Bring It On!
Margo Martindale is always looking for a challenge.
“I guess I was born acting but didn’t know it.
“It was all about playing in my backyard and doing stories and and I didn’t really know it was acting until I was about 16. I was in my hometown, and the choir teacher asked me to audition for the musical, and then it was all over. ‘Ah, this is what I’ve been doing all these years!’”
And from there, Margo Martindale never looked back.
The prolific actress, winner of three Emmys, has been working in everything from comedy to drama, from theater to films to television for several decades. There was, however, a time in her life where she wasn’t as sure of how her life would go. She says, “I thought it was going a different path, because my talent in school was mostly science and math. I really had a wonderful relationship with numbers.
"I just loved numbers, and I sort of do acting by the numbers sometimes. I mean, I take the givens and I add in the factors that make the whole. It’s sort of algebraic, I guess. And it really works.”
She is currently adding things up in both Amazon’s Sneaky Pete and FX’s The Americans, in very different roles. Luckily, the schedule works out for her. “One begins and one ends, so that’s the way I’ve been doing that. I start Sneaky Pete in June, I finish in October; I start The Americans in October, and then we finish in March.”
In between, she often squeezes in a movie, but this year, she decided to take a break. She says, “You know, I took time this year to breathe, and I didn’t take any movies in the three months off because I really needed to.”
She enjoys the variety of working on both comedy and drama, “I love them both, and I love it when it’s all mixed up. And I think Sneaky Pete actually mixes it up a little bit. I hope we can have a little levity in there. In The Americans, no. No comedy. Well, in season one, there were a few laughs, but not so much anymore.”
When she chooses a role, she has very clear criteria for what she wants to do. “It needs to be different. If it’s something the same, it needs to be a lot of money. If it goes down the same path, let’s see what i can get out of this.
"It needs to be different. It needs to be a twist that I haven’t done or the story needs to be incredibly interesting to me. It’s really the whole.
"Of all the things that came my way during this break, there were three or four that really stood out, two that I should have done, that I just couldn’t do. I just couldn’t. But they were different, and they would have been interesting, And both were no money, but both were very intriguing. One very visually intriguing, the other very mentally intriguing. You know, that’s the kind of thing I do.”
Although she has done a lot of theater in the past, she hasn’t been onstage for a while. “I haven’t since 2004. People go, ‘Oh, aren’t you going to do another play?’ And what I wish people knew was, 'do you know how many plays I’ve done before you even saw me?' I’ve done hundreds of plays. I have done my share of plays.
“Would I do another one? I would do another one if the time was right and the play was right. And it is a wonderful, incredible, different experience that I think I’ve blocked out of my mind because I loved it so much.
“It’s a sharing experience with the audience. Completely different. It is completely different. And harder, more challenging, in many ways, and more exciting in lots of ways. I love television and movies too. I love the intimacy of it, I love the idea of being inside with people doing something, I love that. I just love acting period. I guess that’s it.
“But I’ve certainly found a real home in television and movies, especially television. I think television is the most alive of all of it. Theater is a different live.
"TV is alive as a medium, alive in that you don’t know the end of it. You’re living it as the audience is living it. A play, you know the beginning, middle and end. In a movie, you know the beginning, middle and end. A television series, that has a character that’s on the whole series, you don’t know where you’re going. So, it has more life in it, which makes it very exciting.”
Even as a regular in a series, Martindale can be surprised by what happens to her characters. In some cases, she knows she can perhaps influence the direction her character takes, and in others, she just waits to be surprised.
“I have no input into The Americans. They can surprise me with whatever they want.
"If I needed to have input into Sneaky Pete, if I had an idea that they may take and twist it in there some way, yeah, I think I could have input into Sneaky Pete, but more important is what you put into what you’re doing to give them ideas. Like, keep a secret and let them decide on what the secret is.
"It’s a way to help the writers explore a little bit. They can see things in what you do and use what they see in order to write something different.”
In her long career, she has found three roles that really stand out for her,”Well, I’ll tell you, there are three roles that are particularly close to my heart. One is, I did the original Truvy in Steel Magnolias, which launched my movie career, because everyone in Hollywood came to see it.
"And then I did that beautiful, not what I did, but what was written and written for me was Alexander Payne’s segment of Paris Je T’Aime, which was thrilling, and then, Mags Bennett in Justified. Couldn’t have found a part that would suit my insane imagination as well as that. Those really are the ones that I know that changed things for me.“
Something else that changed things for Martindale was winning her three Emmys. She says, “That first one opened so many doors for me, put me in another category. The next two followed were giant surprises. But I believe it’s because the first door opened to me. It’s fantastic to be thought of in the conversation. That’s the truth. Look at all the stuff that’s out there. If you’re even thought of in the conversation you’ve got a leg up.
"There’s a massive amount of stuff, and so much of it good.”