As the final season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel winds down, with the series finale on May 26, Caroline Aaron, who plays Shirley Maisel, the mother-in-law of the title character, talks with Northern Virginia Magazine about the last season, the cast, and college life at American University in the 1970s.
What was it like working with such a talented cast?
It was really life changing. I have to say. I just read an interview in a magazine that we all did, sort of separately, and they put it together. The last question was for [show creator] Amy Sherman-Palladino and asked what do you think the legacy of the show will be? She said the legacy of the show will be that we can’t let go of each other. That was particularly for this group. It was just magic and lightning in a bottle. It doesn’t happen that often. You know, you always hope for it.
Your character, Shirley Maisel, has become a bigger part of the show in recent seasons. What will you miss most about playing the character?
As a Virginia girl, growing up in the South was very different than growing up in New York. So, the thing that was sort of an overlap was me growing up in the ‘50s. There was a kind of formality in the way women dressed and behaved, and what was OK and what was not OK. I remember growing up, I had to get dressed up to go downtown or to fly on an airplane, or things like that. There was sort of a sense of decorum. I think my inspiration for Shirley is a combination of lots of people that I’ve met along the way. What I’ll miss the most about playing her is that she has no self-consciousness or self-doubt. Wouldn’t that be fun to go through life like that? Shirley is not going to second guess herself. Whatever she feels comes out of her mouth, and that is so fun.
Many cite the show’s Coney Island Wonder Wheel scene as one of their favorites. Do you have a personal favorite?
Whenever the family is together, and we’re all having a holiday or a dinner, it is just such a blast. Because of our great chemistry with each other, we just felt so privileged to be on that ride. My favorite highlights were Coney Island, and being in the Catskills was really fun, too.
What was it like growing up in Richmond?
I [recently] went back to Richmond for the first time in 22 years. They brought me back to do an event there. My mother [Nina Abady] was very prominent in Richmond, and she was a big civil rights activist when I was growing up. I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s when there were separate water fountains and bathrooms for African Americans, and my mother was very much on the forefront of the civil rights movement during that time.
Virginia really is a beautiful part of the country. Not to mention, it has some pretty good food and drinks.
You’re a graduate of American University. How was college life there?
I was there from ‘74 to ‘78. So, it’s probably not the same. When I went to American, I knew I wanted to be an actor, and I was majoring in performing arts. There was no school in DC that had that emphasis. So, I went and had classes at Catholic [University], George Washington [University], and American. I think a lot of schools do that now where you can go to a consortium. That was the only thing you could do because American didn’t have a theater then. Catholic had this great theater and that’s where we would put on plays. I was pulling from the all the resources around me. American was really known for people who wanted to go into politics because it was in DC.
I didn’t want to stay in Richmond, but the place where if you wanted to be an art student of any kind, whether it’s visual arts and performing arts, was Virginia Commonwealth University. That was a very artsy school. American was really for diplomats, people who were going to go into government, and stuff like that. It was a very international school, even then.
I went in as a journalism major because when I said I wanted to be an actor, my mother said that was wings on her dollar bills. When I went to study journalism, the first thing we had to do was learn how to write obituaries. Oh, God. I didn’t want to do that, I just wanted to be on television and grow up to be like Katie Couric.
What sort of legacy do you hope The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel leaves in the TV world?
People often ask why do you think the show is a hit? My first answer is because it’s really good. It’s not that big of a mystery. It’s about the design, the acting, and the writing. I hope the legacy from the show is that women’s stories are everyone’s stories. It’s not a niche thing to tell a woman’s story, and they have universal appeal. For anybody who is aspirational, just don’t give up. Never giving up is sort of what I’m hoping people will take away from the show. There’s that expression, you want to give your children roots and wings. I think the show is a perfect example of that. It’s very grounded in family and the wings are Midge’s dreams.
Feature image courtesy Anderson Public Relations Group
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