The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Luke Kirby earned his second Emmy nomination for his portrayal of legendary comedian Lenny Bruce on Tuesday, but he’ll be be going up against “incredible titans” like Brad Pitt and Eddie Murphy in the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series category.
“Well, it’s certainly good company, although there are a number of titans in there so it’s most definitely daunting. But I’m happy to lurk among their shadow and feed off of the chum in their wake,” Kirby, who won the Emmy in 2019 for the same role, said with a chuckle over the phone. “It’s just such a bonkers, little reality to be a part of, but really nice and feels good. Those guys are all incredible titans, as I said, and [I’m] really happy to see that Fred Willard got in there.”
In addition to competing with Pitt and Murphy, both nominated for appearances on Saturday Night Live, other nominees in Kirby’s category include the late Willard, who died in May, recognized for a guest stint on Modern Family; Dev Patel, for an episode of Modern Love; and Adam Driver, for hosting SNL. “I’ll take the scraps, gladly,” Kirby quipped.
Given the pandemic and civil unrest in the country, the 42-year-old actor — who drove into the city center from the outskirts of the sleepy oceanside town he’s been staying in the past few days to take the call (“Where I’m staying has no cell service, and I don’t have Wifi”) — admitted he’s found it “tricky” to celebrate his accomplishment fully, “given the sort of time that we’re all living in right now.”
“It’s such a peculiarly quiet and yet troubling time, but it’s also full of hope for a better world. And so, this whole Emmy thing serves as a nice reminder that the wheels of entertainment are still being greased and set in motion, and hopefully someday [we] get back to doing what we love,” he reflected. “But it’s a nice little wave to catch, most definitely.”
The episode Kirby is nominated for, season 3’s “It’s Comedy or Cabbage,” leans into the undeniable chemistry Rachel Brosnahan‘s Midge and his Lenny have, and explores further the characters’ sizzling will they-won’t they connection.
“The episode that the nomination is for is really special and dear to me,” Kirby said, “especially because it gave Midge and Len a little more of a swell to contend with. It gave me the good charm of getting to do all that work with Rachel, who’s just so exceptional at her job and is so fun to be around and get to dance with, literally. It’s a little cliche, but I feel like when you do your best work in this field, it’s usually a reflection of those around you. And so, I feel like any kind of recognition that I’m getting is a reflection of Rachel’s work and her presence.”
Usually by this time of year, under normal circumstances, Mrs. Maisel would be deep into production on a season in New York City. But season 4 has stalled due to shutdowns worldwide due to COVID-19. Kirby conceded there’s not much of an update to offer on rumblings on when the new season is expected to kick back up, instead investing his time and energy doing a lot of reading.
“There’s been really, honestly, nothing that I can can tell you. We’re all living in this strange holding pattern. I know that our unions are trying to figure out the best ways to what a workplace looks like and all of that. Just looking at that conversation is really overwhelming still,” Kirby explained. “So I’ve just been trying to get out of the city as much as I can and pretend like I’m on some kind of weird vacation. And just trying to catch up with other things — I’m trying to finish Moby Dick for once in my life, which I have not done yet. I mean, it’s been almost five months.”
(Fun fact: Kirby, who is recurring as a charming, sleazy record producer, Jeremy, on Apple TV+’s freshman music drama, Little Voice, flew back to New York in between winning his first Emmy at the Creative Arts Emmys and the Primetime Emmys to film his scenes. “It was a fun job. And thankfully, I don’t have to contend with any of the residue of the fiction.”)
Though it’s unclear what the Primetime Emmys will look like when Sept. 20 rolls around, the Creative Arts Emmys — during which Kirby’s category will likely be featured — will be virtual and take place over several nights this year. Asked if he still plans on dressing up in a tux and celebrating as if he were going to the actual ceremony in Los Angeles, Kirby joked, “I do that every weekend anyway.”
“I would treat it as though it were coming to me instead. I think that’s the best way to do it, to get in the spirit of it,” he laughed.
As for how Lenny would fare if he was asked to do comedy sets over Zoom, Kirby believed the famous comedian would embrace the virtual reality.
“I think he’d probably be right into it. I mean, the good news is that you can do it for hours if you pay the right price. So he could just do it forever and ever,” he answered. “Obviously, the thing that every performer misses right now, is the bounce back that you get from the audience. The truth of my performance is that’s at least 50 percent of the experience, if not more. I would argue more.”
“So I’m sensitive to the fact that it’s a painful time for performers to not have that. It’s a little bit precious to say, but yeah. I know that personally I’d much rather be around people than around a flat screen, but the great thing about Zoom is that you can walk out of the room at any moment and not feel especially awkward,” Kirby said, before joking, “It’s good preparation for our next major space mission. But if we’re going to stay here on planet Earth, I think I’d rather do it in person.”
Marvelous Mrs. Maisel earned 20 total nominations, including acting honors for Brosnahan, Kirby, Alex Borstein, Tony Shalhoub, Sterling K. Brown, Marin Hinkle, Wanda Sykes, and Outstanding Comedy Series.
The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will take place Sunday, Sept. 20 at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on ABC. Check out ET Live and ETonline for ongoing coverage of the awards.
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