For a long time, she was character actress Margo Martindale. And now's she's -- in the words of Bojack Horseman -- esteemed character actress Margo Martindale.
For a couple of decades, Martindale was often the best performer who's name you didn't know in a string of films you loved (early on, she could be spotted in just about everything, from "Dexter," then her Emmy-winning turn as the matriarch of the Bennett crime family on "Justified," as Florrick campaign manager on "The Good Wife," and, most recently, another Emmy-garnering stint as deeply embedded KGB handler Claudia on FX's "The Americans."
But even as television provides a welcome showcase for the accomplished sexagenarian, movies are still clamoring for her services as well: in "The Hollars" (premiering on Blu-Ray and DVD Dec. 6) actor John Krasinski's latest effort as writer/director, Martindale plays the hospitalized matriarch of a charmingly dysfunctional family who struggle to put their interpersonal dramas on hold during her illness.
Martindale joined Moviefone to reflect on achieving fame and gathering acting trophies at this stage in her career, the joys of appearing in a fellow actor's labor of love, how Claudia will be appearing more than ever before in the next season of "The Americans," and her memories of an early acting colleague named Christopher Reeve.
Moviefone: This time around, among all the work that you do, to work with somebody like John, who you knew well, and to work with a fellow actor behind the camera on "The Hollars," tell me what that meant to you.
Margo Martindale: I think it gave it a nice depth to have him directing and acting because of the kind of story it was, and because it's all so personal. It's about a family. It was as if we were in a hospital room, and the kids were coming home, and I was sick. It felt extremely real, and it felt like there were no cameras around.
I understand that you look at each piece of material that comes your way, and you give it a lot of thought, and try to come up with a character that you haven't played before. I'm curious what the qualities were, here, that you saw that you hadn't played that you were excited to take a swing at.
I don't think I've played anything like this: It's a loving mother. Maybe I have -- I'm sure I've played a loving mother sometime, but I don't know. It was a very different story. I'd never had a brain tumor. The movie, the script, for me, surprised me in the specifics of the script. Just the daily specifics of the things that we talked about and what we did and all of that. I thought it was extremely real. I was drawn to that.
When a project is a labor of love, particularly on John's part as a filmmaker, how does that change things for you coming into it? When you know that people are truly invested in it, and it's just not another attempt at entertainment or commercial success, but it's something that has struck somebody's chord deep, deep down?
That makes it all the better! It was a very intense 22 days of shooting, and I was there only 14 of those, and I felt like I'd left my family behind. I felt very bad about leaving, because what are they going to do without me? That is what happened. What are they going to do without me? Yeah, everybody cared deeply and wanted everything to be very truthful.
You have, of course, this great history as a character actress, and then in the past several years you've gotten an increasing degree of fame. Were you ever worried that that fame might impact your ability to take on the diversity of roles that you'd enjoyed throughout your whole career?
No. I never did. Certainly, number one, fame is nothing I was seeking, I can tell you that. I'm delighted that people actually know my name. It does feel good. So that part of it is a big, huge plus. I don't think anything will change as far as, I think I'll still get to disappear in parts.
Everybody has really gotten to know your television work, first from "Justified" and now "The Americans." Tell me what you love about being able to pop in and really stir the pot on "The Americans," as you have throughout your appearances on the show.
I like that I have some weight on that show. It's nice to be remembered, that Claudia comes with a whole world of knowledge, and these last two seasons I'll be there quite a bit more. So I'm very excited about it.
With a character like Claudia in particular, what do you like about being part of a series where you get to come back and explore new sides and new situations with a character, as opposed to telling a more complete story in a film that's more closed-ended?
I must say, it's challenging because I've done so little in the last two seasons, that I've already done more than I've done in the last two seasons, already now. So it's going to be interesting to see. The first season, of course, I did most of the episodes. So I knew where I was coming from. But this one, I'll be back trying to see where she has a crack, maybe. It's a fascinating, fun part to play -- and an extremely different part for me.
I was lucky enough to be in that Emmy press room when you won this past season. Tell me what that kind of experience has come to mean to you as it entered your life, because I imagine it's a surreal thing, it's a gratifying thing and it's probably a bit of an overwhelming thing.
All of the above, yes, absolutely! Winning for "Justified" was extraordinarily exciting because that part, the arc was so incredible; "The Americans," I'm just delighted that "The Americans" get some recognition. If just people have noticed me on there, I'm very happy about that. Yeah, it can be overwhelming, a little bit. Look, I've worked all my life and I've always believed in myself, and the fact that I've got some awards now, it feels pretty good. Pretty good!
How difficult is playing the role of "esteemed character actress Margo Martindale" on "BoJack Horseman"?
[Laughs] That's really hard. It's like, "Can you exaggerate myself any more?" Yes, it's fun. It's really fun. I think I'll be doing it again this year. I hope so.
What was the surprise of that experience, either in the doing of it or in the response to it?
I couldn't believe there was such a huge response to it. I didn't even know what I was doing. When Will [Arnett] said you're coming to do this, I said I didn't want to. He said, "Well, you have to, because it's you." I said "What do you mean?" He said, "It's Margo Martindale, character actress, so you have to do it."
That made me laugh so much. Then I read the script and I said to Will, "These people seem like animals." He said, "They are animals, you idiot!" I didn't know that. But yes, it's been really fun.
I want to go back to a period in your life where you were really embarking on the road of acting. You got to, very early on, work with Christopher Reeve at the beginning of your career.
Oh my goodness, I did.
I'm curious about that experience. He seemed like such an interesting man, at every point in his life, and I'm wondering what kind of effect he had on you, both as a colleague and as a friend.
I'll tell you, nobody has ever asked me that. That's interesting. We did "Threepenny Opera" together. We had a duet. He was Macheath. I was Mrs. Peachum. I remember getting to Harvard that summer and seeing Chris Reeve and Jonathan Frakes and thinking, "Wow, is this going to be a great summer!" Because they were both so gorgeous. So he was an interesting, disciplined, great, great guy. We had a wonderful summer together, and he was a fabulous Macheath, and a great singer.
Then I came to New York. I'd just come from the University of Michigan to Harvard, then I was going to New York. I started taking acting classes by a teacher from the Group Theater, Paul Mann. Paul Mann said in our acting class, "You have to go downtown and see this actor playing this Nazi in a play." He said, "It's the most brilliant performance I've ever seen." I went downtown and it was Christopher Reeve. I saw him around the neighborhood quite a bit after that, but we didn't stay friends. But he was Christopher Reeve and I was Margo Martindale, so there.
Because you have worked with so many people in your actor's tribe over the years, what do those relationships, whether they're fleeting, or whether they're friendships and professional relationships that recurred throughout the years, what do those mean to you, to know that you've been part of this big, extended actor family for so long?
I am so grateful to have this career that I have, and to have been part of so many different worlds of theater and movies and television. When you go to these award shows and you see people, people I haven't seen in years, I go, "I worked with them ... I worked with them ... I worked with them ... I worked with them ..." It's like, "Really? How did that happen to me?" And then I realize I'm 65 years old. That's how it happened!