One of our favorite Jewish TV mothers, Shirley Maisel, is played by character actor Caroline Aaron and has spent the past five years in the magical world of the Prime Video series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Playing Shirley Maisel has been an unbelievably thrilling ride that has her working with top-notch theater and film colleagues amid the hilarious and poignant words of Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Dan Palladino.
The popular series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, has won a total of 81 awards, including 20 Emmys. The series is currently nominated for 12 Emmys. The 2022 awards ceremony will take place on Monday, September 12, airing on CBS.
Now in production in New York for Season 5, which is also the final season, Aaron says it is going to be difficult to say goodbye to this beautiful, well-written, and lovely show that fans have taken to around the world.
She has won two Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series for Mrs. Maisel.
Best known for her film roles in Mike Nichols’ Heartburn and Primary Colors, Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle, Stanley Tucci’s Big Night, 21 Jump Street, Alice, and Woody Allen’s Crimes, and Misdemeanors. All told, she has performed in 100 movies.
She has an extensive Broadway resume, including The Iceman Cometh starring Jason Robards.
On television, she has guest starred on many noteworthy shows, including Wings, Frasier, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Desperate Housewives, Transparent, Madam Secretary, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; a colorful, beautiful, and powerful show about family ties and pursuing your dreams regardless of the sacrifices, that resonates with viewers around the world.
In The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Joel, Shirley’s son and Midge’s ex-husband (Michael Zegan) has been reluctant to introduce his Asian girlfriend Mei (Stephanie Hsu) to his Jewish parents for fear that they will not accept someone outside of the faith, but Aaron says it is simpler than that.
She’s convinced that Shirley ultimately only cares about Joel’s happiness.
Aaron says for Shirley it boils down to the importance of home and hearth. “I think the foundation of a happy life for Shirley is to not be alone. His success, as far as I’m concerned, is a sideline,” she continues.
“The big success is having a loving family for Shirley. I’d like Joel to have that. I think Shirley would love it if Midge was his choice again, but not if she’s not going to adore him the way Shirley does.”
Read on for more about how Caroline Aaron feels about the last season of Mrs. Maisel, the close bonds with her cast and crew, and why she is looking forward to the upcoming Emmy Awards.
Monsters & Critics: Do you feel like you don’t want to leave now that this is the final season of the series?
Caroline Aaron: Yes, I feel that way and yet we’re leaving. I feel so sad about it, I think we all do. It’s been an amazing experience.
M&C: Do you talk about it with the other members of the cast?
Caroline Aaron: Oh, yes. We’re all in mourning. We never know what’s coming up in the story, they don’t even tell Rachel Brosnahan beforehand. So, we don’t know and they give us the script sort of at the last minute, we do a table reading and then we start filming that episode.
My idea is that when we get to the end of the filming, I want everybody to write down how they think (show creators) Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino will land this plane. Then when we know, during our wrap party, we should just read to them all of our ideas about how to end it. But I haven’t mentioned that to the cast.
Because we all have these ideas like how will they do it and what will happen to all of us and where will we end up and all of that kind of stuff. It’s always very secretive, so we’re so curious. But on the other hand, even if somebody said they knew I wouldn’t want to know. It’s that surprise at the bottom of the box that we get every time we do a new episode.
M&C: What does it feel like to play Shirley Maisel?
Caroline Aaron: When I put on Donna’s clothes and you walk in those shoes it makes me miss my mother. It’s all so authentic. You think about mothers. I grew up in the ‘60s, but my father died when he was really young, and my mother was a 38-year-old widow. So, she went to work. But she was the only one. I thought, “Oh my God, women who got dressed up for dinner, had menus printed, and made dinner; that’s not so long ago.”
M&C: Michael Zegen, who plays your TV son Joel, recently told me that watching the two sets of parents during Season 4 when Moishe Maisel (Kevin Pollak) was in the hospital after his heart attack was “like a master class in acting.“
Caroline Aaron: Yes, it was so good and such good writing. I love working with Michael. He is a gem of an actor and a true mensch. I have a picture of my own son, Ben, and Michael, together as my two boys; that’s how I feel about him.
M&C: Talk about filming the emotions of the heart attack episodes during Season 4.
Caroline Aaron: Tony Shalhoub and I have been friends for many years before this show, so when I said to him, “If Rose goes first, I’m there for you,” it was exactly what I would say to him in real life. So, I had that advantage of how could you not adore Tony?
It was such a gift because, as Kevin Pollak always says to me, “we are the comic relief in a comedy.” To be given an opportunity to have some insight into the inner world of Moishe and Shirley was thrilling; a great, great experience.
M&C: I often hear about how unique Amy and Dan are, can you give me an example?
Caroline Aaron: I remember going to Amy when they were moving into our house in Queens. I said, “There’s so much dialogue about how Moishe and I run around naked and I’m always cooking and we’re driving them crazy and stuff like that, but there’s nothing written down about how we feel about having them here.”
Amy said to me, “You don’t have any feelings about it, it’s family.” The minute she said that I knew exactly what she meant. It doesn’t matter what you feel; it’s what you do. This is family. The fact that our children are not married to each other and they’re still family is so unbelievable to me.
M&C: Susie asks Joel to hold Midge’s money in Season 3 and he says, “why me, there are so many others who can do it?” Susie responds, “Because you love her and you always will love her and you’ll never let anything bad happen to her.”
Caroline Aaron: Absolutely. It’s so interesting to me because early on Amy was talking one time during a press event and everybody wants to know what’s going to happen, are Midge and Joel going to get back together because people love them together, and on and on. Amy went, “I would never do that to a woman. I would never do that to Midge. He betrayed her, she can’t take him back.” I was like wow; Amy’s pretty strict.
But she said the closest thing she could think of was Lucy and Desi. They have always been each other’s family, long after they were together as a couple.” I think it’s that playbook when you become each other’s family; it doesn’t matter what the specifics of the relationship are, it’s still unbreakable.
M&C: Are you excited about the Emmys?
Caroline Aaron: Yes, I’m excited about going. My feet are not that excited; This cast really likes one another and that’s one of the hardest things about this being over, this is a great and talented group of actors who spend a lot of time together. When you make the show nobody’s ever all together except for the day we do the table reading, so we are looking forward to staying in the same hotel and catching up.
M &C: Do you think doing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has given you a higher profile? Do you think it’s changed things career-wise?
Caroline Aaron: I think it has raised my profile. You know that expression that it takes ten years to let people know who you are and then the next ten years, you have to talk them out of what they think you are. It’s like that’s why Ghosts was such a gift, is that of course for me I will now be offered every Jewish mother role on the planet.
M&C: Is that good or bad?
Caroline Aaron: Well, it’s never good for an actor to always be – well, at least not me, I didn’t become an actor to be the same person all the time. I want to take a walk in many different kinds of people’s shoes. I remember when I was first starting out I had an agent say to me, “You can never be successful by being surprising. You have to be successful doing what people expect you to do and then surprise them.”
One of the things people want is for you to bring to the table – I’ve been around a long time but what’s starting to happen in my industry is that they want to know how many followers you have. They used to want your resume, like what else have you done? They don’t really care what else you’ve done; they want to know how many followers you have. Part of that has to do with how many people will tune in because you’re there. I now can bring that to the table in a way I couldn’t before.
M&C: Tell me about working with Henry Winkler on a series in Israel.
Caroline Aaron: I’d never met Henry or been to Israel when I got this job. It was so nice of Maisel to let me go in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. I could only be gone for eight days because we were in the middle of shooting this season. Neither Henry nor I had also never been to Israel before. Everywhere we went in Israel, he was mobbed. They treated us like royalty.
They had a special tour guide for us to go see Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. And we were just blown away when we came out. The tour guide took out her phone and said, “Henry, look at this,” and she had a picture of herself trick-or-treating when she was 13 dressed up as The Fonz. We had great chemistry together; we adored each other. The minute I knew we were going to go to the Emmys we made our date to get together as soon as I landed. He and his wife, Stacey, are just so lovely.
M &C: What is your Israeli series, Chanshi about?
Caroline Aron: It’s the true story of this beautiful girl who was raised Orthodox in Brooklyn. She was very Orthodox and had an arranged marriage from the family, she was engaged to be married, and she went to Israel. Not for the first time, but she was taking a trip to Israel and she fell in love with a soldier and never went back.
Originally, when they first approached me about doing this, they were going to shoot three episodes in Brooklyn where she grew up, but then they didn’t have the budget for it so then they decided they were going to bring the parents over. I play her stepmother and Henry plays her father and we go over there to try to talk her into honoring this marriage and coming home. These people are terrific. Henry and I have made it very clear if they keep going, we’ll keep going.
M &C: Tell me about your episode on the CBS comedy, Ghosts.
Caroline Aaron: For me, the thing that was so thrilling was here you are in a comedy that could go either way and they all have great integrity, this group of actors.
Another reason I’m excited to go to the Emmys is that I will get to see all of them, which is really nice because I haven’t seen them since. That, I think, was one of the most emotional episodes that they ever did, the idea of it’s everyone’s fantasy, what are people saying about me after I die. They have a show where people actually get to take a look at what goes on when I’m not there. The actors were so generous. All of them were like, “You have to come to meet us for dinner. You have to go here. Don’t miss this when you’re in Montreal.” So generous. It’s so nice when the good guys win and they won. They’re a big hit and I’m so happy for them.
M&C: Did you know about Amy Sherman-Palladino before your audition for Mrs. Maisel?
Caroline Aaron: The way I discovered Amy Sherman-Palladino was from my daughter. My daughter fell in love with Gilmore Girls and kept watching it over and over again. I said, “What are you watching?” She said, “Gilmore Girls.” She said, “I want you to watch it with me.”
So finally, I sat down with her and we made a deal that we would watch every episode together, all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, and we wouldn’t watch the last episode until the night before I dropped her off at college, because that was the end of that series, which is exactly what we did.
M&C: Please Talk about the whole premise of going after your dreams, a major theme for Midge and almost everyone in her path.
Caroline Aaron: I was extremely lucky because I think I was the only person growing up who had a working mother, so it was never really strange to me. But I’m raising a daughter now and I have to tell you we are taking the ball down the field for women but I still see these patterns are very hard to break. Where I see that she wants to make sure that her boyfriend is happy before she’s happy.
I think what The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is about is summed up well in the Season 4 promo. Susie says to Midge, “You can’t be the headliner. It doesn’t work that way. The business doesn’t work that way.” and Midge replies, “Well, then let’s just change the business.”
Seasons 1-4 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel stream on Prime Video.
Check out more on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Get your popcorn ready: Season 4 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is just around the corner.