finale thoughts

Reid Scott on the Joys of Playing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Final Big Bad

“Gordon is a product of his time. He’s a product of his environment. He’s a good man, but he’s got that 1960s slightly misogynistic outlook baked in.” Photo: Prime

Spoilers ahead for “Four Minutes,” the series finale of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The tits were up and the dick was down in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s conclusion to Midge’s comedic odyssey. Series finale “Four Minutes” sends her into the stratosphere of fame she’s been seeking for five seasons, a breakthrough that occurs at none other than The Gordon Ford Show, where she has spent the season working as its “resident lady writer.” But it has nothing to do with the host himself: Midge secures her segment thanks to the crafty angling of Susie (Alex Borstein) and Gordon’s wife, Hedy (Nina Arianda), the latter of whom got him to relent to Midge’s on-air appearance for reasons that are still a bit inscrutable. Gordon tries to undermine Midge’s talent throughout their segment together, and it’s not until he hears the studio audience roaring with laughter that he finally eases up — and, yes, laughs along with them. “Folks,” he declares, “I knew this lady was funny, but I didn’t realize how funny.”

Gordon, portrayed by Reid Scott, was a Maisel regular throughout this final season. He’s the one who hired Midge as a writer in the first place, and their ambitious personalities became a natural source of workplace tension — and romantic tension, though the most it culminated in was one-sided flirting on his end; Midge knows better than to jeopardize her career by getting involved with a superior. Scott, who worked with showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino to create a mental backstory for Gordon, refers to the character as Maisel’s final “big bad” whom Midge has to defeat for her success. And, quite unsurprisingly, he’ll try to take credit for where she goes in life.

You had the difficult task of becoming the show’s new heartthrob due to Luke Kirby’s reduced involvement this season. Do you feel like you stepped up to the challenge?
You started off easy, huh?

I had to.
I like it. I didn’t approach the character thinking he was going to be a heartthrob. I knew what he represented. I love that side of Gordon — the cad he is and the romantic he is. It was certainly fun to play. I had a great time. I’ll leave it up to the audience if they think I’m a heartthrob. I hope I served them. I was a huge fan of the show. That scared me more than anything: parachuting in and getting up to speed with this incredible cast. They made it easy for me.

What did Gordon come to represent for you?
I talked to Amy and Dan in the beginning. We had a wonderful talk about the character, when they offered me the part, and what they wanted me to do with it. At that point, they weren’t sure if he was going to be more of a featured character or a series regular. Their design, which came to fruition, was that he was going to ostensibly be the big bad of the season — this gatekeeper and this kingmaker that Midge gets entangled with, slightly romantically but more professionally. I didn’t really understand what they meant until I got on set and they said, “It all ends on you, man. It’s all up to you.” He was supposed to represent the last test for Midge before she goes on to her superstardom. I loved that. I loved the cat-and-mouse game that she and I got to play, which was the central characterization of their relationship. It was sort of like the relationship between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

Gordon is a product of his time. He’s a product of his environment. He’s a good man, but he’s got that 1960s slightly misogynistic outlook baked in. That’s what he represents. He holds the keys to the gate for Midge, and in that final episode, that’s the first time he really sees her. Not that it’s necessarily important for a man to give a woman her shot, but in 1962, that’s largely what the world was dealing with. After this journey, they go on from being friends and would-be lovers to compatriots and adversaries. He finally sees her for who she is.

Midge’s triumphant Gordon Ford Show set made me think of some parallels with Susie and how their fight earlier in the season was fueled by the question of whether Midge succeeded because of or in spite of her. I’d like to pose that same question to you and how you perceive Gordon’s involvement in Midge’s success.
I look at Gordon as the guy who’s a little scared of her. He sees talent, and he wants to mine her for her talent because it benefits the show. When he sees that Midge is maybe destined for something even bigger than the show, and bigger than him, it’s a little off-putting and concerning to him that one of his own might eclipse him. He tries to keep her down, which ultimately bolsters her resolve. When she does take center stage and comes into her own on national television, I’m sure a little bit of Gordon is thinking, Yeah, I might have pushed her, but look what it did for her. I’m sure he’s taking a little bit of credit. He’s a man. We don’t see Gordon in the future as we do with a lot of the other characters, but if you asked him in between puffs of his cigarettes, he’d probably say that he gave Midge her start. She would credit Susie, and Gordon would credit himself. That’s the kind of guy he is.

But I think he’s truly thrilled for her. She represents something new; he’s always been trying to find something new. That’s one of the things I loved about playing that character: digging into Johnny Carson and Steve Allen and the other great late-night hosts of the past. What they were trying to do, especially Johnny Carson, was not just push forward a social narrative for the good of American culture but also present something new. I think Gordon fancies himself that kind of guy. He presents to the world this beautiful, talented, powerful, and marvelous woman. He’s over the moon that it happened on his watch.

Gordon seems to be scornful of the fact that he’s not the boss in all of his decisions. So who is? His wife?
It’s mostly him, but he owes a lot to Hedy — more than he would care to admit. It’s interesting because one of the things me, Amy, and Dan wanted to play with was … well, it was slightly alluded to, which is that Gordon came from humble beginnings into the comedy world. George tells someone that he was the one who plucked him out of obscurity when he was performing with, like, chickens or something like that. So he gave him his big shot. But I think Hedy and her family connections really helped him land the gig at the network and brought him national stardom. That’s why there was always this implied I owe you between the two of them.

Yeah, I’m thinking back to an exchange in the eighth episode where Hedy tells Gordon he “owes” her and that’s why Midge should be on the show. It was purposely vague.
There’s something beyond their unusual relationship that Gordon owes her. So when Hedy comes to him and says, “I need you to put this woman on your show,” it’s even more loaded than “I know about the affairs, so you’re going to do this for me.” They have an unconventional 1960s open marriage. He wouldn’t be where he is without her, beyond just having all of the support of this powerful woman. She and her family called in a favor. While he’s the master of his own domain, she pulls him in whenever she wants, and he knows the implications of that.

Let’s talk about that grand talk-show finale segment. In those four minutes, Gordon goes from being visibly annoyed to laughing along with the audience. But before that, he impedes Midge from trying to perform. What’s at the root of his issues here?
He’s childish in a lot of ways. He doesn’t like being told what to do, which I can relate with, by the way. That’s one of the things I loved about the character. I grew up going to an all-boys Catholic military school, so as soon as I got out of that, I was very averse to any sort of authority. If you told me to do something, I was going to do the opposite purely out of spite. Gordon has that element of spite. While he’s going to fulfill this “contractual obligation” between him and Hedy, he’s not going to do it the way she thinks he’s going to. He’ll technically allow this favor to be called in, but he’s going to do it his way. He knows Midge and her manager somehow got to his wife and are pulling a fast one on him. He resents that. So he’s like, Okay, not only am I not going to give you the shot you think you’re getting, but I’m going to embarrass you on television. I’m going to put you in your place.

When they’re sitting in that segment side by side, he’s relishing the fact that he’s pulling one over on her. It’s mean. He’s a performer and clawed his way to where he is, and he doesn’t like being told what to do on his show. It’s The Gordon Ford Show, for Christ’s sake — he shouldn’t be taking orders from anyone. He’s resentful and loves chewing on this moment of Nobody can tell me what to do on my show.

When does he stop being resentful and let go?
When he thinks that’s it for her and he strikes back by grabbing the microphone and taking her moment. He’s almost willing to sabotage his own show while on air. He wants to go to a commercial, but they don’t have a commercial to go to. He’s cutting off his own nose to spite his own face. He’s that immature. Then, when he realizes there’s nothing he can do, he doesn’t want to dig his own hole deeper and lets her take her moment. In spite of himself, she’s just so goddamned funny and talented. That’s what I tried to play it as. Something inside of him is like, Oh shit, I let one laugh slip. I didn’t mean to do that. But before he knows it, there’s another laugh and another laugh and another laugh. He’s enjoying it as an audience member. She rekindled something in him that he had lost for a while.

What did she rekindle?
Normally when he sits behind that desk with a comic on the show, he’s wearing the mantle of a kingmaker: Go out there and do me proud! Dance — I’m giving you your shot! This is something else. Because she takes this moment, this is him sitting back and saying, Wow, you’re doing something that hasn’t been done on this show. I’m not giving you this moment; you’re taking it. He has no choice but to go along on this ride. When she dazzles him the way she does, he’s astounded.

What were the expectations that the Palladinos gave you for the scene?
The first couple of times we shot it, I was brought to tears. It was a choice that Gordon was overcome with how funny the set was. He was proud and moved. For the first time, he was able to sit back and enjoy a set. Amy came over to me after and was like, “Okay, that was great, but we need to try one without the tears, buddy.” It could’ve also been a little more hostile and along the direction of Gordon refusing to enjoy himself until the last possible minute. He could’ve been dazzled and agape by the whole thing or a little more flustered. Does he go along with the audience reception of her just to play it off as if it was his idea all along? Or is it genuine?

Ultimately, it had to be genuine. I think Gordon was genuinely moved. When he delivers that final line and says “the marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” I was really nervous, but I loved it, and it was an honor to be able to give her that name. They knew what the end moment of this entire series was from the pilot. It was always going to end with that moment, onstage, with a Johnny Carson–esque character giving Midge her name. Until then, she’s just Mrs. Maisel. Getting to bestow that moniker on her was a very emotional moment to act. It was a satisfying moment for me, and it felt right.

What would you say was your own “four minutes” career moment?
I don’t know if I could boil it down to a concentrated four minutes. Collectively, I could couple those minutes together. I had the good fortune of being in the right place, in the right time, on the right projects. My mentors and teachers were mostly women. Getting to work with Laura Linney on The Big C was huge for me — I adored her as an actress. More than anything, that sparked a hell of a lot of confidence in me. I was a working actor before that, putting food on the table, but getting to work alongside someone of her caliber and have her acknowledge me by saying You belong here, I was blown away. I felt accepted by her and filled with confidence.

And then to go to Veep with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, another iconic female performer who I was very intimidated by, I realized we all gelled together well as a cast. That sort of thing fills you with confidence. As an actor, you’re always changing. Your instincts and approaches to things are changing. Confidence is a huge part of that. To work with someone who you revere, and have them show you and express to you that they see you, is everything.

Reid Scott on Playing Mrs. Maisel’s Final Big Bad