Marin Hinkle has a sweetness to her that you definitely would not associate with the fierce, opinionated Rose Weissman, Midge Maisel’s intrepid mum that she played on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Recently, Hinkle spoke at a virtual American Jewish University event, charming the entire audience.
Hinkle talked about missing the Maisel cast and crew terribly, but one exciting announcement is that she’s moving on to another, very Jewish project. She was Zooming in from Portugal after spending time in Romania working on We Were the Lucky Ones, based on the novel by Georgia Hunter, in which the author explores the story of her Jewish Polish family.
Still, the focus of this particular event was Rose. Hinkle talked about portraying TV’s “ultimate Jewish mum”. The framing really does pose a conundrum, because Rose Weissman does have many of the traits that we’ve seen in the traditional Jewish mum of TV shows past, and others that don’t often get explored much, but are nonetheless painful truths for many Jewish daughters.
Rose has a clear vision for her daughter’s future, one prescribed by society’s appearances and social norms – to be married, to have children, to be a good host and homemaker who makes a perfect dinner for the rabbi, and to look the part of the perfect Upper West Side housewife. Unlike the matronly Jewish mother image, with a stocky shtetl build, Rose Weissman is what many modern TikTok users might call the Jewish version of an “almond mum”, who both feeds and dotes on her daughter, and who is extremely critical of her daughter’s appearance, raising her to obsessively monitor that image. In Rose’s case, raising her daughter in the ’40s and ’50s means the goal was to mould her into good marriage material.
That last point was a point of contention for Hinkle. She hated, and still does hate, the way Rose speaks of other people’s appearances – starting in the pilot, when she worried about both her granddaughter Esther’s forehead and Midge’s arms being too big.
“I am so sensitive to how that felt when I was growing up, to be told anything about my physique. It was deeply challenging and difficult, and led me into all sorts of unhappy and unhealthy places.
“So when I had to say stuff like that, the idea that my character became a matchmaker and was saying, well, this person isn’t attractive enough for that person … I actually wanted to go to Amy and Dan [Sherman-Palladino, the showrunners] and say, ‘This isn’t fair. You can’t do this in this day and age,’ and I know their answer would be, ‘Well, it isn’t this day and age, it’s the other day and other age.'”
Hinkle shared that she didn’t think she stood much of a chance at being cast as Rose, saying, “I enter a room with great nerves rather than a great sense of aplomb, and so I felt like this woman is so far from me.”
But, she used her own mother for inspiration, as well as a fierce ballet teacher she had in her youth, and her Jewish mother-in-law, Barbara Sommer, who she consulted with about the character. These strong women, especially Barbara, she says, were “a force for me in helping me understand this character”.
Of course, the question of authentic casting came up almost right away. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has very much been at the centre of the debate about whether Jewish characters should be played by Jewish actors. Though the conversation has mostly centred around Rachel Broshnahan, the non-Jewish star of the show who perfectly plays Midge Maisel, Tony Shaloub, who plays her father Abe, and Hinkle, are also not Jewish.
Hinkle, like Broshnahan, grew up very Jewish-adjacent, in the heavily Jewish populated town of Newton, Massachusetts (she estimates that somewhere between 75 to 90 per cent of her school peers were Jewish). When she was in seventh grade, she told her friend Diane that she wanted to know more about Judaism.
“I think it was the next day, she brought in this whole slew of books for me to read,” Hinkle recounted. For her it was the beginning of her journey to understand Jewish life. That included crushes on Jewish boys, and in the end, Hinkle married a nice Jewish boy, Randall Sommer.
“We spend every Jewish holiday together with his folks,” she says.
And she’s torn about the question of representation.
“We all chose to be actors,” she says, because “when we were little kids, we liked playing as people other than ourselves”. She recalled playing princes and knights, and characters that she didn’t really get to meet in her hometown. “On the other hand, I will say I have complete respect for varieties of performers that haven’t got to play people that they’ve wanted to for whatever reason. That is also a delicate issue there.”
Just like Rose, Hinkle is raising Jewish children. She raised her son, Ben, “to be open to all but I think he would identify himself as being a Jewish young man”.
Hinkle may be frustrated at her character’s judgement of others, but as a woman in her 50s, she’s also in awe of the “complicated” and “big dreamer character”, of her journey and growth over the course of five seasons. Just like Midge, Rose went from housewife to career woman – finding, through a journey in Paris and a stint in art classes, her skills in the profitable and age-old (and now modern) practice of matchmaking. That journey reminded Hinkle of her own mother, who went back to law school when Hinkle was a child.
For Rose, taking art classes led to her ultimately sitting down with a group of young women and encouraging them to find a husband.
“I remember asking Dan, ‘Wait, you had her go to Paris, we had her come home, and you’d have her telling the women that?'” Hinkle recalls. “And he’s like, that’s life, isn’t it? You take a few steps forward, and a few back, and you circle around, and in that circle, you do sort of end up moving forward, but not necessarily in a straight line.”
She also marvels at Rose’s relationship with Midge’s own transformation – critical, reluctant and kvetching about her choice to break against the tide for so long, then finally embracing it as the show came to an end.
Hinkle sees how Midge got so much of her chutzpah and sass from her mum. “It would have been interesting had she been open to watching her do the stand-up, if she had said, you know, I think she’s actually getting a lot of that humour from me,” she believes. “I think that Rose fancies herself at the centre of attention in the middle of a theatre,” Hinkle adds. “I love that she’s critical of her daughter and doesn’t see that she herself has kind of wanted that all along.”
But what Hinkle says she shares most with Rose is “the value of family gathering, which is what I learned so much growing up with my own family and what I continued to learn, particularly in connection to Judaism”.
“I feel that the traditional life of having the holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, having our Chanukah times together – when the kids were all growing up was so deeply significant to me, and such a big part of raising my son,” Hinkle says. She adds that, as he hopefully starts his own family, she hopes “those kinds of traditions that Rose had, that I’ve learned to have, will continue on in my future”.
Much has been said, and continues to be said, about who gets to play who in Hollywood. But Hinkle not only gave us an incredible performance of a Jewish mother, but is someone who, behind the scenes, is so reverent and thoughtful about what it means to be Jewish.
Hinkle may not herself be Jewish, but she is part of a Jewish family, and engages with Judaism on a regular basis – and that absolutely means something. When portraying the Jewish matriarch Rose, she came to it with a sense of deep love, understanding and familiarity.
Hinkle, with her mellifluous voice and dancer’s poise and chutzpahdik fearlessness, was a perfect Rose. We were so lucky to have her these last six years.