To be sure, Alex Borstein is not one of those people who thinks everything happens for a reason.
Case in point: in 2000, while still on Mad TV, she portrayed quirky chef Sookie in Amy Sherman-Palladino's pilot of Gilmore Girls. But at the 11th hour, execs at Fox refused to let her appear on both their sketch comedy and a show on the rival WB network. An unknown named Melissa McCarthy took the part instead.
"Life is shit sometimes," Borstein says, laughing. "I don't think there's a cosmic thing involved. Not doing the show was hugely disappointing, so I had to find another route instead." Pause. "It is kind of cool how it all turned out."
Very. Borstein is now cooking with gas, so to speak, thanks to her work in Amazon's Golden Globe–winning hit The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. In its sparkling freshman batch of episodes, her brusque, suspenders-wearing Susie evolves from an unhappy staffer at New York's Gaslight Café to the gung-ho manager of rising comedienne Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan).
The 1950s-era show is the brainchild of none other than Borstein's regular steak-dinner companion and shoe-shopping partner, Sherman- Palladino — who wrote the part with her in mind. "The archetype of the character is definitely in my wheelhouse," Borstein says. "It's been fun to peel away the onion and learn more about Susie, layer by layer."
Borstein is well acquainted with comedy's ups and downs. She first got laughs reciting "The Four Questions" song at her family's seder in Chicago ("Every Jew has Passover as their first performance"), then started doing stand-up in high school.
"I did it more as a fun lark," she says. After graduating from San Francisco State University, she worked at an ad agency by day and did improv with a comedy troupe by night. She never thought she'd make money from her passion until the audition for Mad TV in 1997. "When that happened, I thought, 'Oh, this might actually be a job, too!'"
And how. Her onscreen credits include the cult HBO comedy Getting On and the films Bad Santa, Ted and Good Night, and Good Luck. She's acted, written for and been a producer on Showtime's Shameless.
Yet Borstein is perhaps best known for voicing matriarch Lois Griffin on Fox's animated smash Family Guy since 1998 (she's also written for the series). She records lines on a near-weekly basis, sometimes from her home studio in Barcelona. She and her two kids moved to Spain a few years ago to find "a better life," she says. "I wanted to live abroad and learn a whole new culture, and this was the perfect fit."
Reflecting on her current series, she says, "You can time-travel to any era, but there's no place you can escape to. I feel like it's one of the few optimistic things on the air. Pie in the sky. People are so ready for something hopeful."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2018