Speaking with Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino about creating The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was such a thrill because you can hear in their voices how much reverence and love they have for this series and these characters. Every moment of every season is planned out to the very last detail but it is infused with such humor and looseness that it never feels too managed. They are each nominated for Outstanding Directing of a Comedy Series for two very different but very funny episodes in Maisel’s third season, and they are each extremely worthy of a win.
For “Marvelous Radio” Dan Palladino pushed himself to do something very intricate with the pacing and the camera movements. The opening of that episode is so fluid and controlled that you are reminded of how good he is at guiding us to laughs. “It’s Comedy or Cabbage” is one of the funniest episodes of the entire series. Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote a theme of maternal guidance that I didn’t initially notice the first few times I saw the episode. It’s women guiding women and giving advice to one another that gives it such an intelligent thread that deepens Midge’s yearning to both succeed and miss her family.
Where will Midge and Susie go to from the end of Season 3? Will Midge have to start all over again? What will the fallout be from the Shy Baldwin tour? The Palladinos were reserved, but you know they have a plan up their sleeves.
Awards Daily: I love how you expand the show this season. What were you most excited for and most nervous about when taking Midge and Susie out on the road?
Amy Sherman-Palladino: We like to go for big and when you do that, you always risk literally crashing and exploding and Evil Knievel it.
ASP: There’s always a nervousness when it’s like, “Hey! Let’s stuff 850 guys in a hangar and try and shoot this USO show in a day!” There’s always some risks that go with that, but it’s part of the fun. I think we’re risk junkies at this point. Laughs) The idea of being able to expand her world is the most interesting thing to do with us always. We’ve known since we started shooting Season 1 that we were going to take her on some sort of tour with a major star in Season 3, and she could actually learn to what it’s like to aspire as a comic but work as a comic. She’s so close to true fame, and Midge is finding more and more within herself that there’s a deep ambitious streak in her that she wants that very badly. For her to experience that up close and to learn some lessons along the way.
AD: Gotta take big swings.
ASP: If we could just wake up in an MGM musical every day, we would be very happy.
ASP: The idea of being surrounded by so much opportunity to do music and dance and have original music written by Tom [Mizer] and Curtis [Moore], our brilliant songsters, that was deep fun for us.
Dan Palladino: That was definitely one of the biggest challenges to try to convince an audience that you’re looking at a real pop star when you’re looking at LeRoy McClain as Shy Baldwin and he’s singing songs of the era. I just remember his background singers—these delightful young women that we worked with all year—were sent the demo for “Bottle of Pop,” they asked our producer to send over the original. And he told them, “Oh no…you’re recording the original!”
DP: That’s when we knew we were onto something good—when we could fool the insiders that were a part of this.
AD: I am a bit obsessed with the music. I will admit that when I heard “No One Has to Know” for the first time, that I hunted for a recording of it.
AD: I want to ask you each about your respective directing nominations. Amy, there’s an interesting thread of motherhood throughout “It’s Comedy or Cabbage.” Midge has to teach Susie how to deal with Sophie and Susie ends up soothing Sophie in a way. Then we have Midge connecting with Carol in the hotel room about being a single mother on the road. Can you talk to me about the themes of that episode?
ASP: First of all, having a character like Carol, who represented the rare woman on the road, to have an opportunity to have women in a sea of men and getting to talk was interesting to me. There are women musicians on the road but it’s rare just like, at that time, it was rare to have a woman comic touring. Their fears are different and their concerns are different—especially back then. People didn’t like the idea of ambitious women especially when they leave children at home. We just think Liza [Weil] is one of the greatest of all time.
AD: And she’s very subtle.
ASP: So subtle and so real and she never has a safe moment. It just felt like, “Oh, shit, we’re getting Liza. We have to go deep with this.” It was an opportunity to address like being away from your kids, how it is on the road, being a single woman on the road when you’re supposed to be married before you had sex and you’re surrounded by attractive men all the time. What do you do about that? The freedom of that is so intoxicating but it comes with costs and finger-wagging and people judging you. This whole year was about people sort of learning what the cost of Midge’s decision to make this choice. Abe was dealing with it. Rose is dealing with it.
AD: That ripple effect that no one expected.
ASP: Yes. Everybody’s world got blown up and everyone is trying to find their way. Then of course Susie has her own parallel journey with Midge where she wants to be a manager but she has to figure out exactly what the hell that means. Susie has the worst people skills on the face of the earth and a great part of being a manager is being a mother and mothering ego and making people calm down so they can focus on work.
AD: And we also get to see Susie act like a child when Midge tries to teach her how to swim. That’s one of my absolute favorite things from this entire season. You guys shot in Miami. I lived there for three years, so I feel like I should apologize to you.
ASP: Goddamn! It’s hot there!
AD: It’s awful, so I feel your pain. At the end of your nominated episode, we see more of a flirtation between Rachel [Brosnahan] and Luke [Kirby], and I felt like you were trying to kill us. I’ve never been more torn on where I want characters to go. I kept thinking, “Oh, they would be so great together…but do I want that?”
AD: And that Havana club scene is one of the best moments of the episode. You just let the camera swirl around and capture this really sexy mood. Tell me all about the idea of potentially blowing up that relationship.
ASP: First of all, these two actors are two of the most attractive people out there.
AD: I would agree. (Laughs)
ASP: They have great chemistry together, and that’s something you can’t write. It happens or it doesn’t. But also because their relationship started at a peer level or a respect level and they both have this ballsiness of wanting to get up on stage and saying what they want to say. That’s where it started and it didn’t start with, “Hey, you’re a skirt.” It’s none of those old-fashioned peers. They met in a cop car. Because of that, I think it’s earned at this point to take it to this place maybe. The feelings they have for each other are genuine and it’s respectful.
AD: That makes total sense.
ASP: When you take it to a sexual level, it means a little bit more.
ASP: What advocate will she lose if they go through with this? She could sleep with this man who admires her for everything she wants to be admired for—her intellect, her thought process, her ambition, her ballsiness—and it’s dreamy Luke Kirby staring back at her in a smoke-filled room. It’s an earned dance now. Stay tuned.
AD: Dan, with “Marvelous Radio” you get to do this playful, madcap opening with Susie and Midge bouncing around the recording studios.
AD: It reminded me of your nominated episode from the second season where the family gets to the Catskills and you set the camera down and let the mayhem commence. Do you look to control that chaos?
DP: Every year I try to do at least one ambitious set like that. In the first season, it was the anatomy of a set with Midge working on a tight ten and striking out and finding the joke. In Season 2 it was the anatomy of the deal with Susie bouncing from table to table at the deli to make the deal to get Midge on the telethon. I try to look for something really fun and overly challenging to do. This year, “Radio” was sitting there and as much as I could take dibs on something, I tried calling dibs on that episode.
DP: I wanted to show a frantic day in the life of Midge and Susie hustling for money in New York City. Orson Welles, in his interviews with Peter Bogdanovich, only came alive out of his lethargy and lack of sobriety when he talks about his radio days.
AD: Oh, yeah?
DP: The way he’d describe it, he’d say, “I was getting a cab and I was over here and grabbing a sandwich and heading down Fifth Avenue.” When I heard that interview many years ago, I had it in the back of my mind and I thought it would be fun to show people doing that. Midge hooked up with this director during the telethon and all the language was incredibly misogynistic. The lesson she learned was that if you take anything without thinking about it, something like the Phyllis Schlafly spot will come along. Tony [Shalhoub] tells her, “If you’re going to have a voice, you need to know what that voice is saying.”
AD: I love that line.
DP: You have to care about what that voice is saying because she was getting into a rhythm of taking whatever was put in front of her. If it’s sexist, it doesn’t matter. We are something like 34 scenes in 8 minutes, and it was shot over many, many days.
ASP: Rachel and Alex didn’t know where they were coming from and where they were going.
AD: Oh, yeah? Some of those ads that Rachel has to read are insane. The whole thing about her asking whether the spot is pornography kills me.
DP: The pornography one I made up, but a lot of those—
AD: Don’t tell me they were real.
ASP: They were. It’s insane.
DP: Actually Pursettes Feminine Products was a real product back then
ASP: I missed my era where they were actually saying, ‘Women, take amphetamines!’ I missed my moment!
AD: The end of that episode had to be interesting for you to direct. You have to direct a play—that’s a real play—and then watch it go to hell and then there is an emotional cap between Jane [Lynch] and Alex on the street. I think that’s an underrated scene from the season.
DP: We’re never too far ahead in our prep and I knew there was a Broadway play in the episode, you know, since I wrote it. I just remember being in the car on the way to set and thinking, “Oh, shit, I have to direct a Broadway play today.”
AD: No big deal.
DP: It has to look like a Broadway show and it shouldn’t be directed for the camera. So the play needs to be directed first and then we could figure out where to put the camera. Cary Elwes and Jane helped me with the blocking and I’d nudge them here and there. It’s amazing for Amy and I to shoot a Broadway because we are shooing it in a Broadway theater. When they are having that argument, they are really having it on the street not far from Times Square.
ASP: Bill Groom builds these gorgeous sets for us. He put up this Broadway play set, and I think it’s one of the greatest all-time sets. When we looked onto the set we were so impressed by what he built.
DP: That last scene was shot at two in the morning, and it already was a long couple of days. Alex was sensational in that scene. I did it once and it was perfect and then we did it two more times in case something happened. They both understood that scene, and Jane really understood how Sophie felt in that moment. She felt like everyone who has been on stage would feel in that moment.
ASP: Especially a comic.
DP: Yes, they know the fear of striking out and breaking the fourth wall. What Susie learns at the end of that—and there are a lot of showbiz lessons this season by design—that you can’t just shrug and take on a client like Sophie Lennon that you don’t have any passion for. You can have your Mrs. Maisels that you have extreme passion for or you can be a hack and take any job and live your life. Susie is going to only work with people that she believes in. She will, no doubt, gravitate towards underdogs, because she was an underdog. She was a forgotten woman and Midge helped her find herself again, and she’s going to pull people up with her.
ASP: Or bring them down with her. (Laughs) She has potential for both.
AD: Amy, I am curious about watching something through a lens of today’s issues. People will analyze art and see how it relates to today and there are a few things that people talk about in terms of Midge learning about her own privilege or we see her at The Apollo and being in an unfamiliar place.
ASP: We don’t look at everything through a lens of what’s going on because that would be the death of storytelling. You’re not being true to what the journey of these people are on. When you talk about privilege, you have to remember that this is a woman from a Jewish family not too far from the Holocaust. This is not Connecticut and she’s not a daughter of the revolution. This is a woman who comes from a traffic people, if you will, who have had to regroup or repopulate. They want to be part of the American society and it’s what any immigrant would want. She comes from a family, also, who because of their hard work and education, they want to raise their children in certain kind of cocoon to protect them from anti-Semitism and hatred. I only bristle a little bit when I hear conversations about privilege and some people don’t look at the broad strokes of the story and seeing it individually.
ASP: There are many people who are very successful who had shit handed to them like you wouldn’t believe. They’re dumb as stone. There are plenty of people who work their asses off and come from troubling backgrounds. Everyone deserves to have a shot. Some people can’t participate in the game at all and that completely needs to be fixed. The playing field needs to be leveled. I think Midge was raised because of certain circumstances where her thinking and her experiences were very tight and controlled. She was the queen of six blocks, you know?
ASP: She was the hot catch in temple. She was the girl that the butcher liked because they knew she would like that. Midge grew up because of her charm and her effervescence and the fact that she’s fucking Rachel Brosnahan. She was entitled to have an opinion and think like that and those same traits are what gave her this ability to transfer her life onto the stage without wondering what it might mean. You can knock her down, but she’s going to get up again. She grew up in an isolated world, and this year was a great opportunity for us to have her eyes opened up a little bit and see what alliances are and what relationships are. Look at what Shy Baldwin is going through and he can never truly love someone the way that he wants to. He’ll lose everything and she doesn’t have to do that. Every year we throw something at Midge where she says, “Oh, shit. I never thought about that!”
AD: That ending felt like a gut punch.
ASP: You’re welcome.
AD: Do it again, please. I have no idea what she is going to do. Why did you want to surprise us like that?
ASP: Because, thematically, we wanted Susie and Midge to have their eyes opened to the business, we wanted them to see how brutal it really is. And the friendships and relationships and people you can turn to are very few and far between. Midge thought they shared this bond because of this one incident they shared. She doesn’t really know Shy and he doesn’t really know her. It was the same naivete that got her into this. If you took a hot second, what you were saying on stage that might make you go, “Uhhhh…”
AD: That is exactly how I reacted when I watched it: “Uhhh…”
ASP: It’s literally not who she is. What’s in her brain comes out and that’s what is going to make her successful and it’s going to hurt her success. That’s the thing that she will be wrestling with her entire career. Her emotions take over her brains and that’s what people will find exciting in the same way people will get excited over Lenny Bruce. Without a little bit of thought process, you don’t know the damage you can do to yourself and your career. The same with Susie. She took her eyes off of her crown jewel to try and go down the road with Sophie Lennon. Who knows what Midge’s set would’ve been like if she would’ve talked to Susie instead of Reggie?
DP: Yup. Part of it was to show that Susie and Midge are a team and they each need each other. They would’ve discussed it and Susie is more street wise. We showed her making a big mistake.
AD: When they are on the tarmac and Reggie brings up what Midge said on stage, you can tell Susie knows what it means. You can see it in her face.
ASP: Yes. (Laughs)
AD: I love this season so much.
DP: Well…just wait until our COVID season.
AD: (Laughs) I assume they will all be trapped in the apartment and Midge will be doing sets and Rose will be drinking somewhere.
ASP: Our job is to make sure that people watch Season 4 and not remember the pandemic.
The third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is streaming now on Amazon.