Warning: Spoilers ahead for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
When Michael Zegen read for the role of Joel, husband to Rachel Brosnahan’s zany title character on Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” in front of creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, he thought for sure he wouldn’t get the part.
“I just didn’t feel like I did exactly what I set out to do,” he told TheWrap. On the walk home from the callback in Midtown New York to the West Village, Zegen was “angry” at himself for messing it up, and promptly sent an email to his agents, explaining, “I’m usually very perceptive of these things, I didn’t get a good vibe.”
“Literally, like a minute later they emailed me saying… they wanted me to come back in the next morning for a chemistry session with Rachel,” Zegen said.
Zegen viewed that chemistry test as a second chance to prove his merits–and it’s a second chance that his character, Joel, might wish for, too.
In the pilot, Joel leaves Midge — his wife of four years and mother to his two children (who also waits until he’s asleep to take her makeup off and wakes up early to reapply before he wakes up) — for his secretary Penny, who has a weird aversion to pencil sharpeners.
“He’s going through a quarter life crisis,” Zegen says of his character. “I think at one time he was young and fresh and cocky and cocksure, and whatever, but life has a way of kind of bearing down on you and he’s just not happy.”
Joel is an aspiring stand-up comedian in the pilot, but after his wife Midge finds out he stole material from an already-famous comedian, he botches his routine in front of their friends and is humiliated.
“[Midge] found out that he was stealing other people’s material, [and it] was so emasculating to him,” Zegen said.
Midge then steps into Joel’s old late-night spot at the local open mic after he leaves her. “Now the fact that she’s doing stand up and she’s better than him at it, I mean, I think that would ruin his life [if he found out].”
Zegen also said Joel is “a product of the time period”–“Mrs. Maisel” takes place in the mid-1950s. Another product of the time period is the underlying current of sexism that permeates the show: Midge’s parents don’t believe their daughter can survive without a man in the house, way too much importance is places on female looks, and apparently the only career options for women are motherhood or secretary school.
Of course, the character of Midge breaks through several of those sexist stereotypes–she is trying to become a stand-up comedian, after all–but she does so without even realizing what she’s doing. At one point, she stumbles into a protest: “I’m trying to read the paper more these days,” she says.
Zegen doesn’t think much has changed when it comes to sexist views about women, he said, which is why “Mrs. Maisel” is “so important.”
“Women are still fighting for equal rights these days,” he said. “It’s a female-centric show and you have this bold, brash lead character who is doing things at that time that, you know, no women were doing, and I think it definitely resonates today,” he said.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is now streaming on Amazon.