Rachel Brosnahan’s story reads like aspiring-actress lore. Her career, up until recently, was comprised of a series of impressive recurring roles—the type of roles that would render her face “recognizable” without making her a household name. There was a memorable multiple-season stint on House of Cards as Rachel Posner, a high-end lady of the night who suffered an unfortunate end, which earned her an Emmy nom. There were two seasons of the critically acclaimed Manhattan and a several-episode role on Blacklist, as well as guest stints on Grey’s Anatomy, Orange Is the New Black and several other hit shows. Then came the big one, the career-changing role: She was cast as Miriam “Midge” Maisel in Amazon’s award-winning The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, co-created by husband-and-wife duo Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino of Gilmore Girls fame. That was when things really took a turn.
As the story goes, Brosnahan was so sick during her audition she could have blacked out. What she does recall involves her sweating profusely and her shoes coming off. “When you don’t feel well or you’re overexhausted, all of your inhibitions fall away,” says Brosnahan, who lives in New York City, where Maisel is shot. “You do some of your most fearless work because you have nothing to lose.” That was clearly a good thing because the now-27-year-old got the role. Adding to the string of good luck, Amazon bought two seasons of the series based solely on the pilot. (It was recently announced the show has been renewed for a third season as well.) And, before many people had even seen the show, Brosnahan was onstage clutching a Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy series (the show, too, won for best television series, musical or comedy). Just like that, Brosnahan was in need of recurring roles no more: She was a bona fide star. “Sometimes the awards stuff can feel awkward and strange,” says Brosnahan when I meet her for breakfast at The London West Hollywood. “The Globes were a nice reminder that [awards shows] are giant commercials in the best way possible. So many people reached out after the Globes saying, ‘I started watching the show,’ which was really encouraging.”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel centers around a 1950s traditional, Jewish, Upper East Side housewife who discovers her husband—a businessman-by-day and aspiring-stand-up comedian by night—has been lifting his act from Bob Newhart and cheating on her with his secretary. In her anger and shock, Midge takes to the stage herself, proving she’s the one with actual talent. “Midge doesn’t start as a stand-up,” says Brosnahan. “She starts as a really funny woman whose life falls apart. And she’s sharp; she’s smart; she’s single-minded; she’s driven; and she finds her voice through stand-up comedy.” During Midge’s impromptu act, she—in a wine-fueled rage—flashes the crowd, sending her to jail for indecent exposure. Oh, and all of that happens in the pilot. “I get very frustrated by gratuitous nudity; it’s tired and distracts from storytelling, but I appreciated this pilot’s relationship to nudity because I think it’s funny,” says Brosnahan. “It’s not about sex or being sexualized. [Midge was] hitting a bottom she couldn’t have imagined.”