Martindale’s Acting Passion Started in Jacksonville
There’s something sweet and saucy and wise all at the same time about Margo Martindale that makes people smile when she enters a room. It’s like she knows something amusing others can’t quite see just yet and they eagerly wait for her to let it out in her friendly East Texas accent and make the world a better place for a few moments.
And she doesn’t disappoint — she’s just fun to hang out with whether as her real self or a character she’s portraying.
Martindale’s career in film, stage, and television spans more than 30 years and includes hundreds of movies and shows.
Some of her most recent and memorable are The Millers, The Americans, Justified, The Good Wife, BoJack Horseman, and Mike & Molly, and films, Mother’s Day, The Boss, August: Osage County, Secretariat, The Hours, Million Dollar Baby, Dead Man Walking, and many, many others.
She’s won numerous awards and nominations, almost always for “best supporting actress”and as part of an“ ensemble cast.” Oh yeah, and then there are those two little Emmy awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Justified in 2011 and Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for The Americans in 2013.
The actress already appears in four movies this year and pops up on television often. She doesn’t sit still very long. At 65, roles keep falling into her lap and she doesn’t waste time jumping in.
It’s really no surprise that life is going this way for Martindale — the seed was planted a long time ago as a little girl growing up in Jacksonville, Texas, and jumping in is what she’s always done.
Born July 18, 1951, to Margaret (Pruitt) and William Everett Martindale, Margo has really good memories of her childhood. Her father owned a lumber company and was a dog handler. Her mother was a stay-at- home mom while she and her older two brothers were growing up.
“She was really the most incredible artistic person ever,” Martindale recalls. “She decorated everything, did parties, and was active mostly in antiques, flowers, and bridge. She was a wonderful woman.”
Margo’s brother Billy is 13 years older. He is a professional golfer and a golf course designer, among other business and ranching interests, and now lives in Dallas. Her brother Bobby Tim was five years older — he passed away in 2004.
With her siblings being so much older — and athletic boys — the imaginative young Margo was left to create a world of her own along the shores of Lake Jacksonville.
“It was an idyllic setting,” she recalls fondly.” Prettiest place ever. We had a playhouse in the backyard. I had so much fun. We rode horses, picked blackberries, went out in boats, and motored around everywhere. It was completely free.”
One of her favorite things to do as a child was to “act out stories.” Often she’d play the role of different characters, really diving in to each one of them for a week or more at a time.
“I became lots of different people — a beautician, the head of an orphanage, a school teacher,” she said.
Young Martindale often enlisted the neighborhood kids to participate in her creative activities. During her hairdresser stage, for instance, she cut a bunch of kids’ hair and in her fictitious orphanage and school, she gave them roles to play.
“I thought they were all there for me. They didn’t know they were actors. They were my alley gang.”
Martindale’s creativity and enjoyment of the arts never waned, but she did have a big challenge that entered her life.
When she was 12 years old, she was diagnosed with scoliosis so severe she had to wear a body brace well into high school.
“I had to wear it 24 hours a day for two and a half years, and then in the third year I could take it off for pep rallies,” she recalls.
In high school she got to take it off for school but continued to sleep in it for a total of six years. That was enough to hold her spine so it didn’t get any more crooked. She doesn’t recall a lot of pain, or didn’t recognize it as that, she said. Instead, she thinks of the positives that came from those days.
“It helped form my personality. I was outgoing. It built character. During my junior and senior year I was well out and flying high by then.”
Not one to sit back and watch, she was a cheerleader in junior high and was voted Miss Jacksonville High School her senior year, 1969.
Her childhood acting bug resurfaced in high school when her choir teacher told her she had a “loud voice” and she should audition for a musical. Noticing her talent immediately was the drama teacher, James D. Everett, who gave her key roles.
“I played Rosie Alvarez in Bye Bye Birdie,” Martindale remembers. “The next year we did Glass Menagerie and then Calamity Jane.”
She modestly jokes about being chosen lead for the plays.
“My class was 99 people — not a big group to choose from.”
After high school Martindale went to the local junior college, Lon Morris, widely known for its Theatre Arts Department. Other successful alumni are Sandy Duncan, K.T. Oslin, Tommy Tune, and Neal McCoy.
It was quite remarkable that right there in her hometown was a famous acting teacher, Zula Pearson. Just like other times in her life, Martindale jumped in and made her early college days memorable.
“It was a magical place. It had everything you wanted to do for drama. A special, special place.”
While at Lon Morris College, Martindale applied for and was awarded theatre scholarships. In a “well thought out” plan for where to go after junior college, she and a couple of close friends saw a brochure for the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor — it had a picture of actors Helen Hayes and Jimmy Stewart on the cover.
“So we wanted to go there,” Martindale said.
Turns out Hayes and Stewart didn’t even go to that university.
“We were not very worldly,” she quips.
While her friends moved on to other places before too long, Martindale decided to stick it out.
“I stayed and did every play I could.”
From Michigan, Martindale got a job at Harvard and did The Threepenny Opera with Christopher Reeve and Jonathan Frakes. While there, she met many other actors from Julliard and moved to New York with them in 1974.
Her first professional paid theatre work was a David Mamet children’s play, The Revenge of the Space Pandas or Binky Rudich
and the Two-Speed Clock.
By the time Martindale was 24 she’d done 100 plays. In New York, she met her husband, musician Bill Boals, a fellow Texan from Frisco. They were married in 1986, and their daughter was born in 1988.
A year before daughter Maggie was born, Martindale played Truvy Jones — who runs the local beauty salon — in the original Steel Magnolias off Broadway, the role played by Dolly Parton eventually in the movie. But in 1987, it belonged to Martindale and she gave it her all. It was a big turning point for her career.
“Everybody came to see it (from Hollywood) and then I got into the movies from there.”
Perhaps her childhood hairdresser play days in Jacksonville helped to prepare her for this pivotal role.
Her first movie was Days of Thunder with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Robert Duvall. She played the minor role of Donna the timekeeper at the stock car races. Apparently she was so “real” in the role that Duvall actually thought she was the timekeeper for the movie company, not part of the story. He noticed her authenticity and discussed working with her on The Apostle, for which he wanted real people.
Days of Thunder released in 1990. Just about every year since then, Martindale’s been keeping it real in at least one movie — sometimes two or three or four — each year.
Her favorite roles she notes very quickly: the FX television series Justified and the documentary movie Paris, je t’aime (Paris, I Love You) in which she has a lead role.
Opening in theaters in 2006, Paris, je t’aime is a series of short films in various locations around Paris. One of them is directed by Alexander Payne and features Martindale as Carol, a letter carrier from Denver on a lonely trip to Paris.
She said Payne (About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska) called her up and said, “I’ve written a movie for you. There’s no money, but will you come to Paris and do it?”
She thought, “Come to Paris? We’d never been to Paris. Yes, yes I will.”
Then Payne asked her, “By the way, do you speak French?” When Martindale told him no, he said, “even better.”
Payne coached her through learning French phonetically. She said she loved working with him because he really understood her and everything clicked. In one scene she beautifully expresses “happy and sad” at the same time. She did that, she said, by thinking about her daughter playing as a child and then her mother who passed away just a few years earlier. Her raw emotions and authentic style made a strong impression on viewers and the segment was lauded as the best of the entire movie by many critics.
Fast forward to 2011 and meet her next favorite character so far, the sinister family matriarch Mags Bennett, in the second season of TV’s Justified.
Created by Graham Yost, and based on Elmore Leonard’s short story, “Fire in the Hole,” Justified is an American crime drama series set in the Appalachian Mountains and surrounding areas of Kentucky. The story centers on a tough U.S. Marshal — played by Timothy Olyphant — with his own brand of justice. Plots abound to “clean up the town” from drug dealers, murderers, gunmen, and other bad guys. The series features intriguing relationships that make for great entertainment.
“It’s very beautiful writing,” Martindale said. “Graham Yost is about my favorite writer.”
When Martindale enters the scene in Season 2, the focus shifts to the criminal dealings of the Bennett clan. She plays Mags, mother to three sons ready to expand their marijuana business.
“Doing Mags Bennett was just like flying — it was so much freedom,” Martindale said. “I was kind of a smart mountain woman who had my own set of rules. Quite a wonderful ride.”
Martindale’s biggest project this summer is the movie The Hollars (with John Krasinski, Josh Groban, Anna Kendrick, Charlie Day, Richard Jenkins, and Sharlto Copley) in which she plays the sickly mother in a dysfunctional family. As they learn about reconnecting and laughing through the tears the audience gets a real, honest combination of drama and comedy.
“It’s a story of a family,” Martindale says. “It’s really about how families pull together and generations move on. Really, really good. I love it. Beautifully done.”
Directed and produced by Krasinski (The Office), he says the movie was written with Martindale in mind.
“She was the only person I wanted for it,” he said in an interview at the Sundance Film Festival recently.
He said signing on Martindale made it easy to fill the rest of the roles — when the other actors heard she was in, they wanted in too.
Everybody, it seems, loves working with Margo Martindale.
The Hollars releases August 26.
It’s been a long and winding road through many successes along the way for Martindale — and the successes just keep on coming. She credits much of this to a lifelong passion that began in a small backyard playhouse in Jacksonville, Texas.
“You’ve got to believe in yourself no matter what, and keep moving forward, and look for the passion, not the money,” she said.
She comes back to East Texas often to visit high school friends and family here and in Dallas and husband Bill’s hometown of Frisco.
Her small town upbringing reminds her a bit of the Upper West Side of Manhattan neighborhood where she’s lived now for 30-plus years, she said.
“My block is small town America. It’s a real community. We share births and deaths. Very sweet. We sit on the stoop and before you know it, there’s a party.”
Her “wonderful” daughter Maggie — a teacher in the Bronx — is not far away.
Martindale loves animals and currently has an elderly rescue dog named Sky that she got from the pound just before September 11, 2001, when she was about a year old.
“She was on death row,” Martindale says. “She’s a mix of Maltese, Shih Tzu, Poodle, and something that sheds.”
Martindale still likes to cut hair and grooms her own dog.
“I do all my hairdos on my dog.”
She’s trying to be a gardener, but it’s clear her passion for performing is always on her mind.
“I’d like to do another play, a musical,” she said.
Hopefully, she’ll continue to enter the perfect stages, sharing her delightful Margo Martindale vibe as often as possible for a long time to come.