'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' star Luke Kirby breaks down Lenny Bruce's tragic final scene in the series finale, and why we didn't see him as much in season 5
Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the series finale of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."
Luke Kirby, who portrays a fictionalized version of comedian Lenny Bruce, spoke to Insider.
He said the showrunners chose not to use Lenny "greedily" as a plot device in the final season.
The series finale of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," released on Friday, saw Miriam "Midge" Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) finally get the big break she and manager Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein) have been working tirelessly toward since the show began.
Rather fittingly for Midge, who tore up the rule book long ago, it comes when she hijacks her interview on "The Gordon Ford Show," which is hinged on the novelty that she is its "resident lady writer," and wows the live studio audience with a truly spectacular four-minute set.
In sharp contrast to Midge's impending success (flashforwards littered throughout the season show she becomes a comedian adored the world over), the finale returns to Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), and dramatizes one of his pained last performances in a run-down club in San Francisco.
It's the first time Lenny — who is a fictionalized version of the real-life profane, pioneering comedian — has been seen since the season five premiere in which he and Midge exchanged what looked like a pretty final farewell in a TWA terminal.
In that scene, Lenny, exhausted and carrying a stack of paperwork relating to his latest legal troubles, told Midge he was headed out to the West Coast to spend time with his daughter.
As audiences learn in the finale, that indeed was their final encounter.
While Midge did show up to Lenny's San Fran show — set four years into the future — she decides not to go backstage and speak to him, seemingly too disturbed by his descent into drug and alcohol abuse.
While some fans have expressed their disappointment over Kirby's lack of screen time in season five, the actor told Insider that he supports showrunners and executive producers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino's decision to scale back on scenes involving Lenny.
"lt just harkens back to this responsibility that I think Amy and Dan had with inviting a real person into this fiction," Kirby said.
"They had to be very careful and walk that fine line about when they were using him advantageously versus when they would have then been using him greedily," he continued, before shrugging: "Or maybe they just don't like me."
Jokes aside, Kirby said he "felt good" about how the show wrapped up Lenny's storyline, teasing just enough of the tragedy that would befall him just 12 months later.
The standup routine that audiences see Lenny perform in that opening scene is hard to watch.
Instead of a charming, witty, razor-tongued satirist, this Lenny is unfocused. He tries to find jokes in the convoluted court documents that he's brought on stage with him and ultimately fails as he struggles to remember the details. When he realizes he's not connecting with the audience, he desperately turns to physical humor.
While it's not taken verbatim from the comedian's real performance (a recording of which exists online and there's no evidence that the real Lenny ever performed a Bob Dylan-inspired folk dance), Kirby said he found looking into the vast archive of Lenny's performances was invaluable when it came to his portrayal.
"That helps to fire the synapses in the imagination," he said. "In getting to listen to the real Lenny and to watch the real Lenny — all those things have just been lucky, lucky charms."
On the flip side, he said he said that the "hardest thing was reminding myself that it wasn't a biopic."
Kirby recalled how early on in the show's run, he became "concerned about the chronology" of Lenny's life before he grew comfortable with taking a looser approach to the New York native's life story.
"At some point, I realized that was not what we were doing and I think that that benefited us, and benefited me certainly, to not have to feel like I was adhering to true logistics, but instead to try and find the essence of a person," he said.
"And I just tried to absorb as much of it as I could and see how see how it executed out of me."
As for Lenny's demise — he was found dead at age 40 in the bathroom of his Hollywood home surrounded by narcotics paraphernalia — Kirby said that this was a key part of his performance that he "carried from the outset of the show."
"He always felt to me like somebody who had a very distinct shadow on his door," the actor said. "That's obviously partly attributed to the mythology of him and what we know of his end, but even in his comedy, he was exploring the truth in a way that he wouldn't deny the reality of the terminal aspect of this experience of being alive."
The series finale of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
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