Actor Kevin Pollak, who portrays the father-in-law of TV’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” was scheduled to perform next month at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s 10th annual “Night of the Stars” gala. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the event was postponed and rescheduled to May 6, 2021. Jmore recently spoke with Pollak about working with the “Mrs. Maisel” cast, his time in Baltimore while filming “Avalon,” and more.
On the small screen, the character of Miriam “Midge” Maisel is the standup comedian featured on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” But off-screen, it’s Kevin Pollak who’s actually stealing the show.
“I’m the class clown on the set,” said Pollak, who plays Midge’s boastful and boorish father-in-law, Moishe Maisel, on the smash hit TV show. “While everyone is working really hard, I am there trying to make them laugh.”
Starring in such classic movies as “The Usual Suspects,” “A Few Good Men” and Martin Scorsese’s “Casino,” as well as hit TV shows like “Billions,” Pollak, 62, is no stranger to the spotlight. But with more than 70 movies and TV shows under his belt, he said “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is shaping up to be a “life and career highlight.”
“There are hundreds of scripted TV shows out there,” Pollak said during a recent phone interview with Jmore. “But it’s extraordinarily rarified to be in a television show that breaks through the noise. To have anyone, let alone non-Jews, talk about this show is crazy to us.”
Moishe Maisel didn’t even appear in the show’s pilot. It wasn’t until the show was picked up by Amazon Studios that co-creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino realized there were no in-laws.
That’s when Pollak got the call.
“At the time, there was no script,” Pollak said. “I watched the pilot and had the same experience as many of the viewers, which was this show is off the charts in creativity, heightened authenticity, wardrobe, music, production, acting and writing. It was all so special and magical that it was an immediate yes from me.”
Set in late 1950s/early 1960s Manhattan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is a dramedy depicting Jewish life in New York City. Heading into its fourth season, the show has won more than a dozen Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe.
“We had no idea what this show would be,” Pollak said. “Tony Shalhoub, who plays Abe Weissman [Midge Maisel’s father], thought Jews from the Upper West Side would love the show. But beyond that, it is so specific to that world, there was no way to predict the success.”
On the show, Shalhoub and Pollak’s characters don’t see eye to eye on most matters. “When Tony and I go out for lunch or dinner in New York while shooting, and people see Moishe and Abe together, they don’t understand it,” Pollak said. “That is one of my favorite things because in reality we are deeply fond of each other. Over the years, we hadn’t met because there was never a scenario where we would both be hired. You either hired one or the other but we had always been fans of the other, and we professed that the moment we met. There is this tremendous sense of love and affection the cast has for each other.”
Being a part of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” brings Pollak back to his roots. Born in San Francisco, Pollak said he knew show business was his calling at age 11.
“I would listen to comedy albums and I lip-synched one for my mother, who told me I had to perform it at our Passover seder,” Pollak said. “I did it for a group of about 30 people, and that’s when an act was born. When you get laughs from someone other than your mother, it’s a revelatory experience. For me, there was no going back.”
Pollak spent the next 20 years as a standup comedian before making the shift to dramatic acting after landing the role of Izzy Kirk in Barry Levinson’s film “Avalon.”
“I would argue Barry Levinson’s masterpiece ‘Avalon’ is one of the greatest movies depicting Jewish life of all time,” Pollak said. “On ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ I am channeling the spirit of the character Gabriel Krichinsky portrayed by actor Lou Jacobi in [‘Avalon’].”
While filming “Avalon,” Pollak spent four months in Baltimore and fell in love with the city and its most famous delicacy.
“The experience of the butcher paper over the table, the mallet and the actual work necessary to get your food from the crustacean became something we looked forward to when filming,” he said. “Barry [Levinson] would call Obrycki’s [restaurant] as we were wrapping filming for the day and save us large crabs. Elizabeth Perkins, Aidan Quinn and I would eat there two or three times a week.”
Pollak said it’s been a decade since he last visited Charm City. And while this year’s BHC “Night of the Stars” will be a virtual release, the temple plans to bring Pollak back to Baltimore for next year’s gala. Pollak said he plans to “take the audience on a ride.”
“My act is escapism, in the sense I don’t talk a lot about today’s troubles,” he said. “I share a lot of my stories from the set and of working with historically successful and famous people. And of course, I will have my impersonations. I think I will also do a Q&A because of the ‘Mrs. Maisel’ stuff. I don’t usually do that, but I think I will in Baltimore.”
Meanwhile, Pollak said he is looking forward to getting back to filming season four of “Mrs. Maisel.”
“I’ve been waiting to do something funny and outrageous for a long time,” Pollak said. “I’ve done a number of films, but rarely do I have the chance to be the funny one. I’ve never portrayed a loud — as Abe Weissman says — ‘bloviating’ character like Moishe. For me, this is the gift of a lifetime, and I carry that with me every day on set.”
For information about BHC’s “Night of the Stars” benefiting the temple’s youth community, visit baltimorehebrew.org/giving/night-of-the-stars