Rachel Brosnahan's Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Callback Couldn't Have Come At A Worse Time

The pilot episode of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" shows the titular character wandering through the nearly empty Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village. Bedraggled, soaked by rain, and defeated after breaking up with her cheating husband, Midge Maisel looks like hell. It's a complete 180-degree turn from the manicured aesthetic we see at the beginning of the episode, which shows a coiffed and perky Upper West Side housewife ready to tackle the day with a spring in her step. This is a woman laid low by her circumstances.

For the star of "Maisel," Rachel Brosnahan, her character's demeanor after hitting rock bottom wasn't far off from how she felt during her second audition for the role.

Brosnahan chose to audition for "Maisel" precisely because the part intimidated her. The comedy marked a stark departure from her previous work in dramas like "Manhattan," a WWII period piece about the atomic bomb project, and her breakout role as the prostitute Rachel Poser in "House of Cards." The Prime Video series wasn't just any comedy, this was the newest project from Amy Sherman-Palladino, the brain behind that other fast-talking, brassy brunette vehicle, "Gilmore Girls." Under the best circumstances, the tongue-twisting dialogue in "Maisel" could prove challenging for even veteran actors.


Cue the worst circumstances possible for Brosnahan.

In an interview with Vulture, Brosnahan said she left her first audition feeling like she had killed her career. Then when she got the call to fly out to Los Angeles for a second audition, she fell seriously ill.

"When I got the call, I thought I had the plague. I was dying of some mysterious illness, and couldn't get out of bed for ten days or something. I had to cancel my callback with them because I literally couldn't get out of bed, and I was so worried that they were just gonna move on. So, I rallied and a couple of days later I was like, 'I'm gonna go,' and I was a disaster. I was sweating. I was so sick, I couldn't touch anybody. My feet were sweating so much I had to take my shoes off part of the way through the audition."

Brosnahan didn't know it, but she had an ace in the hole with casting director Jeanie Bacharach, who already had the actress in mind when she read Amy and Dan Palladino's script (via Backstage.com). The writing couple wasn't comfortable offering the role until the actress auditioned, so the production had been casting for several weeks before Brosnahan got her foot in the door, Bacharach said.

Nothing to hold on to

Though the casting directors held some reservations about Brosnahan, who didn't have much comedy experience, those concerns went out the window after her audition, Bacharach said.

"But when she read, the big drunken monologue was part of the audition process for Mrs. Maisel, and she nailed it in a way that other people had not found. Even though comedy is not as much her background, she's smart enough to understand where the comedy is and to make the adjustment. She's so trained that she understands text and language and the importance of language, which for Amy is key to her pages and pages of dialogue."

Brosnahan's sickening experience would turn out to be her Jordan flu game of auditions. She landed the part and shot to fame, racking up an Emmy award and two Golden Globes for her performance as the spunky, stand-up comedian. Perhaps her serious illness worked to her advantage.

"I think I had no choice but to let go, you know?" Brosnahan told Vulture. "Nothing to hold on to."

The first season of "Maisel" is about an organized woman's life blowing up and her efforts to find her autonomy when everything is spinning out of control. When Midge's husband Joel leaves her, we see her throw caution to the wind. She allows herself to get drunk, spew a monologue at a dive, and literally expose herself in front of an audience. What better preparation for playing the part of a housewife who tries stand-up while her life implodes than powering through a plague to deliver a monologue?