You know her as the original Mrs. Maisel — Shirley Maisel, that is — but it’ll be a bit before you see her return in the role for season 4 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Thankfully, you can see Caroline Aaron back on the big screen in her upcoming film, Call Waiting, coming to Amazon Prime on September 7, 2020!
CraveYouTV had the privilege of chatting with Caroline about the 2004 film and how apt it is to watch while in quarantine, the forthcoming season of Mrs.Maisel, the Emmys going virtual, and how she’s been getting through the pandemic.
Check out the synopsis of Call Waiting: Caroline leads Call Waiting, a one-woman, tour-de-force poignant comedy; the story of two women who never meet but impact each other profoundly. Caroline stars as both ‘Judy Baxter’ and ‘Carol Lane,’ the impossible diva and the bed-ridden writer. One’s an actress and the other, the character she plays.
And check out the interview below:
You’re most famously known for your work on Mrs. Maisel, and we’ll get to that in a minute, but this upcoming weekend, your film Call Waiting is being released. Tell me a little about how this play-turned-film came to be.
Well, the play was a big hit in Los Angeles, and the filmmaker Don Roos, who made The Opposite of Sex, and his husband, Dan Bucatinsky, who is a writer, actor, and producer, they were sitting in the audience one night and they said, “I wonder if you could put this play on film.”
If you haven’t seen it, the play is the playwright’s story top to bottom. It’s completely autobiographical and her conceit was that if I overheard your side of your phone conversation throughout the day, then I would know everything about you by the end of the day. And it was set in the nineties so call waiting — I don’t even know if you know about that, but when you have a landline and somebody else would call in, you hear a beep and you’d go “wait a minute, I’m getting a call,” and you would switch back and forth one to the other, right?
During the course of the play, the character ends up getting 18 phone calls and you meet everyone in her life from people selling light bulbs to her children to her husband all during the course of this 90 minutes. And so when they approached us about doing a film, the assumption was the traditional way that plays are opened up for movies is that you’ll see all these characters at the other end of the line, but they were very enchanted by the conceit of the play and they wanted to keep it in place.
Don, who’s a brilliant filmmaker, taught me something so interesting, he said “you know when you go to the theater and see a live event, you’re looking at what’s in front of you, but you’re also looking at your program, you’re looking at the back wall, you’re looking at the head of the person sitting in front of you,” but he said “in film, we call that editing because when you’re watching a movie, they decide what you’re gonna look at. You only have the choice of the image that’s right in front of you and editing is what we just do naturally when we’re live.” But he also said you can’t just put one person on film because you have to have something to cut to. So Dan, who’s a brilliant writer wrote a second character who you would also learn about through her side of her phone conversation.
And I used to play both characters, so I’m playing the actress who is playing the character. And even though they never meet within the story of the film, they impact each other’s lives in really surprising ways. And you know it’s such a hard thing to describe because it’s so unusual and unique as a movie. But someone I was talking to yesterday said it’s very much like going from day to night, where you’re seeing the fictional story and then you’re opening the curtain up to see what happened behind the fictional story in order to get it on screen. So, it was a big challenge for me but really great. And I fell in love with the playwright and her story, and tragically she died last year, so the idea of getting this out there it’s really kind of thrilling in her memory.
You mentioned that it was a challenge, but how did you approach pulling double-duty and playing two characters who are so different yet connect with each other.
Well, one of the things that was a real advantage was since I had done the play, the fictional character of Judy Baxter, who is our main story, that was in my bones by then, you know. If I had to start from scratch with both characters, I’m not sure how well I would have done, but I had one already so much inside of me cause the play was such a hit, I think it ran almost a year. Judy Baxter had become part of my cell structure. Then Carole Lane, this new character, was the one that was the newest to me and I had to put some work into trying to understand who she was and, of course, the film was done like all experimental films on a spit and a prayer, so we had like 12 days to shoot it, but it was very exciting.. Challenging but exciting. I like things that are hard.
Of course, as an actress, I would think you want that challenge, right?
Yes, you do. Well, I do. I think some people are coasting but that’s just not my style. I’m not a coaster.
You mentioned that some people these days don’t understand the concept of call waiting. What do you hope present-day audiences take away from this film?
I think, first of all, two things. I think the timing is really good because the story is about somebody who is housebound, which we all are! I think everyone will recognize themselves in certain ways because now that we’re all sort of virtual in terms of our relationship and stuff, what you’re doing and how you’re presenting can be very different like you know, for award season, you can be dressed from the waist up and don’t have to have uncomfortable shoes. I would say that would be a perk of the pandemic. Probably the only one.
And I think the other thing that people will take away from it is the story. The main story is about a writer who has writer’s block because she was the child of Holocaust survivors. She was born a displaced person, she came to America, and her father and mother lived with her in Beverly Hills. And her father begged her, “please, please, please write my story.” He wanted there to be a record and a witness to what he had gone through during the war and Dori [Fram] just couldn’t do it because she would just have an anxiety attack every time she would have to summon the atrocities of that war. And so it’s also about procrastination and things that we’re afraid of. And I think there’s a lot of humanity in it.
The actress is the exact opposite character of the character that she’s playing [in the film] and she is impacted by the character she’s playing, so there is, in some sort of secret way, how we’re all taught by what we create, in a sense. So I think that’s a pretty interesting part of the movie too. And it’s funny, it’s really funny.
Well, we’re all patiently waiting for the fourth season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
What can you tell us about that?
Honestly, I’m not even being coy. Ordinarily, I would have to be because I would be being gagged, but this time, I’m not because I don’t know a thing. I’m dying to know anything I can possibly find out.
This is what I do know… we’re going to start soon. They’re in pre-production, you know building costumes and sets and doing all that wonderful stuff. And I was a little worried because I thought, you know, Maisel has such scope to it and it has such size, and I went “oh, now we can’t do anything anymore. We’re not allowed.” But Amy [Sherman-Palladino] is very committed to it being our show and she said the story of the show is ultimately about a sheltered young woman who is introduced to the world little by little in increments. And so, I just thought, “Is this going to be everybody in the kitchen” and Amy said, “absolutely not.” She wouldn’t go back until we can make the show what we wanna make, so they seem to have figured all of that out.
And I just think it’s the either so coincidental or they’re even bigger geniuses than I thought they were, but at the end of last season, spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen season 3, you know Midge gets fired. And she has to go home and start all over. I mean just imagine if this story had left off where she was like doing a world tour and about to go on stage in Paris. I don’t know what we would’ve done! So it really kind of fits where the story is right now, which is that we’re going to have to figure out how to start again. And that obviously will be a big part of season 4 — how do you reboot after something like that, and it will be really interesting.
So you haven’t read any part of the script yet then?
You know they do not give them to us. And each actor has their own sort of like opinion about whether they want to know in advance. Last year, before we started season 3, Amy had this beautiful kick-off party because we’ve been apart for a while so kind of just to welcome us all back together, and I was talking with her and she didn’t tell me in specifics, but she told me a few things that were going to be in season 3. She told me we were moving to Queens, and the Weissman’s and Maisel’s were going to live together, and so I went over to Tony [Shalhoub], who I’ve been friend with for 30 years and I went ‘Tony, Amy just told me,’ and before I got it out of my mouth, he went “I don’t wanna know, I don’t wanna know.”
So, some of the actors don’t wanna know until the very last minute and me, I want to know like yesterday.
But we don’t really find out. When it gets tricky in terms of talking to people is after it’s been shot and we really know to try to keep it a secret, but right now, I really don’t know so it’s not even that hard.
Well you mentioned some changes in terms of worrying about the scope of the show and filming huge scenes, but what do you think will be the biggest challenge in terms of filming amid a pandemic?
I think the biggest challenge is that the camaraderie and community that comes from doing a show like this. I already know many of our restrictions when we go back. As an example, the mornings are really early when you’re making a television show so you can sometimes be starting at 5 in the morning and Rachel [Brosnahan], of course, has the heaviest load, but we would sit in in the trailer, learn lines, run lines, have coffee, have fun. Now with the rules, all the makeup artists will have on masks and plastic shields, but obviously, we can’t because they’re working on our faces, so in order to protect them, we can’t talk at all.
We can’t talk in the trailer, we can’t eat together, there’s no more craft services. I don’t know artistically what’s going to be difficult, but that’s going to be tough because honestly, we really, really enjoy each other. We really like each other and I’m sad about that.
You know we will get through it and we’ll do it. I mean, I’m so confused about, not us personally, but about what the world is doing personally. I don’t know how we’re supposed to behave, but I do know those are the filming restrictions that are definitely in place.
I’m glad we’re going into season 4 because we all know each other now. I think it would be very hard to start something new and develop chemistry when you have these kinds of restrictions. But we’re really lucky. I just wanna be with everybody. We can’t even hug each other after all this time, you know, that’s a weird feeling.
Don’t you miss people?
I do too, so much, so much!
Have you kept in touch with the cast at all during the break?
Yeah, we do these things called “Maisel hang’s” about every 3 weeks or so.
I love that!
I know. It’s a Maisel hang. And we all get together in boxes — what are you doing, how are you, how’s everyone, what’s going on — you know, that catching up sort of thing because you know, we would have been back together by now. And we’re not.
What has been your favorite thing about bringing Shirley Maisel — the original Mrs. Maisel — to life?
Thank you so much! Now you’re my new best friend. Because I always tell people, I’m Mrs. Maisel, you know.
I’m not the titular one in the title. I’m not the marvelous one, but I am Mrs. Maisel.
The thing I love the most, and I’ve never had this experience before is, first of all, I’m playing a character who is really happy with her life. You know? She’s gotten the American dream. They are probably second generation, first generation from immigrant parents and, I mean when we moved to Queen’s like that’s the brass ring. And being able to be in America, and everythng about home and heart thrills Shirley. Like she gets up in the morning, puts on all her makeup, gets all tooted up, and she’s so excited to do the laundry, which is the opposite of the way I feel.
But she’s like the mentally delighted. And the other thing that I really enjoy about playing her is that she reminds everyone of somebody they love. You know they’ll say you’re my grandmother, you’re my aunt, you’re my teacher, you’re my neighbor, everybody seems to relate to her, so I think that she’s walking around in the world. And I really like that.
Yeah, that’s so true! Let’s talk award season! The third season of Mrs. Maisel earned an impressive 20 Emmy nominations. Does that warm reception continue to surprise you or do you get used to it?
Oh, I don’t think you ever get used to it. I think it’s always a gift. I think the people who get the most credit for kind of this ongoing juggernaut are Amy and Dan [Palladino]. When you’re making a TV show, everyone is there with their fingers crossed, but you can’t predict a reception to anything. You can never predict how people are going to enjoy something. But what happened was, it won all these Emmys the first year and we were at a gathering afterward and I said to Amy and Dani, “oh my god, aren’t you scared? You know because you get to start with a blank page and now, you’ve been anointed.” And Dan was very calm and he went, “not at all.” And I said “really,” and he said, “yes, we’re just gonna keep making show that we want to make.”
And they’ve had this in their hearts and minds for a long time, this story. And they are so seasoned. I think they just couldn’t be more thrilled that people love it, but it just doesn’t turn their head in a way that it would somebody with less experience or less talent like “oh no, we have to deliver,” or “oh no, we have to do this or we have to do that.” They have a story to tell and they’re telling it.
For us, the actors, it’s just like it is that Sally Field’s thing — ” you like me, you really like me.” You just never get over that.
The awards are going to be different this year since they’re going virtual. You already said you aren’t wearing uncomfortable heels, which I’m so happy for you!
Aren’t you? We just need one barefoot awards season! That would be so wonderful. I want somebody to make a documentary on the history of the high heel. Who invented it?
Why do we wear it?
They’re glamorous but still, I’m not so good in them! I have to say, I’m learning.
How else are you changing the way you approach the evening?
I don’t know yet! I think we’re all going to be in our houses and I have no idea what else. You know I’ve seen some remarkable things on TV of people trying to adjust to this, I had not heard a lot about how the Emmys are going to go. I don’t know if you saw it, but I think LeBron James produced a graduation ceremony across the nation called Graduating Together and they really made a sense of occasion out of that. I felt like those kids were really graduating, it was really quite wonderful.
I know that there are ways to do it but still, at the end of the day, it’s just not the same. No matter what. I don’t like Zooming only because I’ve done so many readings on Zoom since we started and trying to be as creative and busy as possible. And I was going to rehearsal for a little play that I was doing on Zoom. We had rented a house in Connecticut and my kids were there with their dogs and friends and I said “okay, everybody has to leave at such and such a time, I have rehearsal and it has to be quiet in the house.”
And as I’m walking from one room to another I said, “I hate Zoom.” It feels so inconsequential once you’re doing it when there’s nobody else there. We kind of trick ourselves into making it work, but every once in a while I kind of lose my mojo for it and I go, “I hate this. I want the real thing back.”
Well, this kind of brings me into my last question… how did you stay motivated and inspired during quarantine?
I’ve been writing a lot and taking classes. I used to say this to my kids, too. Whenever I get really depressed my anecdote for depression is to learn something, so I’ve been taking classes — writing classes, so I can learn more about what I’m attempting to do. I’ve been doing a lot of reading of new plays and old plays.
I’m embarrassed to say that I thought that at the end of this pandemic everybody I know will have learned 2 languages, put all their photos in photo albums, cleaned up their whole house, lost 10 pounds, you know what I mean like self-improvement to the max. And here’s what I’m going to have done… watched all 13 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which I have. I’m very proud of that because I love it so much.
I have to say, I haven’t been particularly productive in that way like where you say “f I had time, I would do this.” I’ve had more than time and I’m still not doing it, you know, those chore-y kind of things that nobody wants to do.
Yes, you’re always putting them off!
Yeah, it’s cause you think you don’t have time, but now I get it. It’s not cause I don’t have time, it’s cause I don’t want to do it! That’s the reason those things aren’t getting done!
But I will say, if this goes on much longer, I want to figure out if I can take a class in the fall of the Roman Empire only because I thought, you know, there was a time when Rome was the center of civilization and the greatest place in the world. That’s how I feel about our country, so what happened to us and how did it happen? And did they know that it was happening in Rome when it happened? So, I thought, I should learn a little bit more about history that may help me tolerate this time in our country’s history a little better. So that’s my next step and that’s what I’ve been up to!
You can catch Call Waiting on Amazon Prime starting Labor Day weekend.
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