Margo Martindale on Her 10 Best Roles
Margot Martindale's Role Call
Margo Martindale has won two Emmys and gone from America's favorite what's-her-name to a bona fide beloved star. With her latest film, the poignant family drama The Hollars, in theaters now, EW sat down with the Texas-accented, infectiously upbeat actress to talk about 10 of her best roles.
Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)
Martindale played a grieving mother in this affecting drama by director George Miller. It was her first of three movies costarring Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking and Twilight followed), but didn’t propel Martindale’s career in the way she’d hoped. "I had lots of things that I thought were going to be the thing," she says. "Lorenzo’s Oil was the first one. I got lovely reviews on it, but it wasn’t the big one.” Yet 10 years later, Sideways director Alexander Payne auditioned her for a small role in About Schmidt based on his love for Lorenzo’s Oil. She didn’t get that part, but ended up as the star (a rarity in the her career) in Payne’s touching Paris, Je T’aime short film.
Nobody's Fool (1994)
"You're either my favorite little sister," director Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) told Martindale, "or my favorite older daughter." He cast her as a small-town bartender who wisecracks with Paul Newman in this effervescent comedy. "During rehearsal when we'd eat lunch, I would take my sandwich off by myself because I couldn't eat in front of Paul Newman," she says. "We didn't connect big-time — until we did reshoots and he'd seen the movie. Then he said, 'Can I come sit in your dressing room?' From then on, we'd talk and talk, about theater and the business and all kinds of stuff. He was such an adorable man."
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Martindale had auditioned for multiple Clint Eastwood films before getting hired to play Hilary Swank's low-class mother in this Best Picture Oscar winner. She shot her brief but memorable role after a Tony-nominated run in Broadway's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof — and during a family tragedy. "My brother had passed away suddenly, shortly before we filmed the scene where I visit Hilary in the hospital," she says. "Clint was unbelievably kind and sweet and compassionate with me. He made everything very easy. Plus his sets are so quiet and relaxed. You don't even remember that there's a camera there."
Paris, Je T'Aime (2006)
Sideways director Alexander Payne's seven-minute tearjerker is the bittersweet dessert that concludes this omnibus of short films about Paris. In a role that Payne wrote specifically for her, Martindale plays a lonely postal worker on vacation in the city, narrating her trip in beginners' French. "The last scene is about being happy and sad at the same time," she says. "And Alexander, who I absolutely love, shot that last scene first, so it helped me understand this beautiful experience right up front. Then he said, 'Margo, don't you worry about the rest of the movie. We've got it.'"
Martindale beamed while accepting an Emmy in 2011 ("Sometimes things just take time," she said) for her ferocious turn as a Kentucky drug lord named Mags Bennett. "I was in California for the premiere of [2010's] Secretariat, and they asked me to audition. I said, 'A Southern woman who deals drugs? I'll do this for free.' Which I almost did. [Laughs] But it was a good investment." Originally planned as a guest spot lasting just a few episodes, her role turned into a meaty, season-arching nemesis part, and Mags' ugly world proved oddly pleasing for Martindale to sink into. "I sweeten my voice a lot of the time, but as Mags I just let myself sound however I wanted. She was easy to find within me. I just tapped into my inner insanity."
August: Osage County (2013)
In the adaptation of Tracy Letts' blistering family drama, she played the wife of Chris Cooper (whom she first met while performing theater in Kentucky in 1981) and the sister of Meryl Streep, her costar in 1996's Marvin's Room and the 1997 TV movie ...First Do No Harm. The cast lived together in Oklahoma during production. "It was incredible. If we went to the store, Meryl would say, 'I'm driving.' And she would try to cover up, so not to be recognized. But eventually she would ask if I could please take her cart, because the attention would get to be too much." Martindale pauses, lets loose a huge giggle, and says, "Meanwhile, I still get people asking if I'm [The Leftovers actress] Ann Dowd."
The Americans (2013-present)
On FX's acclaimed Cold War drama, Martindale shines as the Russian supervisor of KGB spies played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. (She took home a guest-actress Emmy in 2015 and is nominated again this year.) Viewers were shocked by a scene in the first season in which Martindale's face is beaten and submerged in a tub by Russell. "I have a burst eardrum, so the stuntwoman did the flailing about and went underwater. I have more than a hundred pounds on Keri, so I would like to think I could've taken her. But then again, she's tough. Fabulously tough."
BoJack Horseman (2014-present)
"Isn't it absurd?" she says of her role on this animated Netflix sitcom starring Will Arnett (her costar on The Millers) as an alcoholic horse. "At first I said, 'I'm not doing that, Will.' He said, 'Yes, you are. The part is Character Actress Margo Martindale. Who else could do it?'" But the cartoon Margo moonlights as a gun-toting bank robber — the furthest thing from her real-life persona, though not according to the internet. "My husband was looking at my Wikipedia page and it said, 'Martindale has spent the last year in prison for armed robbery.' We got it removed quickly, but I told Will and he died laughing."
The Good Wife (2015-2016)
Martindale hadn’t been a watcher of CBS’s hit drama before she was cast as the campaign manager of Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), but she caught up quickly. "The Good Wife was so unbelievably luxurious to step into," she says. "Robert and Michelle King have their style down to a science and their dialogue sings like great music." The Kings offered her a cameo in their newest show Brain Dead earlier this year. "They asked me to just come play a bug specialist. How could I say no?"
The Hollars (2016)
Martindale met actor John Krasinski (The Office) about 15 years ago while working on a department-store commercial. For his second film as a director, he cast her to play his funny, vibrant mother, who is diagnosed with a brain tumor. "I really like how unusually honest and unsentimental the film is, while also having a light touch," she says. "And I've been offered a lot of dying people recently. So I'm going to let this one float around a while before I take another."