Entertainment

Luke Kirby says new season of ‘Mrs. Maisel’ to honour Lenny Bruce’s dark history

TORONTO – It’s quite a leap to watch actor Luke Kirby go from playing a Gucci-clad dreamy dad in Crave’s “Gossip Girl” to the dark comedian and satirist he plays in Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” who’d probably have more than a few punchlines reserved for the former.

But the Hamilton-born Kirby has a knack for slipping in and out of each character, whose New York roots grant them a similar slickness.

The 43-year-old says he often had to hop between sets while filming the inaugural season of “Gossip Girl” and the penultimate fourth season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which premieres Friday, long delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Listen, in terms of bringing Lenny Bruce to ‘Gossip Girl,’ they said no to the trench coat, they said no to the cigarettes, and they said no to the profanity,” Kirby says from Los Angeles, echoing the real-life, late comedian’s sly wit.

“So I had to find something else to do.”

Fortunately, he still found his way back to Lenny — again and again.

After appearing in the pilot, Kirby assumed that would be it but creator Amy Sherman-Palladino of “Gilmore Girls” just kept writing him back in, and he earned an Emmy Award in 2019.

When he meets Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge Maisel in the first season, Lenny inadvertently inspires the housewife to pursue a comedy career in 1950s New York City, despite also warning her it’s a terrible business, comparing it to “cancer and God.”

“I thought this character was going to give her a few pointers, tell her his gripes with life and comedy, and then disappear into the fog,” Kirby says.

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“It’s been really fun to wait for the phone to ring and see what they’ve drummed up, because it’s always exciting to be with Rachel. It was so great to see that they saw something between these two people that was worth exploring more.”

Each time the pair run into each other, Lenny passes off a few silly words of wisdom, helping Midge remember what she wants and how to fight for it.

Such was especially the case in the third season when the two shared a dance and nearly a kiss. Their chemistry is more palpable than ever and for once, both note, neither could summon a joke.

Brosnahan says she’s loved building the will they/won’t they dynamic with Kirby and watching their relationship unfold.

“He is one of the only actors on the show who is allowed to come on to set and change the pace of the show,” she says of Kirby’s influence.

“When he comes on, we’re allowed to take a deep breath. I think that’s part of what audiences respond to, there’s suddenly a totally different energy in the show.

“It lets us find different colours in that relationship that we don’t always have the space and time to do. The relationship is as special to me as it is to Midge.

“He is, at least on the surface, the kind of comic that she aspires to be — someone who uses his voice exactly how he wants to use it all the time regardless of the consequences.”

The fourth season is set in 1960, four years before the real Bruce was charged and convicted of obscenity for his act.

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In retracing those legendary footsteps, Kirby hints that the series could take a necessarily tragic turn, as the real-life comedian died at just 40 years old in 1966, due to an accidental morphine overdose.

“I’ve always admired and been curious about Lenny. One of the lucky strokes about doing this show is that we’re not exploring the historical Lenny Bruce from a chronological perspective,” says Kirby.

“He’s a little more malleable here, but we are trying to honour who he was.”

The last time we saw them together, Lenny asks Midge when they might give in to their romantic spark: “Maybe someday? Before I’m dead?”

Kirby confirms there was more to that joke, noting he and the creators do feel a responsibility to acknowledge how the real-life comedian died.

“This season, you will see touches of that because it’s always been a presence in the back of my mind and in playing him,” he says.

“Now it’s time to show gravity take hold over his life a little bit, because as nice as it is for him to exist in this magical realm, you can only rewrite history so much before it starts to feel kind of irresponsible.”

Midge, too, starts to see Lenny a little differently, Brosnahan teases.

“Midge begins to dig a little deeper and realize that her fantasy of him that she created in her head isn’t necessarily exactly who he is or how he moves through the world.”

Kirby says that doesn’t mean the pair won’t at least have another “magical” moment or two, musing also on what it would be like if they were ever to share a stage.

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“When relationships are brimming with magnetism, connectivity and chemistry, it really does leave a lot open to what the potential is,” he says.

“There could be earthquakes, there could be crickets, anything can happen. Personally, I think that they would make a great doubleheader.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2024.

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