When the opportunity to interview character actress Margo Martindale came my way, I jumped at the chance. If her name isn’t familiar to you, her face will probably ring many bells. She has been a mainstay on screen for years in such films as Million Dollar Baby, Secretariat, Dead Man Walking, The Firm, and The Hours, as well as on television in shows like Dexter and Medium.
I have followed Martindale’s career since the late 1970’s when she was a stage actress at the wonderful Actors Theater of Louisville in my Kentucky hometown. While there, she worked with Kathy Bates. The two remain good friends, and Martindale guest starred last year on Bates’ television series, Harry’s Law.
I was thrilled for Martindale when she finally got some well-deserved recognition – a 2011 Emmy Award for her role on Justified, the FX series that stars Timothy Olyphant. She is also working on a screenplay of her own now, so we can look forward to enjoying more aspects of her talent in the future.
After chatting briefly about our mutual friends from the Louisville days, we talked about the low-budget indie film, Scalene, in which Martindale gives a tour de force performance as Janice, the mother of a young man with brain damage. The New York Times review said, “Ms. Martindale tears through the film like a homely avenger. If Oscar ever deigned to glance outside the multiplex, Meryl Streep would be toast.”
Written by Zack Parker and Brandon Owens and directed by Parker, the film is intense and intricate. Parker gradually unfolds the story by telling it three ways – each from the point of view of one of the main characters, who are Martindale’s Janice, her son played by Adam Scarimbolo, and his young caregiver played by Hanna Hall. Just like the sides of a scalene triangle, the stories are not equal, and the viewer is left wondering which telling is true. Plus, there’s a twist that I didn’t see coming.
How did the role of Janice in Scalene come to you?
Zack Parker wrote it, I think, with me in mind. He sent it to my agent, and my agent sent it to me. We were on vacation, and I read it and thought it was very compelling, suspenseful, and well-written. A completely complicated script, and that intrigued me.
And the kind of character you don’t get to play all that often.
That’s exactly right. So, it was really fun for me.
What were the biggest challenges taking on a role like that? Janice is largely unsympathetic.
The biggest challenge was trying to figure out, going backwards, how to arc it. I had to be reminded whose point of view we were in because each point of view was so different. One was more sinister, and that was hard, but especially going backwards.
Was the script engraved in stone, or was any of it improvised?
None of it was improvised.
It really had an improvisational quality, which is a tribute to everybody.
Those guys are really good. I thought Hanna and Adam were really, really good…. And Zack Parker has real vision. He has his own style. Given more money, I think he’ll do even that much better.
Emotionally speaking, was it difficult to inhabit Janice?
No. [Laughter] I wish I could say that it was, but it wasn’t.
You’ve often played roles that are very emotionally charged.
Yeah, it almost sometimes is better if I have less because it [playing intense emotion] comes so easily to me. I sort of have to fight that. Because [Scalene] was arc’d backwards, I noticed that I hit a couple of peaks too many times. That’s my criticism of what I saw. It’s very, very difficult [to shoot in that way].
You recently won your first Emmy. I know everybody’s asking you what it feels like, but damn it, what does it feel like?
It feels incredible! And it has really changed things. Things have been good for quite a while, but things are even better now.
More people have taken notice of you?
That’s right. Then, people notice that they’ve noticed me and have been noticing me.
Do you still do a lot of theater?
No. I’ve been offered a really great show, but I can’t do it because I’m doing something that I really am excited about, but I can’t tell you about it until negotiations have finished. It was a wonderful play that I really wanted to do. It’s the first play that has really excited me in a while. It’s also hard to take yourself out of movies and television for huge chunks of time doing a show. You really take yourself out of things…. Plus, roles for women my age are hard to find that are interesting.
Do you think things are changing for older women?
I hope so. Wouldn’t that be nice? I see that on television, it seems to be better. So, we’ll see.
But then, Kathy Bates’ show [Harry’s Law] just got cancelled.
I know, but that’s okay. She’ll be just fine. I don’t even know how she feels about it. We’ve been talking, but she hasn’t said anything about how she feels. I know that it was incredibly hard work because it was all her.
Yes, she really carried that show.
Maybe it would be nice if we did a buddy TV series.
I would love that!
It would be really fun! I think I should pitch that.