The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel could’ve easily written off Joel Maisel after he dumped his wife. Amy and Dan Sherman-Palladino have instead given us a man determined to prove himself, and Michael Zegen’s subtle and charming performance proves why Midge fell in love with him in the first place. For the Amazon comedy’s third season, we see Joel slowly beginning to move on with his life, but the love between him and his ex-wife will continue to evolve and change.
Zegen joked that not as many people walk up to him and tell him that they don’t like Joel anymore. Despite doing a foolish thing and blowing up his marriage, Joel owns up to his failures. This is a time when men could’ve had multiple affairs and treated his wife horribly and she would continue to get the brunt of blame.
Joel has a lot at stake this season, and Zegen’s quick and snappy delivery enables him to be a man you root for instead of being a total putz. He has a new career endeavor and a new love interest in Stephanie Hsu’s Mei Lin, and we find ourselves cheering him on. Now, Joel, don’t mess this one up.
Awards Daily: Joel is really trying to prove himself this season. It’s very admirable to see him do that. The only thing, I think, that he gets from other people is the location of the button factory from dad. Why is he so determined to make it on his own?
Michael Zegen: I think he sees what his ex-wife had been up to and he feels that he needs to match it. He needs something that makes him happy because clearly stand-up comedy didn’t work out for him and he wasn’t very interested in working at a plastics company either. He’s a lost soul at this point and he definitely needs to find something that gives him a sense of purpose. I think this could be it.
AD: Do you think he has a connection to the club scene only because he wants to be close to a creative outlet?
MZ: I think that definitely helps. At the end of Season 2, he talks about how he did small jobs for a guy who did a club.
AD: Oh, yeah. That’s right.
MZ: That really brought him happiness. But I do think the creative factor had something to do with it as well. If he can’t be on stage, he can handle who can go out there.
AD: I think it’s interesting that the two biggest male influences in Midge’s life are adrift. Joel and Abe are kind of alike in that way this season.
MZ: Yeah. I agree.
AD: How do you feel about the relationship between Midge and Joel taking the next step? There’s a moment in Episode 2 where the court proceedings are over and you’re officially divorced. You guys look at each other sort of wistfully.
MZ: Joel knows he has to let her do her thing. They have two kids, so they know they will always be in each other’s lives. I don’t think that they are a perfect match. The one question that everybody asks me is if Joel and Midge will get back together. Everybody asks. That doesn’t feel right—at least right now anyway. That doesn’t feel like that’s where we are headed. They’re on their own paths now. They got married very young before they knew who they were. That’s a product of the time—that’s what you had to do. What Midge is doing is revolutionary, especially for a woman in stand-up comedy, but the club feels like a step in the right direction. There is always going to be love there, and that will never go away.
AD: Yeah, I feel that, too.
MZ: In the first episode, the minute you meet Joel, you sort of have to hate him since he leaves her. That’s how you’re introduced to him. It’s kind of an uphill battle, for me, to win over the audience. I never set out to make him likable, but it does sting a little bit when people tell you that they hate your character. From day one, it was like that, but you do have to remember that they did fall in love at one point. It was healthy but it just turned sour.
AD: People really walk up to you and tell you that they hate you?
MZ: It used to happen. Not so much anymore, but it did despite the scene at the end of season one when Joel beats up the heckler.
AD: I love that scene so much. It’s still one of my favorite scenes of the entire show.
MZ: Yeah, me, too. People have come around though.
AD: Well, I can tell you that everyone I know that watches has a giant crush on you. (Laughs)
MZ: Oh. (Laughs) Well, that’s encouraging.
AD: I love that Joel doesn’t bat an eye about being the primary caregiver for his kids. In the court scene, the judge looks confused about the notion of the husband taking care of the children instead of their mother. Is that something you guys talked about?
MZ: We never really did honestly. It just shows what kind of character he has. Being a stay-at-home dad wasn’t a product of that time. There’s still a stigma attached to it. It’s something that Joel does because of the huge amount of guilt and this could be a way to rectify that. But, also, he’s their dad.
AD: Of course.
MZ: Who else is going to do it, you know?
AD: I wonder how much Joel feels that he needs to atone for what he’s done.
MZ: I don’t think that’s ever going to go away. He knows that he ruined something that is good. Maybe it was the right thing to do, but he did it in the wrong way.
AD: Even in the scene with Archie when they go scouting different clubs and Archie takes off his wedding ring.
MZ: You’re right.
AD: I love that they add that extra layer of Joel trying to do the right thing.
MZ: And he’s Jewish. There’s always going to be an amount of Jewish guilt no matter what. It will never go away.
AD: I love the chemistry between you an Stephanie Hsu, who plays Mei Lin.
MZ: Thank you.
AD: Joel is attracted to smart, strong, independent women.
MZ: Funny women.
AD: Yes. Someone tells you, “You’re attracted to conductors. You need to find a girl who plays the triangle” and you reply, “Triangle girls are boring.”
MZ: That’s true.
AD: When you wake up together in Vegas, you are hesitant to call her your girlfriend to Midge, but by the end of the season, Joel is really excited to introduce these two women to one another. Does he have any reservations with that? How does he think that will fare?
MZ: (Laughs) I don’t know. They could coexist peacefully but they could butt heads. I guess that’s a question for Amy and Dan [Sherman-Palladino], but I could see it being happy. I could see them all getting along with maybe a quarrel here and there. I have to say my favorite scenes are when Joel and Midge fight, and I’ve told Rachel [Brosnahan] that. You mention the Vegas scene, and I loved that. Things could be so perfect, and they could get back together, but then they get into these bickering fights and you know they aren’t going to. I just love that.
AD: With how everything goes down for Midge, I am wondering if she could start a residency at The Button Club?
MZ: She could. You never know!
The third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is streaming now on Amazon.