Story and Interview by Aisling O’Leary
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: their kid comes home and declares their life-long ambition to be an actor. It’s admittedly not the most sustainable gig in the world. Yet Rachel Brosnahan, at just 27 years old, seems to be doing exceptionally well. Born in Milwaukee and raised in Chicago, Brosnahan moved to New York at 18 to take her dream more seriously, attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Shortly thereafter, she started booking small roles while still in college, appearing in TV shows like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’. It was her role in ‘House of Cards’ as Rachel Posner, however, that really garnered attention. Initially slated to be only on one or two episodes, apparently the chemistry between her and co-star Michael Kelly was such that the team behind the hit series ended up giving her a more critical role. Arresting as the high school dropout turned prostitute, Brosnahan’s performance earned her an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2015.
Three years later and Brosnahan is now the proud owner of a Golden Globe. Awarded for Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy, people can now regularly see Brosnahan in the new Amazon series ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’. Starring as Midge Maisel, a housewife turned comedian in 1950s New York, we follow Midge as her life slowly unravels around her. Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, the creators of ‘Gilmore Girls’ and ‘Bunheads’, fans of their work will not be disappointed. Witty, whip-smart, and fast-paced, ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ is as refreshing as it is timely, focusing as it does on a woman owning her voice in a man’s world. Catching Brosnahan in between film breaks, we find her in Paris where the series has just begun production.
Imagista: Firstly, I would like to say congratulations on your Golden Globe award!
Rachel Brosnahan: Thank you! I’m still processing months later. I was surprised and excited that the show and I had both been nominated – the show had just been released. It was a great kick off to our season. I hardly remember anything from the Globes – I think I blacked out when I walked into the ballroom and then emerged a few hours later with an award in my hand!
Imagista: I heard that the Globe is currently sitting on top of your toilet back home. Is this still the case?
Rachel Brosnahan: Sadly, it is still the case. Disclaimer – it’s temporary. I have no shelving space – that’s the trouble with New York apartments! There is construction happening at the moment in my place so hopefully there will be some shelves when I get back. Gotta get that award out of the splash zone!
Imagista: I can imagine. So – back to basics – why acting?
Rachel Brosnahan: I have always wanted to perform. I loved singing even though I’m a terrible singer and I loved dancing even though I’m an equally terrible dancer. I used to read a lot and I was so obsessed with reading stories that I would fall asleep listening to books on tape, dreaming of worlds that I didn’t live in. I used to listen to Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. I loved worlds in different times and places that I had to imagine – I think that’s what really got me started on this path.
(Interview continues below…)
(Purple Blouse & Black Eyelet Skirt: Teatum Jones.)
Imagista: Your father worked in children’s publishing, didn’t he?
Rachel Brosnahan: Yes, so there were lots of books around growing up!
Imagista: So what would you say is your favorite book today?
Rachel Brosnahan: The Glass Castle. But I have to say that I have a very special relationship to the Harry Potter books – they are so responsible for me wanting to become a storyteller.
Imagista: I read that your parents were very concerned when you began to take acting seriously.
Rachel Brosnahan: Yes, I think they were sufficiently horrified. When I said I wanted to take acting classes they were fully supportive but said that I should do some babysitting and earn the money to pay for the classes myself. I think they wanted me to prove that this was something that I was really interested in and that it wasn’t a fleeting thing. And when I got into NYU I think they were simultaneously thrilled and very nervous that I was serious about it. And have been slightly more encouraged over the last few years now that I’m not waitressing anymore.
Imagista: What were your parent’s reaction to you winning a Golden Globe?
Rachel Brosnahan: I think they were as equally surprised as I was. They were so thrilled – they’ve been so supportive and excited. They have said multiple times over that this is their favorite project of mine because I’m still alive and that I’m not crying all the time.
Imagista: Yes, I can imagine watching your role on House of Cards would be harrowing for any parent.
Rachel Brosnahan: I think my mother is still traumatized. She actually called me after watching my final episode – she was so angry! She said that she ‘had been driving around for hours and feeling really messed up and how dare I not tell her that that was coming before she watched it!’
(Interview continues below…)
Fashion Credits: White “Idol” Kimono- Murmur. White Vest- Styland. Black Pleated Shorts- Styland. Rose Gold Choker – XIV Karats. Earring- Gilan. Circular ring-Djula.
Imagista: What has always drawn you to these heavy, meaty female roles?
Rachel Brosnahan: That they are fully realized, complicated, three dimensional women. All of them. Early on in your career, you just want to work. The motivation for my first couple of years of working was anything and everything that anyone would let me do. After a few years that turned into some very fortunate and challenging and fulfilling roles. Many different kinds of women which I feel really lucky to have been able to bring to life. I’d like to keep playing women that I haven’t played before. That’s the goal for sure.
Imagista: I read that you like to play roles that get you out of your comfort zone. How does Midge Maisel do that for you?
Rachel Brosnahan: How does she not do that for me? (Laughs) Midge is to date the most challenging role I’ve ever played for a few reasons. I’ve never done comedy – and Midge is a budding stand-up comedian. But she’s also the most unapologetically confident woman that I’ve ever played. And although I feel for the most part confident in my personal life, I’ve found it to be challenging in my work. I think that’s because when you love something so deeply and you care about it, it’s a very vulnerable feeling and so to be able to dig deeply enough to find that level of confidence and self-empowerment every single day has been an enormous challenge. But also so fulfilling in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. And in ways that I hope will continue to stay with me in my real life as well.
(Facing Left: White Shirt with Corset – Finders Keepers. Black Leather Pants – Lexi. Black Hat – YVY. Rings- Gilan. Rings – H. Crowne. Facing right) White “Idol” Kimono- Murmur. White Vest- Styland. Black Pleated Shorts- Styland. Rose Gold Choker – XIV Karats. Earring- Gilan. Circular ring-Djula.)
Imagista: How did you prepare for this role?
Rachel Brosnahan: Through a lot of research about the time period, like the comedians at the time and the comedy scene. I looked towards women like Phyllis Diller, Moms Mabley, Jean Carol, Joan Rivers, and then Bob Newart amongst others. I had to immerse myself in the comedy scene. Some friends and I also went and saw a lot of stand-up comedy, mostly at a more amateur level. I was curious to see how different comedians found their voice or struggled to find their voice and that was really helpful in finding colors and layers to this character and her unique journey.
Imagista: Did you ever participate?
Rachel Brosnahan: No absolutely not. I am not a comedian – I would have such PTSD! I am fortunate enough to have such brilliant writers helping to create this woman. Then I get to come out and try to make her a fully realized human being, say their wonderful words and crack their wonderful jokes. So, no, I think I can say for sure doing stand-up is not on my bucket list.
Imagista: How was the audition process for Midge?
Rachel Brosnahan: It was a wild ride. I auditioned once in New York for the artistic director and found out Amy and Dan wanted to bring me out to LA to meet with them but I was so deathly ill. I was out of town at the time and I was just so, so sick. So I had to cancel my first camera test with them. And I was so freaked out! I was so sure that they would move on and give the role to someone else. So I rallied pretty quickly, went out to LA sweaty and woozy, did fifteen pages worth of Midge-speed dialogue and then found myself back in a car, I couldn’t remember a thing. And now here we are.
I absolutely loved every second – that I can remember – of the audition process. I knew then that it was a role that I was dying to play, that I was ready and willing to go to bat for, as hard as anyone would let me. I love getting to be in a room and working with Amy on it, being directed by her and then being able to continue to work on it together, leading up to the pilot, through the pilot, through the first season. It’s been a dream.
(Facing left: White “Idol” Kimono- Murmur. White Vest- Styland. Black Pleated Shorts- Styland. Rose Gold Choker – XIV Karats. Earring- Gilan. Circular ring-Djula. Facing right: Black Leather Jacket – FRANKIE. Black Bodysuit- Maria Lucia Hohan. Dropped earring-Djula. Floral Rings blue stone/gold floral ring-Anabela Chan. Circle Ring-Butani.)
Imagista: How is it performing that quick dialogue?
Rachel Brosnahan: It is intense, many mouth warm-ups necessary at the beginning of the day! And just when you think you have it – thinking you can’t go any faster – you hear Amy in the corner saying ‘pace it up!’
Imagista: As someone who is not a comedian, what have you learned from immersing yourself from that world?
Rachel Brosnahan: The biggest thing I’ve learned about comedy is that it is all rooted in the truth. And particularly as it relates to this show, Midge – her comedy comes from a stream of consciousness. It’s all related to her life and her experience of the world as it’s shifting because of this trauma that she’s experienced. So her comedy is slightly different from other kinds but I loved playing this role because all of her comedy is based on her truth in any given moment.
She’s searching for a voice and she’s found an outlet for all these emotions that she doesn’t know how to process. This happens to a woman who has a sharp, witty and uniquely funny perspective on the world. So that is the comedy world that we are immersed in on this show.
Imagista: I also gather that you and your co-star Michael Zegen knew each other previously?
Rachel Brosnahan: Yes, Michael and I have known each other a long time so it was fun to work together again. It’s been useful to these characters to already have that established relationship. I’ve also been an admirer of Michael’s work for a long time – he’s so talented – we’ve had a really good time working on the show together despite Midge and Joel’s tumultuous relationship
Imagista: How important did you find college in terms of training?
Rachel Brosnahan: It was huge in my journey as an actor, I learned the basis for training there that I still carry with me to this day. Through school and through working simultaneously, I had the enormous gift to go to school, to immerse myself in that creative bubble which is separate from the real world but to also go out in the real world and try things in the practical way that both worked and didn’t work and to go back to school and ask questions and to work out the process in real time. I loved my time at NYU- it was a huge privilege to be able to live in New York City and to also have the college bubble there at the same time.
Imagista: Any nice lessons you have gathered from the projects you’ve worked on so far?
Rachel Brosnahan: Yes, so many more than that are at the forefront of my brain at the moment. Firstly, a little bit of kindness goes a long way. I’ve been so fortunate in my career thus far to have been able to study and work alongside actors, directors, writers and other industry professionals who are not only masters of their craft but some of the kindest and generous-of-time people that I have ever met. Very early on, when I was just getting my feet wet, I have more experiences of moment of kindness that they probably don’t remember but changed my life forever. Like how to be as a person but also how to be on set and how to be the lead of the show. It’s something that I think about a lot.
Imagista: Are there any other projects that you are working on?
Rachel Brosnahan: My friend Corey Camperchioli wrote and is starring in a short film called ‘Femme’ that I am executive producer on. We just released our first trailer and it should be available for everyone to see sometime later this year. And I have a couple of things going on with some friends. I’ve been really interested in collaborating with my friends who are brilliant artists and storytellers. I can’t say too much yet but watch this space.
Imagista: And what’s the shift like from actor to executive producer?
Rachel Brosnahan: It’s a welcome one! I’ve always wanted to be able to have more creative control over projects that I’m in, which hopefully is the next step but also to help people whose voices I admire and to be able to help amplify them in their projects. So I look forward to doing more producing moving forward.
Imagista: Would you ever want to get back into theatre?
Rachel Brosnahan Yes, theatre is my first true love so I’m absolutely on the hunt for another play. It’s a bit hard with a TV schedule but I’m searching.
Imagista: I see. Do you think there will be another series following this?
Rachel Brosnahan: It’s hard to say – I’m not the powers that be!
Fashion Social Media & Styling Credits
@gilaninstanbul @h.crowne @frankie.us
@mlhshop_onlinestore @djulajewelry @anabelachan
#butanijewelry @arianneelmy @racinecarreeshoes
@teatumjones @kaiminofficial @styland
Team Credits and Social Media Links
Rachel on Instagram: @rachelbrosnahan
Styled by Kelly Brown @kellybrownstyle
Photography by Payam @payam
Hair by Ted Gibson @tedgibson
Make up by Alex Babsky @babskymakeup