April 2022

Screened | Michael Zegen

Getting Into Character With The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Star Michael Zegen

Photos Jesse Frohman | Words Tamara Rappa

In production on the fifth and final season of the critically acclaimed Amazon series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Michael Zegen reflects on his lead role of Joel Maisel, describing it bluntly as "the best job I've ever had, hands down." Characterizing his experience as "lightning in a bottle," Zegen is dead serious when he tells us that the Amy Sherman-Palladino production has the best crew, the best cast, the best writers, the best creatives. Finding it really sad to say goodbye to the role that he could play forever, Zegen is surrendering to the "plan" in place for the much loved series that fans have cozied up to since 2017, and entertaining the possibility that maybe this won't be the last time he'll play Joel: "fingers crossed for a movie someday," he tells us. Previous tv for Zegen includes a standout recurring role on HBO's Boardwalk Empire, and recurring television arcs on popular favorites The Walking Dead, Girls, How To Make It In America, Happyish, and Rescue Me. Michael can be seen in a number of impressive films including Michael Mayer's adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull opposite Annette Bening and Elisabeth Moss, Jamie Babbit's The Stand-In with Drew Barrymore, Ellie Kemper and Holland Taylor, Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, John Crowley's Oscar-Nominated Brooklyn, Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, and more. Up next for Zegen will be some time spent on the stage, in Roundabout Theatre Company’s Trouble in Mind. We talked to Michael all about his character's pivotal season four, and about the series that he knew, from the first moment he read his first script, was something special.

How has Joel Maisel evolved across four seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselIt was kind of unfair, because from the get-go, he was introduced in this way that pretty much made the entire audience hate him. He had left this seemingly perfect woman. When we first met him, he's kind of a dunce. He was someone who had no idea what he wants in life. He knows he's not happy. He's in this dead end job. He got married when he was very young, he had kids when he was very young, and he put his dreams aside. Now, it's all coming to him, and in this big way, and he needs to figure it out. Unfortunately in doing so, he leaves his wife. That immediately, you know, made everyone hate him. And I totally understand it. From that point on, he's finding himself---that's his evolution. Every year, we've seen him evolve. First, he works at his father's factory. Now, he owns a nightclub. He's at a point where he's very happy in his profession and with what he's accomplished. He sees good things on the horizon. 

When we meet Joel in season four, he's turned things around for himself, professionally. He's created and running a nightclub that's become successful, which is an issue for the people that he's leasing from. Joel has to solve a problem, yet is he content with where he is professionally? Or is his predicament preventing him from feeling truly happy where he is? I think he's still happy with the fact that it's doing well. That means everything to him. I think he believes that the rest will figure itself out. He achieved this to prove everyone wrong. And to say, I can take this shell of a button factory and turn it into a thriving nightclub. He did it, and that alone is commendable. Everything comes with problems, you know? We'll see where it all goes. Professionally speaking, he's happy. He's finally found something that he's good at. He wasn't good at standup comedy, and he wasn't good at working at a plastics company. He's finally found something he can thrive at.

This season, a large sum of Midge's money is mismanaged by Susie, which becomes a critical issue because we learn she's bought back her apartment under the assumption that funds existed to pay for it. Joel pays Midge's debt and tells Susie to "never do something shifty with her money ever again." I thought it was a pretty special moment. What does this say about Joel and Midge's relationship at this point, and about how he feels about her? There's still love there; he obviously cares about her, and they have kids together. I don't think they're ever not going care about one another. Whether or not they get back together in the end, I don't know. I would assume not, but regardless, there's always going to be love there. They have such a history together, and that's something that's never going to go away.

We see Joel and Mei's relationship in major progression this season. Mei becomes pregnant; Mei's family is aware of their relationship; Joel is actively trying to introduce Mei to his, and due to some unforeseen circumstances, Mei does end up meeting the Maisels. What has been most important to Joel, in this new relationship? What does he value?  He met someone who he connects with. What he values about her is still such a mystery. She's a mystery. I guess that's also part of what he's attracted to. He has a type; he likes women who don't back down, and women who have a sense of humor. He's attracted to  her because of these things. He really doesn't know that much about her, and that becomes clear regarding her parents. He still doesn't know what their deal is, or if they even are her parents, because she keeps saying they're not her parents. It's one big mystery---but maybe that's exactly what he's attracted to.

During episode seven, Joel shares with Midge that Mei is pregnant, and she challenges Joel by asking, "do you have a handle on this---at all?" What's going on in that scene, during one of their routine diner meet-ups? What is Joel confronted with? The fact that he is confronted with this unplanned pregnancy says a lot. I don't think he's prepared for it. He's back in the same position he was in before he left Midge. He's stuck again. He keeps falling into these same patterns. That's what I take from that scene. During that episode, in general, I feel like Joel has been brought back to his start. He was making such progress. He finally found something he's good at.... and then here he is, stuck again. Not to give anything away, you'll see what happens!

Joel and Mei, each in their own way, deal with disapproval when it comes to their relationship. When Joel's father suffers a heart attack, he believes he's almost killed him with the news that he has a Chinese girlfriend. At the very end of the season finale we learn that Joel's father is fine with it as long as Mei will convert to Judaism---and before Joel's mother is made aware that they're dating. Are there any other complexities to Joel and Mei's relationship that might doom them from staying together? It's not all about Joel. It doesn't just impact Joel's life, it impacts Mei's as well. She wants to be a doctor and she wants a residency, and how is she going to do that if she's pregnant and ultimately has to take care of a baby? It's going to stop her from pursuing her dreams and goals, too. The pregnancy throws another wrench into the mix.


"I'm late to the game, and only on season 3 of Peaky Blinders, but what a cool show!"

"I don't like coffee, so this Yogi Tea is my go-to drink every morning."

"Baseball is back! I've been in a fantasy baseball league with the same friends for almost 20 years."

"I love me some Ken Burns and his new documentary series Benjamin Franklin on PBS."

"I just bought a weird antique lamp made of uranium glass that glows under UV light, and I'm obsessed with it!"

"Though it's 3 hours, and I had to pee twice, The Batman was a great addition to the Batman Universe."