walk away with one of Midge’s coats from our first season. Had to nab ONE!
Of course, your most notable work is from Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. We heard your audition was actually no laughing matter! Tell us how it all played out.
Well it depends on who you ask. It seems like it might have made someone laugh... but I was so nervous because during my final camera test I was so, so sick. I actually had to postpone my audition because I was too sick to travel and was scared I would lose the part to some healthy person who made their audition. When I finally made it out there, I was still a disgusting mess. I didn’t shake anyone’s hand for fear of giving them the plague and kept having to pause and blow my nose, which I’m sure is memorialized on film somewhere. I had tissues tucked in every crevasse. I was also super sweaty and took my shoes off because my feet were sliding around. At one point Amy stopped me to tell me to powder my face because I was so sweaty. It must have been a beautiful disaster because I ended up with the gig.
Going into the third season, is there anything about Midge Maisel that continues to surprise you? How have you grown and evolved the character?
For all things growing and evolving, I have to give credit to our writers/creators/directors extraordinaire Amy Sherman Palladino and Dan Palladino. The journey is all them, but I love getting to bring it to life. I am continually surprised by howbrilliant Midge is about some things and how naive she is about others. I’m also continually frustrated by that dichotomy in the most delicious way.
What do you love most about portraying Midge? If you could have a conversation with her, what do you think it’d be like?
I love getting to stretch acting muscles I didn’t know I had and playing a woman who is full of contradictions. She’s also complicated and deeply imperfect but smart and driven and curious in ways that continually excite me. If I could have a conversation with her I don’t think I’d get a word in edgewise. But I’d be laughing out loud the whole time.
You’ve noted before that getting the role of Midge Maisel was a surprise because you’ve never done comedy before. Is there any role or genre you’re looking forward to trying out?
All of them. I’m simultaneously thrilled and terrified by continuing to try things that feel wildly different from anything I’ve done or thought I could do.
You have a number of incredible achievements including two Golden Globes, a SAG Award, and now your first Emmy. Congratulations! You were stunning that night, but more notably, your speech was absolutely beautiful. Thank you for using your platform to empower women to use their voice and vote. Why do you think it’s so important to champion this cause?Thank you! That was a pretty cool night. I firmly believe that it’s both a right and a privilege to have a say in who represents us. When we all vote, our representatives better reflect what our country looks like and what our values and goals are. I know a lot of people are disillusioned with the state of politics right now, and the problems we are collectively facing can feel overwhelming. But our vote is our voice and is the first step in creating the kind of change we want to see.
If you could give young women out there a piece of wisdom you have learned, what would it be?
Develop and nurture your female friendships. Lift up and lean on and celebrate other women. They are my foundation and some the most magical and intimate and fulfilling relationships in my life.
You are also on the board of directors at Covenant House International. Tell us more about your work with this incredible organization.
Thank you for asking! I was introduced to Covenant House nearly seven years ago through some members of the Broadway community and have been deeply inspired and moved by the work they do to support young people experiencing and overcoming homelessness. Their tireless and dedicated staff is deeply committed to helping young people break the cycle of homelessness at a critical age before they enter adult homelessness. They provide the most basic needs from food, safe shelter and clothing to medical care, legal services, mental health support, job training and the opportunity for transitional housing. They lead with absolute respect and unconditional love and are exemplary leaders who change young people’s lives. I’m so grateful to have been asked to join the board and look forward to deepening my relationship with Covenant House and playing a small role in helping shape the organization as we look towards the future.
You are an award-winning actress, philanthropist, and all- around amazing human. You also collaborated with Frances Valentine as the face of their Spring collection. What a beautiful tribute to your late aunt’s legacy. What inspired you to pursue this?
Thank you. It was really meaningful to be asked to collaborate with Frances Valentine. I suppose I was just looking for a way to honor and celebrate her life, legacy, and spirit. I realized from the outpouring of love and support that my family and I received in the wake of Katy’s passing how much other people were inspired by her and her art as well. It was bigger than us. And we were so grateful and so moved to hear from strangers all over the world about their first Kate Spade bags or a time they had met her or how she had inspired them in some way. The collaboration with Frances Valentine felt like a way to celebrate her collectively as well as the last work she left behind.
You’ll be starring alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in your latest project Ironbark. Tell us more about this. Was working with Benedict as incredible as we imagine it to be?
100 percent. Benedict is an extraordinary actor and an incredibly generous scene partner. He’s always fantastic but this role was really something special, and he made it even more so. Ironbark is a story following a few key players on their quest to end the Cuban Missile Crisis, specifically a British civilian named Grenville Wynne (played by Benedict) and Oleg Penkovsky (played by the wonderful Merab Ninidze). I play Emily Donovan, a CIA agent, who works with MI6 to orchestrate a plan connect the two and gain important information that will help bring an end to the crisis. A little bit of a departure from stand up comedy in the 1960s.
Thank you so much, Rachel. Before you go, we have one last question for you. Would you describe this time in your life as well... marvelous?
Marvelous, indeed. Thank you.