After stealing scenes as the ambitious and smarmy Dan Egan in Veep, Reid Scott enters awards conversations with a commanding, memorable presence in the fifth and final season of Prime Video’s Emmy award-winning comedy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
As a late-night talk show host in the vein of Jack Parr and Johnny Carson, Daytime Emmy nominee Scott continues his charming on-camera persona as Gordon Ford in a season where he becomes a professional hurdle for the aspiring stand-up comic Midge [Rachel Brosnahan]. The Amy Sherman-Palladino created series, which airs its final episode on May 26th, 2023, allowed Scott to approach his performance within the lines of specificity Palladino is known for.
“Maisel is incredibly well curated, planned, and thought out,” shares Scott. “My heart was racing for the first few days, just trying to keep up like I didn’t want to screw it up. But Amy and Dan gave me a kind of long leash, and I got to sort of stretch the bounds of improv a little bit more than some of the other characters, which I really appreciated because I had to shake some rust off being that specific.”
In season five, Scott’s Gordon Ford hires Midge as the first female writer on the show, expanding their mindsets to what is possible behind the scenes in television, particularly for women. However, as Midge’s ambition continues to override sensibility, Ford becomes smitten with her chutzpah while also trying to maintain control of his number-one-rated show. It’s the TV show within a TV show aspect that Scott appreciates as being challenging yet wonderfully fulfilling.
“One of the incredible things about working on the show is that the production value is second to none. As an actor, it does a lot of work for you,” explains Scott. “When you show up to work for the first rehearsal and the world is completely fleshed out with 120 background actors in specific wardrobe and reacting in real-time to everything happening, it just locks it in. You can focus on your job, which is just connecting with the other character.”
Scott spoke with Awards Focus about being nervous about joining the ensemble cast of Maisel, his illuminating conversation with late-night host Stephen Colbert, toeing the line of villainy with Gordon’s advances toward Midge, and the influence Maisel has had on his career.
Awards Focus: Did you know when you joined the series that the role would continue into season five?
Reid Scott: Dan [Palladino] and Amy [Palladino] alluded to, or at least hoped, that it would happen. It felt like a bit of a test like this was mine to fuck up. I think they just weren’t sure at that point in season four, and no one knew season five would be the last season, so I don’t think they knew exactly how they would tease that character into the rest of the world. I think we really fell in love with each other, and I told them several times that they were my kind of weird.
AF: You’ve been a part of ensemble shows like Veep, but what was it like coming into an established cast who understood and practiced the pacing of the show?
Scott: It was a little daunting at first but pleasantly intimidating. I was really excited to be there, and my wife is a massive fan of the show. After I first talked to Amy and Dan and they offered me the role, I think I was playing hard to get, and I was like, yeah, let me think about it. But my wife was like; you’re doing it, you’re fucking doing it!
Dan and Amy write with such musicality, and it’s so specific. I could tell even before I got there that this was word perfect. It’s unlike Veep, where we were encouraged to take the words and make them our own and not worry about the marks because it’s all sloppy. It’s an allegory for DC. Maisel is incredibly well-curated, planned, and thought out. My heart was racing for the first few days, just trying to keep up, like I didn’t want to screw it up. But the cast was so warm and welcoming, and Rachel [Brosnahan] and I instantly got on so well. I felt right at home; I really did. Amy and Dan gave me a kind of long leash, and I got to sort of stretch the bounds of improv a little bit more than some of the other characters, which I really appreciated because I had to shake some rust off being that specific.
But I settled in right away. There was also something about dropping into any other show, and you’re the new guy or girl, and it’s hard to find the synergy. One thing that helped here is that Gordon Ford it’s his own world. He’s the king of this little kingdom, so he’s almost like a vaulted character. He gets to do things his way, so it really helped. It would honestly have been more intimidating coming in as someone sort of lower on the pecking order.
AF: I love the duality of your performance because there’s the Gordon in front of the camera, and there’s the Gordon with a personal life who’s married, ice-skating with Midge, and getting into fights at restaurants. What was it like preparing for those two sides of Gordon?
Scott: It’s something that really attracted me to the role in the first place. I love any character that you get to play with duality. Dan from Veep was very much what you see is what you get and a lot of fun. But he’s a shit. He’s a shit with baggage, and maybe we start to peel away those layers, but he’s a shit. They actually call him that in the first episode [laughs].
With Gordon, I did piles of research, reading everything I could get my hands on, from Jack Parr to Steve Allen and a lot of Johnny Carson. That was all incredibly helpful to mentally drop into that era and what these guys were doing and cracking a new format that’s lasted 60 years. It has stayed the same. Monologue, couch, and guest. That’s it. And it works.
I reached out to Steven Colbert, who was such a fan of Veep. He agreed to join me over Zoom well before I started on season four, and I flat-out said look, I’m not really interested in bugging you about the work you do on the couch. I can mimic anything. I’m interested in all the different masks that you wear. You have your whole life where you’re a father and a husband; then you’re a businessman running this incredibly important arm of this network.
On top of that, you are a writer ostensibly, you know, you are the last writer. They come up with the jokes, and you choose what will come out of your mouth. Then you’re also America’s sweetheart. You’re delivering all this entertainment and, hopefully, social commentary to America. So, you’re split at least four ways. I got the impression that no one had asked him that before and he gave me such incredible insight when we talked for hours. It’s so stressful to stay in that role that you can see why they all kind of crack up a little bit.
AF: We learn early this season that by the eighties, Gordon has died. What were your first impressions reading the scripts for this season and seeing these flash-forwards?
Scott: It felt right [laughs]. He’s a heavy drinker, a heavy smoker, and a product of his environment. He’s an unusual character in that I don’t think any other season dropped in another character who’s larger than the rest of the world. It’s also what he represents for Midge, not only in terms of a hurdle for her career but as her development as a comic. Part of me wonders if that did factor into Dan’s and Amy’s decision, that whatever we see in the future, Gordon is gone. He’s like a mythic character that exists for this moment in time to send her on her way.
I think in those interstitial years that we don’t see, like the sixties and seventies, they maintained a wonderful relationship and had her on the show again. Their relationship is a better version of what transpired between Johnny Carson and Joan Rivers, where they had this real animosity just because Johnny was so vengeful and jealous that he tried to torpedo her success. So I love to think that in later years, Midge becomes like the Sophie Lennon character that he’s trying to get on his show.
AF: Susie Meyerson would be giving him a look, like, I told you so.
Scott: Exactly right. And then she’ll say, now you’re going to put this guy on and this girl on …
AF: In episode seven, Gordon interviews Danny Stevens, played by Hank Azaria, on the show. We see the audience reacting to their conversation in real-time. Was everything being filmed simultaneously?
Scott: Yes, and that’s one of the incredible things about working on the show is that the production value is second to none. As an actor, it does a lot of work for you, and you can focus on your job, which is just connecting with the other character.
In that scene in particular, you have Hank Azaria, who’s a legend, and to speak to Hank for a second, at the first table read for that episode, he was doing something completely different with the character. It was fine. Obviously, we know him as this incredible voice talent, and he went away and started working on the voice, and it just changed everything else. He came out, and we shot it with the voice he had invented between the table reading and what was filmed. I hadn’t heard it yet, so that was the first day I saw what he was doing, and it was like, wow, this is really fun. Somehow just by making that change, it filled in all these different colors and layers.
But to have him doing his thing with the audience and those wonderful Maisel one-shots where the camera is moving all around you, you’re completely alive for those three or four minutes, which you just don’t get in television. Everything can be chopped up in the edit, so with this scene, you get the element of this TV show on a TV show, which is already meta. A performance on top of a performance. I loved it, and I would’ve done it for thirty more years.
AF: How did your confidence change between Gordon’s interview with Sophie Lennon in season 4 to the scene with Danny Stevens? Was there still that same pressure to get it right the first time and perform?
Scott: It was intimidating at first. I focused more on the behind-the-scenes, like getting a handle on hitting the mark and doing the monologue. There was also a bit of that on Veep. Yet the first time I had to do it was way harder than I thought because they’ve got this whole world with all these extras. This isn’t the crew just politely clapping for me to give me the cues. I had to sell this to 120 background actors and actresses. Then just working with Jane Lynch, who’s so lovely, and I’m trying to impress her. But there was the pressure baked into that scene. Gordon needs Sophie to vault them to number one, and she needs it too. So it’s a sort of apology to her, and it was all written into the scene, and it was exhilarating but very challenging.
Then, by the time we came back for season five and doing the interviews with Hank [Azaria], I felt so much more comfortable and really felt more of an ownership of that space. Gordon sits back in his chair a little more comfortably and is a little less performative. He knows he has the audience eating out of his hands at all times, and that’s when it really got to be fun, and I felt more like a conductor.
AF: Gordon also toes the line of being villainous in how he persistently tries to charm Midge. What were the discussions about that balance of power and making sure Gordon wasn’t coming across as someone more aggressive or predatory?
Scott: At first, I thought he would be a little more villainous, to be honest. I thought that would be what he would represent, and he does in his way. He represents a significant professional hurdle, but it’s also the classic 1960s misogyny. I wondered how hard we would drive that home, and I love the fact that they softened it so that he’s interested in her, but it’s a challenge, and he gets in his own way. He can just run over everybody, but she doesn’t give in to his advances. Having this presence in the office day-to-day, this very Hepburn and Tracy energy, is different and fresh and weird because it’s usually all men. I gotta say it was fun to play.
AF: When you reflect on your last two seasons of Maisel, what do you take away as an actor moving forward into your next projects?
Scott: The level of specificity. 100%. It reinvigorated something within me. I break down a script in a different way than I did before. I was spoiled on Veep in that it was such a gift to be led into the writer’s room, in a sense. We were encouraged to take the words, make them our own, and let them be messy. That filled me with a different kind of confidence where I could show up to any sentence, and you could throw anything at me, and I could run.
With something like Maisel, you now need to be laser-focused and hit the mark perfectly. Say this line perfectly. Keep the musicality of these wonderful words in your ear at all times. And I just loved it. Really, it’s something I will take away with me now, and even if I do an improv-heavy project, I’ll break everything down and get as specific as I can, and then I can explode it.
Dan and Amy are absolute geniuses. Baseline, if you’re just servicing their words, you are working harder than you’ve ever worked before. The fact that they still give you space on top of that to bring something of your own to it is very unusual in terms of showrunners. They’re wonderful, and I keep getting lucky to work with these mad scientist showrunners.