‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Star Tony Shalhoub on the Biggest Challenge of Season 2’s Key Scene: ‘Doing Nothing’

TheWrap Emmy magazine: “My impulse was to kind of act and react and ham it up,” Shalhoub says

A version of this story first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

When “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series last year, it landed three acting nominations, and 14 noms overall. But this year, the series scored 20 nominations, leading all comedy series, and more than doubling its acting nominations to seven — among them was Tony Shalhoub, who plays “Midge” Maisel’s delightfully idiosyncratic father, Abe Weissman.

When Shalhoub called to mind his most challenging scene of Season 2 to film, he naturally went to one of his most character-defining moment on screen so far — that night when his professor character goes to the Concord hotel in the Catskills and learns for the first time that his daughter, played by Rachel Brosnahan, has been moonlighting as a standup comedian.

“It’s so profoundly devastating and confounding for him,” Shalhoub said. “The ground under his feet really started to shift and open up, and what I started experiencing was everything he thought he knew about her and life as her father was inaccurate and way off base. So that was really challenging.”

To make the scene even more difficult, Shalhoub was directed “not to do much,” he said.

“My impulse was to kind of act and react and ham it up. But the direction I was given was, it was so strange and baffling that he was almost rendered, like going into a state of paralysis. And doing nothing in a moment that is so fraught, that’s really challenging.”

Shalhoub was so “mesmerized” by Brosnahan’s performance, he says, that he almost broke character.

“One of the most difficult parts for me was separating out Abe from Tony in that moment,” he said. “Because as her fellow actor, I was mesmerized by what she did in that scene, how she kept pushing through her material trying to make it funny but reacting to being in such close proximity to me and my stone-faced reaction.”

“Take after take,” Shalhoub said, “I just marveled at Rachel Brosnahan’s skill.”

It’s a common experience when watching the appropriately named “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Read more from the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine

EmmyWrap Down to the Wire cover

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