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.
Katherine Langford, Aubrey Plaza, Evan Peters and More Stars Who Prove Television Is Better Than Ever
I was born in Oakland, California. Since I was a kid, I have been acting in plays. The only musical I’ve ever done is Hamilton. Even the early versions were really great, but I’ve made a lot of stuff I think is great and nobody cared, so the success of Hamilton was definitely a surprise.
You won the Tony for best actor in a featured role in a musical. You wore a Comme des Garçons Homme Plus suit to accept it.
That whole night was out of body. For a month, I had been campaigning for something I didn’t know I wanted. And I loved that suit. I’ve gotten to wear a lot of Comme des Garçons’ art pieces, and they’re pretty wonderful.
Had you already been cast in Black-ish?
Yes. The Black-ish creator, Kenya Barris, pitched me the idea of playing Rainbow’s brother. Rainbow is liberal, freethinking, a doctor, and a mom. I told him, when I watched the show, I’ve always been Team Rainbow! I’m from the Bay Area. I really get that hippie shit for real.
What movie makes you cry?
Wonder made me cry. Yeah, I was in the movie! Sitting there, in the premiere of my first film, and I’m weeping. That wasn’t a good look.
What was your first pet’s name?
Kasha. He was a sheltie. When I was born, my parents had six German shepherds and one sheltie. They all had Hebrew names: Shlomo, L’Chaim, Mezuzah, Delilah, etc. So, Kasha.
And what street did you grow up on?
So your porn name is Kasha 44?
Not bad. It’s good for futuristic Internet porn.
Diggs wears a Bottega Veneta suit, shirt, and tie.
13 Reasons Why was the first thing I’d ever done. Living in Perth, Australia, I didn’t have a big social media presence. Then the show aired, and overnight it blew up. I spoke to Selena Gomez, a producer of 13 Reasons Why, and she said, “The message of the show is really important.” So I went through a wave of being like, “Social media is really cool.” But when I read what some people were saying on it, I took a step back. I’ve not stopped posting, but I am careful about my output into the universe. What is your favorite karaoke song? I don’t do karaoke much because I end up screaming. But on my birthday, they just baited me with Gaga the whole night. “Yoü and I” killed me. I love an anthem: something that will rally the troops.
Langford wears a Valentino cape and blouse.
I’m named Aubrey after a song from the group Bread in the ’70s. My mom was really young and she just liked the song. I looked it up in a baby book: My name means “ruler of the elves,” so I’m a queen elf. I was always interested in being an actress. The week I left the East Coast for Los Angeles, I was cast in two films and in Parks and Recreation. My whole life changed overnight. In all those projects, I was the dream girl of all the nerds, so when I read the script for Legion, I thought I was going to play the female lead. But they offered me the part of Lenny Busker, which was originally written as a middle-aged man. Lenny becomes the psychic mutant villain of the show. I was interested in showing I can do unexpected things.
Is it fun to have superpowers?
Yes! I can kill people just like snapping my fingers! That’s a good feeling: minimal movement for maximum destructive effect.
Plaza wears a Paco Rabanne dress.
I always watched a lot of TV. As a kid, I’d gorge on Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. When I was 12, I was offered a part on One Life to Live and turned it down. I was nervous about developing bad acting habits as a child. Even at 13, when I did the pilot for My So-Called Life, I knew it was unusually excellent material. It’s so rare to be on an immediate and exact parallel with the character you’re playing. It was a relief to blast all of my teenage grievances out into the world. When Homeland came around, I was scared. My character, Carrie Mathison, is very troubled. To play somebody wrestling with a bipolar condition in very high-stakes circumstances seemed rather fatiguing. But, ultimately, it was too good to ignore. It’s that classic thing: If it scares you, you don’t really have a choice.
Growing up, did you have any TV crushes?
Yes. I had a crush on the kid from the show Mr. Belvedere. And Ricky Schroder. And the Coreys: Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. There was a hotline, something like 1-900-Corey. I was in a crummy mood one day after school and I kept calling it. A month later, my dad got the bill. He was like, “Claire, did you call this weird hotline number?”
You were in Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio. At that time, he was everyone’s biggest crush.
Yes. That was problematic. I couldn’t really have a crush on the guy I was professionally having a crush on! Quite a few gay men have talked to me about the fact that when they were kids watching Romeo + Juliet, they were confused about who they wanted to kiss. It was all about Leo! And I completely understand.
Danes wears a Proenza Schouler dress.
The shaved head was a big deal. On the one hand, it was cool. When you’re bald, rain feels like a head massage. I’d walk in the rain, and people would look at me like I was crazy. I’d be smiling—so, so happy to have the water hit my naked head. But on the other hand, people stared at me, wondering whether I was sick. Some would even laugh at me, without knowing whether I was or wasn’t sick. It was hurtful, but their attitude taught me something about compassion. In the end, being bald was the best thing I ever did—being different changed my life. I wanted to embrace my baldness and, hopefully, inspire people. And, now, that’s become my message to the world.
Millie Bobby Brown wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC dress; Calvin Klein Jeans turtleneck.
Beauty note: Go lighter than air. Garnier Fructis Sky-Hi Volume Mousse delivers next-level lift for hair with staying power.
In the Ryan Murphy world of American Horror Story, I have been Tate Langdon, who was crazy; Kit Walker, who was abducted by aliens, which made him crazy; Frankenkyle, a college fraternity guy who gets in an accident, dies, and is sewn together and brought back to life as a monster; Jimmy Darling, who had lobster hands and was part of the freak show; Mr. March, who was a serial murderer; and, in the latest installment, Kai Anderson, a totally insane, megalomaniacal cult leader. Now, in Pose, I play a yuppie in 1987 New York. I get bit by the wonderful bug of the transgender underworld. Pose is more of a love story, but, at this moment, we still don’t know how it ends. I may still go crazy.
Did you ask Ryan Murphy to finally give you a non-insane part?
I go into each job saying, “I don’t want to play anybody crazy again.” But then Ryan calls and tells me, “You’re playing this Charles Manson–esque person who sucks people into a cult and controls them with ‘pinky power,’ ” and I say, “Okay! Sure!”
Peters wears a Bottega Veneta sweater.
Is it hard to act when you’re naked?
Here’s the trick: You have to look at a sex scene as an opportunity to express things that can be expressed best when people are making love. Or fucking. Or whatever. But, in fact, I’m a sex worker in The Deuce, so I have to pretend to fuck someone I’ve just met. And then another guy. And another. So what’s expressed in those scenes is somebody who’s doing a transaction. Then it’s fine to act naked, because all these other things are going on in your mind.
Did you watch any ’70s porn films to prepare for the role?
Yes, I watched some Lasse Braun movies. He was a very playful Italian porn director. But I haven’t seen Deep Throat. I did read the autobiography of Tina Russell, a pretty famous porn star in the early ’70s, when the mood was “we are all fucking and free and we love it.” I do believe in showing that kind of sexual freedom. On the other hand, she wrote that book when she was in her early 20s and was dead less than a decade later of alcoholism. So, for The Deuce, I’m into that combination of things: They’re both true.
Gyllenhaal wears a Marc Jacobs trenchcoat.
I had been offered a lot of parts where I would play the villain, and that was not interesting to me. When my agent called and told me that The Looming Tower was about 9/11, I immediately said I didn’t want to do it. I assumed they wanted me to play a terrorist. But, in fact, I play a real American FBI agent who was fighting against al Qaeda, against evil. I was like, Whoa. Yeah. Finally!
Where were you when the planes hit the World Trade Center?
I was in Belfort, France, my hometown. I was shopping when the first plane crashed into the first tower. We didn’t know whether it was an attack or an accident. I ran into a huge store, and it had a wall of TVs. And then the second plane crashed in front of my eyes. I thought that it would be World War III. And it has changed the face of the world.
Rahim wears an AMI Alexandre Mattiussi jacket and sweater; his own ring.
When I auditioned for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I wore this yellow shirt that I thought was adorable, but they asked me to change my clothes for my second audition, so I guess it wasn’t as adorable as I thought! The costumes are a huge part of Midge, my character. Her outer appearance is something she takes an enormous amount of pride in. Between the corset, the petticoats, the tights and the beautiful dresses, hair and makeup, I feel completely transformed when I walk out of my trailer. That’s my favorite part about being an actor. It always has been.
Mrs. Maisel does stand-up comedy. Were you nervous about being funny in front of an audience?
Comedy is terrifying. It’s probably the worst thing i could imagine anyone doing to themselves–and also the most exhilarating. But I would absolutely not attempt stand-up as myself. Nope. No. No. No. Never. Even as Midge, I do a lot of power posing in my dressing room to gain confidence.
Brosnahan wears a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress and boots.
For as long as I can remember, I knew something about my life was meant to be meaningful, that I’ve got something to do here,” she says. “I don’t know how I knew, but I was sure I’d make an impact.
Letitia Wright wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC shirt, turtleneck, and pants; her own shoes. Beauty: Urban Decay Naked Skin Weightless Ultra Definition Liquid Makeup in Color 11.0, Brow Tamer in Dark, Sin Afterglow Palette, Hi-Fi Shine Lip Gloss in Midnight Cowgirl.
A long time ago, I was in a miniseries called Taken that Steven Spielberg produced for the Sci Fi channel. I hadn’t really done anything else on TV until The Alienist. We shot the show for almost seven months in Budapest, Hungary, which became my home. I sobbed hysterically when I had to leave my life there.
Were you also attached to your character’s corset?
I didn’t get quite as attached to the corset. But one of the most important things about The Alienist was the costumes. I fainted during my first fitting. I had just gotten off the plane and was swollen and jet-lagged. They put the corset on, and I said, “I’m going down!” I had to sit. But I got used to it. My body completely changed. For better or worse, the corset puts you into the character. It affects everything you do: breathing, walking, sitting, standing, and definitely eating.
Do you watch television?
Yes! I’m obsessed with The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Some of the best TV I’ve ever seen was the breakup of Arie and Becca on last season’s Bachelor. That’s what I’m trying to figure out: With reality television, if it’s all set up and fake, then they’ve got the greatest actors in the world.
Fanning wears a Gucci dress, headpiece, and body chain.
Preacher is based on a very dark comic book, with a lot of humor to break up the darkness. I wasn’t a comic book kid, but I know someone who had a brother who wore black leather jackets, had a lot of piercings, and would never come out of his bedroom. We once broke into that boy’s room, and he had Preacher.
When I heard about the script, I looked at the comic again. On one of the covers, I saw this drawing of a head. I saw a demonic, demented, psychotic person staring back at my face, and I thought, That’s sort of me.
Seth Rogen is one of the producers of Preacher. When I went to meet him, he had huge hair and a massive beard. He was in a haze of marijuana smoke. He was trying to explain to me that the show would have people with assholes as faces and other people would sort of have sex with meat. I thought, No—this isn’t for me, thanks. But, obviously, I had inhaled so much of what they were having that I was mesmerized. I signed up straightaway.
Cooper wears a Giorgio Armani shirt.
Before I was an actress, I wanted to be a basketball player. Growing up in Boston, I practiced all the time. I wouldn’t leave the court unless I made 100 free throws and 100 lefty layups. My friend Phoebe and I would hustle men—we would act like we didn’t know how to play, and then we’d play two-on-two with guys and bet money. We would often win.
I went to college in New York, at Barnard, and that’s where I discovered acting. My first job was playing a waitress from Staten Island on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Eventually, I moved to L.A. I was sick of being a broke, struggling auditioner, so I wrote SMILF.
The optics of SMILF are very autobiographical. Like my character on the show, I play basketball, and I, too, have a baby daddy who’s married to a beautiful blonde actress from Australia. But then the show veers off in a million crazy directions.
Your toddler son on the show is so cute.
Those are twin girls playing my son. They’re the most beautiful humans who have ever lived and will ever live.
Won’t it be awkward when you’re in year 20 of the show and your son looks like your daughter?
It’ll be GILF then. Grandmothers! Actually, we may want to say he was really two girls. That would be a great story to tell!
Shaw wears a Michael Kors Collection coat; her own jewelry.
When they sent me Yellowstone, I freaked out because the show’s writer-director, Taylor Sheridan, is my favorite living writer. I went to the store, got a cowboy hat, and gave it my best. I made a tape at home, mostly because I didn’t want to go in and screw it up in front of a casting director. Taylor called me two days later, and I was so nervous, all I could do was giggle.
You grew up in Dayton, Ohio. That is nothing like Darby, Montana, where you film the show.
Well, growing up in Ohio, I hunted and did stuff like that. In Montana, there are hardly any people. Just land. You’ve got to figure out your outdoor activities real quick or you’re going to be in trouble.
Where was your first date?
I met my first girlfriend at church camp. My dad’s a pastor. I went to Christian schools and Christian everything until I moved to New York. My first girlfriend’s dad was also a pastor. We weren’t really allowed to date, but we were a little sneaky. We found a way.
Grimes wears a Simon Miller jacket; Everest Isles shirt; AG T-shirt; his own necklace.
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.