Why ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino Loves Torturing Actors

TheWrap Emmy magazine: “If you had a cast that was a little less enthused, it would be hard,” says Sherman-Palladino of her long, unbroken takes and fast-paced dialogue

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A version of this story on Amy Sherman-Palladino first ran in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

The Amazon series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” landed 14 Emmy nominations this year, more than any other new series and more than any comedy except “Atlanta.” Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (“Gilmore Girls”) crafted the ’50s-set story of a Jewish housewife and young mother from New York City, “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), who is driven to standup comedy when her husband leaves her for another woman.

Sherman-Palladino herself received nominations for producing, writing and serving as a music supervisor on the series, and another nom for directing its pilot episode.

Is a pilot episode particularly tricky, because you’re setting the template?
Pilots are really hard. People have to be able to not only see characters they love and see a journey that they’ll want to hang around for, it has to be a good hour of entertainment on its own, but also make it worth my time to come back to that world, and worth it to Amazon to open up the checkbook.

Pilots are also hard because they’re the ones where they give you the most time and money. And then they pick up the series and say, “OK, now you have less days and less money, but we want the same thing.”

And in this case, because Midge’s journey [from housewife to comic] is so big in the pilot, it was important for me that people understood what her life was before — so when it does fall apart and rocks her into a whole new state of being, it hinges on the fact that you understood what she lost.

Your style — long scenes, fast-paced dialogue — can be tough on actors.
Yeah. I wrote very rhythmically, and I write long scenes that are meant to be done in one shot. And I have this cast who are all theater actors, and they love rehearsal and love to do it again and again.

The very first scene we shot was the big fight scene where Midge tells her father and mother that [her husband] Joel has left her. The master of that is one shot that goes through the entire scene. It’s a seven- or eight-page master, and I realized after we rehearsed it that perhaps that was not the best thing to start with. But we slammed right into the hardest scene with this cast of theater actors. And once we accomplished that together, we were like a really tough summer-stock troupe.

But even in shots that aren’t as long as that one, you’re still asking them to get out a lot of words very quickly.
The pace is pretty heavy on this show. The scripts are long, but they shrink so much because they’re written to be done fast. If you have a 10-page scene, it’s really a five-page scene. And again, if you had a cast that was a little less enthused, it would be hard.

The Emmys have 40 male directing nominees this year, and only four women. What’s wrong with that picture?
It’s so stark it’s breathtaking. And when I look at my category, it was always a category that more women would slip into. And the fact that I’m the only girl at the party is, frankly, f—ing ridiculous. I mean, what the hell?

Part of it is the list system. When you get a pilot, you’re given a list of the approved directors, and sometimes people don’t want to push past that list. And there aren’t very many women on the list. We keep talking about [“Wonder Woman” director] Patty Jenkins, but who’s the next Patty Jenkins? She was supposed to open the door so there’d be 12 more Patty Jenkinses, and open doors are supposed to stay open.

It must be especially stark to you because you’re making a show about a woman trying to be recognized in a very male environment.
When I did the pilot, I had no political agenda. But when you see a storyline about a woman having to struggle, and you realize it’s not that far off from what’s happening now, and that story took place in 1959 and now it’s 2018, it’s, “C’mon, people!”

We’ve got to keep getting women through the door–and when they get through the door, women have to turn around and yank more women through the door. It’s not going to happen quickly just because we pushed a few goons out of power.

To read more of TheWrap’s Down to the Wire issue, click here.

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