Margo Martindale’s boisterous laugh reverberated as she made her way down the hallway to the hotel suite where I was sitting at The Roxy in lower Manhattan last week. Soon enough, the door opened and the Emmy-winning actor, and her cheery disposition, entered the room.
“Hi! How are you?” she joyfully asked me, removing her raincoat and surveying herself in a mirror. “My hair’s looking flat, but … ”
After reassuring her that her hair was perfectly coiffed, I reminded Martindale of the time we chatted a few years back for her role in the John Krasinski-helmed Sundance flick “The Hollars,” in which she plays a whip-smart mother battling a brain tumor. Her performance earned copious amounts of praise, but unfortunately the movie ― which came two years before Krasinki’s “A Quiet Place” fanfare ― didn’t sit quite as well with critics.
“I got the reviews of my life, but the movie didn’t get those reviews. So then, that’s the end,” Martindale insisted with refreshing honesty. “I love John … and it didn’t matter what it was going to be. It made me cry when I read it and I loved everyone that was involved in it, so it was a win-win for me.”
First and foremost, Martindale goes with her heart when it comes to accepting roles (although money is always a good thing, too, she admitted).
She’s been a scene stealer in countless movies and TV shows over the last three decades: “Lorenzo’s Oil” (1992), “Practical Magic” (1998), “The Hours” (2002), “Million Dollar Baby” (2004), “Dexter” (2006-08), “Justified” (2011), “August: Osage County” (2013), “Mother’s Day” (2016), “The Americans” (2013-18), and the list goes on ― and on.
So, it’s no surprise she took on the part of Enid Nora Devlin in “Blow the Man Down,” an indie crime comedy by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy that recently debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Enid is a bed-and-breakfast owner in the small, beat-up fishing village of Easter Cove, Maine. Or so we think. In actuality, that B&B is a brothel, and Enid is covering up a few dark secrets; secrets the catty town matriarchs ― played by Annette O’Toole, June Squibb and Marceline Hugot ― are well aware of.
I sat down with Martindale to talk about the film, but also get down to the real question: Does she like being considered Character Actress Margo Martindale? (CC: “BoJack Horseman.”)
You’re now known as Character Actress Margo Martindale, but does that bother you? Or is that a pat-on-the-back kind of title?
I think it’s great. I mean, I think anybody who really acts is a character actress? [Laughs] I know what they think it means, but, to me, it means great.
Because is that a goal of yours …
To do something different? Absolutely. And sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you do things for money, and sometimes you do things for money that are different, too. But I’m trying very hard not to repeat myself.
Just recently you popped up in “The Act” on Hulu as Patricia Arquette’s [who plays Dee Dee Blanchard] mother. Dee Dee is, of course, known for her Munchausen by proxy case.
That was an incredible experience. Truly, truly exciting. And fun to create that crazy look. A very different look for me and a different woman, really. And I love Patricia and I knew that story well.
Dee Dee’s mother is a real person, so did you expand on what you researched or try to create a character?
Well, there was not much to read about her mother. All I did was look at pictures and the more pictures I saw, the more I wanted to play her. That’s when I asked to wear a wig because I saw one picture of her hair and I thought, “Oh yeah, I got to do this.” That hair is fantastic! It was a little manly, combed-over a bit later on in her life, I guess, so they made mine look younger, bigger, but still! And she had great eyebrows. Honestly, I showed my friends and husband pictures and said, “Look at this woman! I have to do this! I have to!”
What’s it like to be on a set of a show for just one episode?
Honestly, they were so embracing and it was an ongoing story, so it didn’t feel like I was anything but a huge part of it. That’s the way they made it feel. And Patricia and I have worked together before and the arc of the part was all stages of her life really in a very compact time, so it did everything I like to do.
Do guest roles interest you more than having a full-blown gig — where you can just come in, play a bit and move on to something else?
Not usually. Usually, I want a full-blown gig, but that was a very particular, extraordinary beginning, middle and end, and a real reason for that part. It was worth doing one episode.
So how did you come to be a part of the indie “Blow the Man Down” — a dark thriller-comedy, I’d say.
I was very interested in the story when they sent it to me. I liked where it was set and I liked that it was so dark and funny. I liked that it was all women and a lot of older women who were powerful. I liked that it was a lot about friendship. And I liked that it had some murder in it.
Yes, set in this nice Maine fishing village, and boom, a murder. What?
[Laughs] So good! But you know how that kind of thing can happen? In a seaport town, all the sailors come in and those women were being used up and, some of them, discarded before I came in and made a business out of it.
You got to work with June Squibb and Annette O’Toole …
And Marceline Hugot. June and I are friends for 40 some-odd years. We live next door to each other — we’re neighbors!
So it must’ve been so much fun to shoot this together.
Oh yeah. We all stayed in an inn together and we would have our cocktail hour and June, man, she’s something else. She really is. She is really remarkable.
I can’t imagine what that cocktail hour was like! What did you ladies drink?
We mostly drank martinis. [Laughs] I could usually have one martini and then I’d have to have wine, but June could do more than one.
Well, she’s June Squibb!
That’s right, she’s June Squibb! She’s something else.
Does this movie, with a comedic undertone, add to that camaraderie on set?
Yes, and it was just a great group ― a great group of gals. And the young women [Morgan Saylor, Sophie Lowe] are just fabulous. And Gayle Rankin, who I just love. It was a really great group and a beautiful setting and Drew [Houpt] who produced it is a class act and it was all done beautifully.
We stayed in Brunswick, Maine … in the winter. Extraordinarily beautiful. And then we shot out across islands. I mean, we were out on the peaks and it just couldn’t be prettier. A lot of the bars and places we were in, those are real places we went.
Do you enjoy being on location rather than on, say, a soundstage?
I think it’s really, really nice. Years ago, I did “Practical Magic” and we shot that in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle, and they built the facade of the house since it was supposed to be East Coast. But we all lived on one of those islands in a little group of cottages — a coven of women. And this movie reminded me of that somehow.
You’ve been on a handful of TV shows — “The Americans,” “Justified.” Is it overwhelming now to see the sheer amount of content out there?
I’m just trying to focus on what I’m doing and not thinking that there are 1,000 of these out there. You rise to the top in the ones you’re in and if you don’t, just do good work. I have “Sneaky Pete” dropping May 10 and it’s the third season, and that group of actors is extraordinary. Will it ever rise to the top? I don’t know. Should it? Yes. But I’m just saying to go, do the work and make it the very best it can be.
I’m sure when “Game of Thrones” is off the air, people will be looking for something else to watch …
Well it was off the air for a minute!
Two years! But it feels like it’s the only show anyone’s talking about now.
[Laughs] It is all anyone’s talking about. My daughter included. She’s now watched every episode of “Game of Thrones” — she came to the party late — and she’s like, “I can’t go anywhere tonight because [deep, presenter-like voice] ‘Game of Thrones.’”
Would you do a medieval fantasy show? Damn, that would be fun.
[Laughs] No. But maybe I should watch it! Medieval Margo! Medieval Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale! [Laughs some more]
Well maybe it’s not medieval, but you have another crime movie “The Kitchen” coming out, co-starring Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss and Melissa McCarthy. That must’ve been fun.
It’s fun, yeah. It could’ve been … [Pause] I wish we could’ve played a little more. But we played plenty.
Whenever you have comedy it’s fun to play …
A drama? With Tiffany Haddish?
I think it might be funny. [Laughs] Let’s just say, it is a superhero women movie. It’s some bad women, which makes for some kind of … it’s one of those odd things. It’s both.
You play an Irish mob wife, is that correct?
My husband was the head of the Irish mob and he went to prison and I really did all the work behind the scenes, and then those girls come along. Tiffany is married to my son in the movie.
And you run this operation?
I was running it until these bitches came around. [Laughs]
You said you do things for the money sometimes. But in the current Hollywood landscape, can you be a little pickier when there’s more content out there?
I’m pretty picky, but I’m not in Hollywood. I’m in New Yaaark. I’ve worked out there a lot and I did a movie this year because it fit into my schedule — “Instant Family” — and I’m so happy I did it because I thought it was just a lovely, funny, important movie about the foster care system.
So that’s how you decide to take something on — when you feel it?
I felt it was fresh, that’s what I felt. And I started it, I went to Maine, I shot in Maine, finished in Maine, flew back to Atlanta, finished that, and then I did “The Kitchen.”
Is it hard to bump back and forth from characters?
I can tell you that was the first time I would have to remind myself, “What town am I in?” But not usually.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.