Shy Baldwin is a mystery to most, but Midge Maisel is someone he can trust. The larger-than-life crooner invites Midge to open for his act on the road, and we get to see the daily life of a man whose music makes mothers like Rose Weissman act like crazed fans. LeRoy McClain’s role is beefed up for the third outing into Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino’s comedy marvel, and he delivers an endearing and tragic performance worthy of his first Emmy nomination.
Shy and Midge shouldn’t be friends, but they always find themselves connecting. I wonder if Shy ever spent enough time around someone quite like her, and they form an immediate and loving friendship. The more she learns about Shy’s life, however, the more she realizes that Shy is a man with secrets with nowhere to turn. McClain’s megawatt smile hides Shy’s inner pain and yearning in a way that Maisel fans aren’t expecting.
When Shy takes the mic to perform “No One Has to Know” for a packed audience, his head is bowed low at the start. This is a man who has trained his entire life to be a star and he can’t escape that spotlight. He craves it, but he fears it at the same time. It’s a beautiful balancing act from McClain. At the season’s end, we don’t know what is in store for the friendship between Shy and Midge. Has she hurt him too much, too?
Awards Daily: Shy and Midge have this immediate connection. It’s a really relaxed, easy bond, and it’s different than any other relationship on the show. Why do you think there’s such a connection between these characters?
LeRoy McClain: I would totally agree. For one, the first time they meet, he’s in a vulnerable place. It’s by chance that they meet in a woman’s bathroom, and it’s probably one of the only times throughout Shy’s day that he gets to be himself without the circumstance or the façade that he has to put up. His initial interaction with Midge comes at one of those times when his guard is down, and there’s the disarming quality that Midge has. I would almost describe it as this understated fearlessness. She’s so open and nonjudgmental—especially for the time. That’s something that Shy responds to. Genuine curiosity and connection. Midge is one of the only people in his life—Reggie would be another—where he can find that. Even moreso with Midge in a different way than with Reggie.
LM: She enables Shy to be open, vulnerable, honest, and low-key in a way that he hasn’t been able to since he’s been on his road to stardom. I completely agree with you there. I remember going up to Amy and Dan [Sherman-Palladino] and telling them that this is one of the most unique relationships, especially given the time period. I think it’s beautiful.
AD: And Midge and Shy get a lot of time alone.
AD: Even when they are in big groups, like during the drag racing, they are separated from everyone. They get to be alone together.
LM: Absolutely. It’s almost like you know when you have those shots where everything is blurred in the background and you’re locked in this timeless space?
LM: I feel like every time they are together, for Shy, the madness and the stress of the world stops for a little bit of time. Those moments are so special.
AD: I want to talk about Shy and Reggie, because we hear a lot about Shy from Reggie when Shy isn’t there and Shy talks about Reggie when Reggie isn’t there. I had wondered if Shy was even in love with Reggie?
LM: I’ve heard a lot of different takes on the nature and the depths of their relationship. That’s something Sterling [K. Brown] and I talked about in building their complex relationship. For Shy, in a similar way with Midge, Reggie has a connection with Shy that goes back to childhood. He can be completely vulnerable with Reggie, and with that comes very complicated emotional feelings that Shy has for Reggie. When you are forced to live a life that is supremely closeted, it’s incredibly lonely. One of the beautiful things in how Amy and Dan craft their arc is that whenever Reggie isn’t around things start to come apart for Shy.
AD: Oh, yeah.
LM: Reggie is such a stabilizing force in Shy’s life. I definitely think there’s a lot of complicated, emotional feelings there.
AD: We could probably talk entirely about that for a half hour.
LM: Yes, we really could. (Laughs)
AD: It’s interesting that one person he leans on is someone who he has known since he was a kid and deals with the business side and the other is a woman who he barely knows and she deals with a creative side. But between both people, you can see how Shy would depend on each one.
AD: They have mentioned Shy has been on the road or performing since the age of six. Is there something he particularly likes about being on the road or is that just the life that he knows?
LM: I think it’s a bit of both, especially when you’re that young. There’s a talent that is supremely recognized in Shy by others and so when you have something unique and special like that, you want to share it. By age six, you’re literally learning the basics of getting through the day let alone know anything about your personality and who you are. That thing that initially becomes a means of escape and a celebratory thing quickly becomes something else. It almost becomes—I don’t think it’d be putting too fine of a point on it—a prison. It’s something he has to do and the only thing he knows how to do. One of my favorite lines is when Shy and Midge are on the boat and he tells her, “If I wasn’t Shy Baldwin, I don’t know what I’d be.”
AD: That’s such a telling moment for him.
LM: Exactly. The persona becomes him and it becomes the totality of him. If he doesn’t have that to latch onto, then he would have to deal with all the stuff that is underneath the façade. I don’t know if he feels he’s ready to do that work. It becomes a prison but he is alive when he is performing. A beautiful prison.
AD: You can tell Shy loves performing, but I imagine the rigidity of doing the same set and moving from place to place has to be so exhausting.
LM: Yeah, it’s exhausting in keeping up appearances. You see those moments where he needs to break the monotony. You see it with the drag racing, for example. When Reggie is away, boom! He can do something he shouldn’t do or be somewhere he shouldn’t be. Same with the encounter that is the heart of Episode 6. The band, in the dressing room, talks about it.
AD: You mean Des Moines?
LM: Yes, Des Moines, exactly. So it is exhausting on many fronts.
AD: I kept thinking that he had to go through all of his formative years and points of self-discovery in front of all these people.
AD: And not only is he a closeted man, but he is a closeted black man. You can tell, in the writing, that everyone is thinking about all of these things, even if it isn’t completely said or brought up.
AD: Midge’s final set at The Apollo is so…cringey.
AD: Is Shy upset about the set or is Reggie more upset about the set?
LM: I mean, talk about interesting theories and stories.
LM: My mother devoured it in, I think, a day, and her conclusion was something I hadn’t even thought of. When we sat down for the first table read, it was shocking. I wasn’t prepared for the way it happens. When we got to the part when Rachel started reading Midge’s set for The Apollo, everybody was like, “…oh.” I couldn’t believe what Midge was saying. I was expecting there to be a scene or a cutaway shot.
AD: Like Shy standing in the wings?
LM: Exactly! You point out a good point that you don’t see Shy react to the set. You don’t see him after the dressing room scene. It creates a mystery, right? You can go either way with did he hear it and if so, did how long until he came to the decision to kick her off the tour? Was it Reggie’s idea or did they come up with it together? It leaves an intriguing sense of mystery about it. When he performs at The Apollo, it is, for my money, the most intense performance. Not emotionally, but physically it’s a different style of song. Is it because he’s performing to his hometown crowd or is it a response to anger and frustration to what he just heard? I think it’s intentionally left open that way. I have some theories about it, but I have to see what comes from the minds of Amy and Dan.
AD: When you come on stage, there’s this volcanic eruption. So Midge has said all these things, but the crowd doesn’t care because they love you so much.
AD: When Reggie tells her that she’s off the tour, I really felt your presence on the plane. I was waiting for her or Susie to push Reggie out of the way to run onto the plane.
LM: (Laughs) I will say that what I know for sure and what I feel for sure is that there is an absolute genuine friendship between Shy and Midge.
AD: Oh, yeah.
LM: Reggie has the line, “You were never friends,” but it’s undeniable that there is a connection between these two individuals. However that plays into the decision that was made by whoever it was made, I think is important. It’s funny…some people are really offended by the set but some other people aren’t. What’s beautiful about the script is that things are said in a way that they could be taken lightly. Like the Judy Garland reference. If you don’t know history, you don’t know how dangerous that statement is.
AD: Is she calling him a diva or is she calling him a Friend of Dorothy?
LM: Exactly! I’ve had friends who don’t quite get the reference and then when I explain it they are like, “Oh!” It rides a very fine line between diva and closeted homosexual. Midge is really riding that line.
AD: I was looking at the cast of Respect…and that cast is insane.
AD: I didn’t know Heather Headley was in it…I didn’t know Audra McDonald was in it…
AD: I’m so happy that there is Broadway representation in that film.
LM: In a big, big, big way. I remember when I spoke with Liesl Tommy, the director, and she casually mentioned Audra is playing your mother and Forest Whitaker is playing your father.
AD: No big deal!
LM: It’s such a great mix of Broadway talent. Tituss Burgess is in it…Marlon Wayans…it’s great!
The third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is streaming now on Amazon.