From the time when Rachel Brosnahan first showed up on our screens as Midge, the 50’s housewife-turned-standup comedian in the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, to when she won the Golden Globe in January for her breakthrough performance, the actress has seemed a natural for creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s quick-fire one-liners. Which is why it’s a little surprising to hear just how terrified Brosnahan was of her turn to comedy after appearances in deadly serious dramas like House of Cards. Here, catch up with the Emmy nominee as she explains why she some of that Sasha Fierce courage whenever she has to go onstage on Mrs. Maisel, the second season of which is still in production.
Do you remember a time when you did not want to be an actress?
No. There was never a time when I didn’t want to be an actress, I don’t think. Maybe when I was an infant, but probably still then also.
Were you a theatrical child?
I was kind of a shy kid, actually. I read a lot. I had my face in a book all the time, but I had a big imagination.
What was the first job you auditioned for?
My first audition ever was for a voiceover for a rehab facility in central Illinois. I did [book it].
Was there an audition for the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?
There was definitely an audition; there were a few of them. The first one was pretty standard. I came in for just a casting director in a small room not completely unlike this one that I’m in now, and read a couple of scenes. And then a couple weeks later, I went out to L.A. to read with/for Amy [Sherman-Palladino] and Dan [Palladino] and our L.A. casting director Jeanie Bacharach.
And did you dress the part a little bit?
A little bit. I tried not to. I can’t really do my own hair and makeup, so anything in that department was kind of a disaster. But for my first audition, I think I wore this little yellow shirt that I thought was adorable but then they asked me to change for my second audition. [Laughs.] So, it wasn’t as adorable as I thought.
How much do you think the costumes are apart of the character in Mrs. Maisel?
The costumes are a huge part. Midge’s outer appearance is something she takes an enormous amount of pride in, something that makes her feel good and gives her a purpose. It’s the first thing the world sees and it means a lot to her. The costumes are huge on our show and our costume designer Donna Zakowska is a freaking crazy genius lady and everything that falls out of her brain is more brilliant than the last thing. She just continues to outdo herself, and it’s become such an important part of the show, and of this woman.
Do you have to wear a girdle?
I have to wear a corset, but fun fact about the corset: I used to wear a corset that was called the Krakowski because it had originally been designed for Jane Krakowski. And this season, now we have the Brosnahan, which was designed in Paris when we went out to shoot there for a little bit. So I have my very own corset now. I’m in the big leagues. [Laughs.]
How does it feel? Has it changed your posture, your body?
Yeah, at first, when we first started shooting the first couple episodes of the first season, I felt like I couldn’t think about anything but the fact that I was in a corset. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t eat. And I got used to it over time, which is sort of disturbing but also great.
And then, this season, with the new one, it’s a little bit different than the former corset. I like it, it’s supportive and… I’m not wearing a corset to make me smaller. I’m wearing a corset to slightly change the shape of my waist to match the 1950’s. So, the clothes in the 50’s, the waist was a little bit lower than it was in the 40’s and my natural waist is kind of high, so that’s the reason I have a corset on. But I do find it changes the way I stand and sit and walk. And between the corset and the petticoats and the tights and these beautiful, beautiful costumes, and hair and makeup, I feel completely transformed when I walk out of the trailer. That’s my favorite part about being an actor—it always has been. And I’m so lucky to be on a show where I get to do that so completely every day.
Were you nervous about doing the comedy?
Was I nervous? [Laughs.] I’m still nervous every single day. Comedy is horrifying, it’s absolutely terrifying, it’s the worst thing I could possibly imagine anyone doing to themselves. And by the same token, it’s the most thrilling and most exhilarating and most bold and brave thing I could possibly imagine. I can’t claim to have ever really experienced what it’s like to do stand up, because real stand up, you’re out there as yourself and you’re pouring your soul out, or some part of your soul out, for a laugh. And on our show, I don’t have to be me, I’m playing a character.
But she’s pouring her soul out.
She is, yeah, but the lines are written for me. The brilliant jokes are written for me—but it’s still horrifying. It’s stage fright like I’ve never experienced, but one of the cool things about the show is that I get to grow along with Midge on this journey towards becoming a comedian.
I’ve learned a lot through the process, too, alongside her about somethings that Susie says to Midge about listening to an audience and responding with your audience and looking out at the crowd and really taking them in and the way that you carry yourself on stage—the way you walk, when you pause.and I’m learning a lot about the more technical side as we go on.
Do you think you’d ever go up and do stand up on your own?
Absolutely not. Nope. No, no, no, never. No, there are a whole host of things I’d rather do … No. [Laughs.]
But when you do it, do you feel you’re channeling something when you’re onstage doing the stand up scenes? Because they’re very interesting.
Really, I get to channel Midge but it feels like a little bit of a Sasha Fierce thing, you know? I do a lot of power posing in my dressing room in my corset and petticoats by myself, sort of trying to draw the confidence from somewhere. But yeah, it’s so cool, and I get to have so many scene partners in those scenes. Our background actors who are in the club with me, they’re extraordinary. They give everything to me while I’m up on stage and they are equally a part of those scenes either succeeding or falling flat and I’m eternally grateful for every new group of actors we have in those scenes.
So, growing up, what was your favorite TV show?
These answers are going to be very highbrow, but I really loved the Rugrats. I also really loved—there was this show on Noggin called Ghostwriter, and I loved it. It was about a bunch of kids my age solving mysteries. It was like a lot of the books I loved to read.
Did you have a favorite film?
[Laughs.] I really loved Austin Powers.
Your parents let you watch it? How old were you?
Too young, maybe. My dad really loved Austin Powers and… This is so silly, but I have such fond memories of watching Austin Powers with my whole family in the living room. My dad, because my brother and I were maybe a little on the young side, anytime they said bad words or something inappropriate, my dad would sort of go [clears throat] through the whole thing. He just loved it. Couldn’t get enough.
When did you tell your parents you wanted to be an actress?
Formally, probably when I was about 17. Right at that point where you’re in school and everybody starts talking about the SATs and the ACTs and where you want to go to college, and I think that was when I really realized I didn’t have any other interests, or any other viable job options.
Well, you were only 17.
That’s right, yeah. It’s so hard to know… It’s still so crazy to me that at 17 you’re supposed to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. But I think I was pretty certain about it then, and here we are now. It’s working out okay. [Laughs.]
Who was your cinematic crush then or now?
Oh gosh, now I have so many. Colin Firth. I love Colin Firth. I’ve never seen Mamma Mia, but I loved him in Bridget Jones’s Diary, Pride and Prejudice. And I mean, Frances McDormand is my forever screen crush.
When you were little, who did you have a crush on?
Well, I had kind of obscure taste. Fred Durst. From Limp Bizkit. Yeah, yeah, I had a poster of him that I ripped out of J-14 above my bed. I dug him. [Laughs.]
So you were a bit of a head banger as well?
No, no. I just think I thought he looked cool.
You liked tattoos?
I still love tattoos. I loved tattoos then, I still love them now. I don’t have any, though. There’s still time.
What was the first album you ever bought?
I think the first album I ever bought … Was Samantha Mumba too late? When was Samantha Mumba? I really loved Samantha Mumba. I wish I could remember any of her songs now, but I can remember exactly what the cover of her album looked like. I think that probably was the first CD I bought with my own money. The cover of her album was orange. She had a great outfit on it, that’s all I remember. I remember holding that CD and I kept it with me for such a long time. It meant a lot, the first one you buy yourself with allowance or babysitting money.
I also had a lot of, you know, Backstreet Boys, Aaron Carter, 98 Degrees.
I was a Backstreet girl, no NSYNC. That felt like sacrilege. You can’t like them both.
What is your karaoke song?
Well, singing scares the f—ing living daylights out of me, so I don’t karaoke much. “I Will Always Love You” [by Whitney Houston] is really good and gets better the drunker you are. I love “Open Arms.” Journey’s always good. The Spice Girls. Oh, that was another album. I had all the Spice Girls albums. That’s a good karaoke song. Also gets better the drunker you get.
Most karaoke gets better the drunker you get.
That’s true. You get fearless.
Exactly. And where was your first kiss?
Oh my God. My first kiss was… Well, I don’t count this one, but my first actual kiss was in an Embassy Suites hotel room. My cousin and I met some boys and we were playing truth or dare and we sort of had a weird quick little kiss, but I don’t count that one. My first real kiss was in a slide on a playground with a boy that I liked when I was about 12 or 13.
That’s so cute.
We were in the middle of it. We managed to stop somehow in one of those big, tubular slides. It was very cute. It was yellow.
Wow, how romantic. Did he become your boyfriend?
No. [Laughs.] It was just a little crush. I was too young to have a real… I guess, now you’re not too young, but I felt too young then to have a real boyfriend. He was my sort of just my crush, and we kissed a little. I never told anyone that.
What’s your favorite Halloween costume you’ve ever had?
Well, so on the Austin Powers theme, when I was in fourth grade, I went as Vanessa Kensington.
Yeah, and my mom made the costume for me. It was silver and had a little halter neck and some boots, some knee-highs. And I had my hair in like a cute little bump. People had no idea who I was. Nobody has any idea, I was explaining it all day long. It was epic, though.