Luke Kirby, who continues his role as the taboo-flaunting comic Lenny Bruce on Season 3 of Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” won an Emmy as Best Comedy Guest Actor last year. He managed to beat out such A-level talents as Matt Damon and Robert De Niro, who were both up for their appearances on “Saturday Night Live.”
Kirby, who is sporting a rather impressive quarantine mustache these days, was rather calm as he gave his acceptance speech onstage and offered thanks to all the right people as he read his speech off a card. Was that just an act?
In our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above), he reveals, “I think it was likely an act. My adrenal glands have a tendency to lean towards a more laconic, lethargic tone. I think sitting there for the two hours that it took to get to that category. All the blood had been drawn from my body. I was slamming my hands down on my thighs just trying to get a pulse. That’s probably all it was. Restarting my heart beat.”
His portrayal of the controversial stand-up on the first season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was a little rougher around the edges, considering that Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) had to bail him out of jail, but his take on the legendary comic has greatly evolved since then.
He says, “I wasn’t sure at the beginning what it was going to be. How much of Lenny Bruce was going to be involved in the storyline. And I sort of felt like because we were taking liberties with history because of her story that really he wanted to exist more in the realm of fable. I’ve said before it’s like a fairy godmother. It’s sort of his role. This person who appears at moments in Midge’s life that are remarkable and I kind of went with that and it in some ways opened up a lot of possibilities because I didn’t feel the pressure of having to play a strictly historic Lenny Bruce or adhere to the sort of timeline of his life.”
His interpretation is also quite different than Dustin Hoffman‘s approach in the 1974 biopic movie “Lenny”, which was directed by Bob Fosse and earned six Oscar nominations. Kirby says he saw it as a teenager: “I kind of had a little dalliance with Lenny Bruce in high school and ‘Lenny’ the movie was one of (my) first ins to him. And I just adored it. I just sopped it up. I was just so compelled by Dustin Hoffman’s performance and Valerie Perrine and the movie itself is very beautifully composed.”
On the third season, Lenny shows up in two episodes. The character gets to meet Midge’s dad, Abe (Tony Shalhoub), after she tells her father about his act and that he tackles issues of freedom of speech. Abe ends up at The Gaslight club to see him perform and stands up for his rights to pull out a Playboy centerfold. That is when the vice cops move in and both men spend the night in jail. Midge’s mom Rose (Marin Hinkle) ends up bailing them out.
Lenny’s second appearance on the most recent season is when he catches Midge’s act at the famed Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. He stops by to check out her act, of which he heartily approves, and she joins him on a TV show called “Miami After Dark,’ a take-off of the type of hip late-night show that Playboy’s Hugh Hefner hosted and one that Bruce visited.
Kirby adds, “That was super fun. I also familiarized myself with ‘Playboy After Dark.’ It’s so peculiar. The most striking thing about that clip now, when you watch it, yes, they’re all sort of dressed up and they look great. But the newness of television, the medium of it, is so new and they’re so clearly trying to riff in a way that in some ways I don’t know that the medium allows and there’s a sort of self-awareness to them that’s a little discomforting and sort of endearing as well at the same time.”
After their TV appearance together, the evening continues as Lenny and Midge share a lovely dinner and dance to “Till There Was You” from the musical “The Music Man.” The pair take a romantic walk along the water and end up at Lenny’s rather chintzy motel room as he invites her in but she turns him down. Was she right to not go there? Kirby says, “I think I have to plead the fifth on the right or wrong of that. In situations like that, the odds are always 50/50. You have to honor her choice, certainly.”
Kirby also talks about the time when the comic’s daughter Kitty Bruce visited the set on the second season, his rendition of Bruce’s song “All Alone” that the comic sang on “The Steve Allen Show,” where he keeps his Emmy trophy and whether his character will continue his journey on Season 4.
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