Lessons on the art of being charming from the ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ herself

Can one learn to be charming or do you have to be born with it? It seems like some humans are just gifted with an innate sense of enchantment.

“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” ― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

Can one learn to be charming or do you have to be born with it? It seems like some humans are just gifted with an innate sense of enchantment. They walk into a room and you are simply drawn to them and if you are lucky enough to speak with them, you never want to stop. They have that amazing quality of making you feel like you are the most interesting person in the world.

For example, one could never teach themselves to be as charming as Audrey Hepburn. She spoke with one of those beautiful but perplexing accents (as it wasn’t quite British but it wasn’t really anything else), walked like a ballerina and had a Yorkie named Mr.Famous that she would ride around with on her bicycle. If I did that last one, my friends would not speak to me. But was Hepburn always that whimsical or did she teach herself to be that lovely?

Another famously charming and charismatic lady who went by the name of Marilyn Monroe was a firm believer that charisma was something you could absolutely create. Behavioral expert and author Olivia Fox Cabane summed it up in this video in which she talked about the legendary actress walking through Grand Central unrecognized because she wasn’t “on.”:

“What Marilyn wanted to show was that just by deciding to, she could either be glamorous Miss Monroe or plain Norma Jean Baker (her real name). On the subway, she was Norma Jean, but when she resurfaced on to the busy New York sidewalks, she decided to turn into Marilyn. So she looked around and she teasingly asked the photographer, “So, do you want to see her? TheMarilyn?” And then, he said, there were no grand gestures, she just fluffed up her hair and struck a pose. And yet, with this simple shift, she suddenly became magnetic. An aura of magic seemed to ripple out from her and everything stopped. Time stood still, as did the people around her, who stared in amazement as they suddenly recognized a star standing in their midst…”

So perhaps we can all manage to incorporate a little more charm into our personality, we just have to work on it. I recently came across the embodiment of charm when I had the pleasure of meeting actress Rachel Brosnahan, who plays the titular character in the marvelous The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (and if you haven’t watched it, then you aren’t very marvelous.) It was the absolute grossest of New York days and yet sunshine seemed to surround her in a halo. It was at an event for the new American Express Cash Magnet Card which the actress had partnered with.

From the minute I walked into the room to meet her, the Emmy winner put me immediately at ease. She complimented my now wet hat and made me immediately feel at ease. Something charming people are really good at is making you feel that they are genuinely glad to be meeting you (wet hat smell and all.)

She also threw in just the right amount of vulnerability talking about some of her neuroses and Type-A personality flaws. A little bit of self-deprecation is a wonderful tool when you are meeting someone for the first time. It puts you on a relatable level, even when you are a beautiful Emmy-winning actress with the most pristine, alabaster complexion I have ever seen.

She was generally interested in what I had to say and part of that was due to her excellent use of eye contact. Eye contact is something I am always working on as I feel like I start strong and then get lazy about it. But as Brosnahan went around that room that night and talked with the many different attendees she looked at each one of them like they were the only one there.

Brosnahan, like many actresses, is also very expressive with her body, especially her hands. Psychologists believe that hand gestures actually help you communicate more effectively. “Hand gestures are really a powerful aspect of communication, from both the speaker’s and the listener’s end,” Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, body language expert and Ladders contributor said. In a 2015 study analyzing TED Talks, it was found that the most popular speakers used an average of around 465 hand gestures,. This is almost twice as many as the least popular speakers used. Jazz hands for the win. 

Within five minutes of meeting her, I wanted to do anything I could to please her so much so that I didn’t even hesitate when she told me to try a recipe she had made for the event. It was her family’s famous cheese mound. Now, most people would not hesitate to eat a piece of cheese from a person on the street much less the star of an Amazon Prime series.  But I am not most people (I prefer my cheese from Netflix miniseries stars.) No, but actually cheese is not my favorite. The stinkier the cheese, the harder it is to pronounce the name,  or the more tiny the French village it was made in, by 80-year-old nuns, the farther away I walk. At wine and cheese parties I really find the cheese part to be a distracting inclusion.

So eating blue cheese, much less a mound of it, is not usually something I would do for a stranger. Maybe for a significant other or you know if the pope asked me or if there was some sort of ransom situation that required me for some reason to eat a lot of cheese but for the woman who gave us The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel all hesitations around the potential of dairy-related intolerances disappeared. Now that is the art of charm.

Meredith Lepore|is the Deputy Editor of Ladders and can be reached at mlepore@theladders.com.