A version of this story first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
There’s no other show on TV quite like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and there’s no other character quite like Alex Borstein’s acerbic Susie Myerson. Myerson is a tough-as-nails manager to diamond-in-the-rough standup comic and 1950s Upper West Side Jewish housewife Midge Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan.
With a caustic wit (“It smells like an armpit smoked a cigarette,” is how she describes a musty used record store) and neo-feminist bent (“You do not need a goddamn man at your side to do this — if you wanna be a comic, you have to grow the f— up right now,” she admonishes Midge), Susie’s the lovechild of a Fran Lebowitz-Jackie Gleason hookup.
Borstein, who was born in Illinois but now lives in Barcelona, Spain, said her chemistry with Brosnahan came quickly and unexpectedly. “The first time Rachel and I ever met was when I was auditioning,” she said. “They had us read together, and it kind of just happened off the bat.
“There was an interesting camaraderie that you wouldn’t have expected: I’m old enough to be her mother, we’re years apart, we’re very different, kind of like the way Midge is just a dainty, feminine girl and Susie is more of a bulldog. So it seems as if we’re such opposites, but there’s something there that’s just a very cool connection.
“I can’t explain it. It’s chemistry, ya know?”
You may also know Borstein from her work on “MADtv” and “Gilmore Girls,” and if the voice sounds familiar, it’s because she provides it for Lois Griffin on “Family Guy.” Her comic heroes, she said, run the gamut.
“Growing up, I was obsessed with Steve Martin, Jonathan Winters, Madeline Khan, Gilda Radner, Gene Wilder, Peter Sellers,” she said. “People who create characters and commit to them. People who play to the reality of the thing rather than simply going for the joke.”
As for the reality of Susie Myerson, Borstein calls the character an amalgamation of many women.
“I grew up with very strong female role models,” she said. “My mother is a powerhouse, but also very feminine and ladylike. My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, a survivor in every sense of the word. Then there are some women I’ve come across in the entertainment industry — agents, managers, club bookers. There’s a little bit of all of them in there, but Susie is her own person.
“I really wanted to convey that she’s in love with Midge in some way, that it’s not just a business relationship, that she really cares deeply.”
Having a show that features a pair of trailblazing female protagonists debut at the birth of the TimesUp movement, of course, could be considered good timing — but Borstein would prefer not to dwell on that aspect.
“I think the best timing we have is that the world is such a downer right now, and this is a show about an optimist,” she said. “So, more than anything else, it’s a breath of fresh air.”
Read more of TheWrap Emmy magazine’s The Race Begins issue here.