All good things must come to an end, and this is especially true for television series. It is almost universally agreed that shows should end on a high note rather than drag on until the last drop of content is squeezed out. Still, it was bittersweet for fans to find out that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel would be shooting its fifth and final season this year.
One of the show’s stars, Caroline Aaron, who plays Shirley Maisel, was in Israel earlier this year with legendary actor Henry Winkler, shooting the first season of the Israeli comedy Chanshi, about a young American Orthodox Jewish woman who makes aliyah and explores life outside her community.
Aaron spoke to The Jerusalem Post about her life as a Jewish actress and her experiences on one of the most popular Jewish-oriented sitcoms of recent years.
Tell me about your upbringing.
I was born in the South. There were very few Jews in the community where I grew up, so I didn’t have any relationship to cultural Judaism. I only had a relationship to Judaism as a faith [until]... I got to New York to begin my career as an actress.
Were you concerned that being Jewish would be a hindrance in your career?
Oh, it was a concern for me. I changed my name early on in my career. My born last name is Abady – my father was Lebanese.
My sister was also in theater, and she was very prominent. So whenever I would go to an audition, people were interested in her instead of me. So I changed my last name to Aaron, which was my father’s first name. He died when I was a child and I knew my mother would be sad if my father’s name was not part of my name.
I went to tell my agent at the time [about the name change]. He said, “You did what? Oh my God, now everyone is going to know you’re Jewish!” And I said, “Is that a bad thing?” He said, “Well, it’s not a good thing.”
The predetermined notions that come along with that identity, especially when you’re an actor and you’re trying to transform and be believable from one character to another – if people know you’re Jewish, at least at that time, it would confine you.
Do you think TV is more Jewish now than it used to be?
Jews [used to be] strictly for behind the scenes, not in front of the camera. And [recently] there has been an outcry in America about the fact that Jewish characters are rarely played by Jews. There are plenty of talented Jewish women particularly, and we would like a chance to participate in telling the story of our people. So, progress is slow, but it’s here.
Did you think Mrs. Maisel would catch on?
No, particularly because it was about a Jewish family – two Jewish families. When I read the pilot I thought, “Well, Jews will like this and New Yorkers will like this.” But it became an international hit after the first season.
The cast went to Milan to do press and there were people there from India and Brazil. I just couldn’t figure it out; why did they like this? I was standing outside, and there was a young [non-Jewish] woman there and she said, “Oh my god, I just love the show.” I wanted to know why and she said, “because it’s about family and we all have one. It just reminded me of my family.”
I think that’s what it is. Although, if anybody could figure out [exactly] what makes something a hit, people would only make hits. It’s one of those indescribable things that these creators sort of caught – lightning in a bottle.
How would you describe your character on the show?
A great big loving heart. What’s very interesting about playing this character is that, for the first time in my career, I’m playing someone whom everyone loves in one way or another. People come up to me and go, “You remind me so much of my mother or my aunt or my teacher or my babysitter!” And they always remember that person with fondness.
How was your experience in Israel filming Chanshi? How did you end up working on the show here?
Well, when my agents got the call they said, “We have to turn it down because we don’t know what your schedule is, but you’re obviously committed to Maisel.” Of course, the irony is that my best friend, who lives in Tel Aviv [was cast on the show].
She called me to tell me about it and I said, “you’re not going to believe this, but I was supposed to be in that series.” Well, she went to work on the producers right away. She went in for a costume fitting and discovered that they hadn’t cast anyone to play the mom yet. So she called me and said: “They just need you for five days.” The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel let me off for eight days and I finally got to visit my friend and see her life in Israel.
In 40 years [of friendship with her] I had never had the chance to [visit Israel] and it was unbelievable. It was such a remarkable experience. You can’t just go to Israel for eight days. I want to go back. I just spoke yesterday with Henry Winkler about how much we hope the show is a hit so we can come back. We loved it.