Martindale “finally got cast” in a 1996 episode of the original series after director Martha Mitchell saw her performance in Dead Man Walking opposite Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. She ultimately appeared in just one scene as travel agent Ms. Best, so she was delighted to return to the Dick Wolf franchise 10 years later, by way of Special Victims Unit. “I worked with some people that I absolutely loved,” she tells TVLine, including the late Leo Burmester (pictured right), who she first met working at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. In the episode, “We kept children in cages. We were people that were using some sort of therapy to train kids to do what we wanted… Leo and I laughed our asses off about that.”
Martindale’s Catherine, a psychic mentor to Patricia Arquette’s Allison, was based on a real person. As she recalls, her recurring role was cut short after a dispute between the producers and the medium. “I was coming back, [then] they decided to get rid of my character,” she says with a laugh. All told, Martindale appeared in three episodes, then Catherine was never to be seen again.
“I had a magnificent time working with Eddie Izzard, Minnie Driver, Noel Fisher and Shannon Woodward,” Martindale says while lamenting the late FX drama’s writers strike-fueled demise in 2007. Her character, Nina Burns, “was stoned the whole time” and dabbled in erotic pottery, which she and Driver found absolutely high-larious. “I remember Adam Arkin directed one of the episodes, and [Nina] was in the garage building something that looked like a penis!”
Martindale’s Camilla was there from the very beginning, appearing in five episodes before her character was euthanized by the titular serial killer in Season 3. “The last two episodes,” in which Camilla was in hospice care after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, “were just fabulous,” she says. Even better, her final scene was directed by Steve Shill, who she previously worked with on the short-lived A&E drama 100 Centre Street. “Honestly, I thought I was really, really good in this scene, then he came in and whispered in my ear, ‘Margo, you can go deeper.’ [Laughs] And he was right. I had not hit where I should have been, and he got me there.”
Martindale won her first Emmy for her portrayal of crime family matriarch Mags Bennett. The character was only supposed to appear in a handful of episodes, then blossomed into Season 2’s Big Bad. “I’ve never felt that exhilarated by any part… it was like flying — and the fool that wrote it is right down the hall,” she says with a laugh, noting that Yost is also in the building at the time of our interview.
Exec producer Jake Kasdan, who previously worked with Martindale on the John C. Reilly movie Walk Hard: The Dewie Cox Story, personally asked that she play Nick Miller’s mother Bonnie. She obliged, but was thrown off guard when she got to set. “When I got there, they told me I had to do a Chicago accent,” she recalls. “‘A Chicago accent?! Why didn’t you tell me that before I got here?’ So Zooey Deschanel coached me, and I think I got it. And then I got to sing ‘In the Ghetto’ [at Walt’s Elvis-themed funeral], and it was really fun. What a great show!”
Martindale had never done a multi-camera sitcom prior to portraying Will Arnett’s mother in the CBS comedy. “[I] fed off the studio audience’s energy immediately,” she recalls. “It was a giant learning curve and I loved every moment of it… I love Will. The chemistry between us was pretty great.” Will & Grace‘s Sean Hayes was added in Season 2, and it “changed the chemistry. It was now Will, me and Sean, and it was a little bit different.” Audiences didn’t respond, and the series was quickly cancelled.
THE GOOD WIFE
Martindale was thrilled when she got cast on the acclaimed CBS drama, portraying political strategist Ruth Eastman during the final season. She considered it a “luxury job, because you were so well taken care of” under the leadership of creators Michelle and Robert King. They have since invited her back to reprise her role on the CBS All Access spinoff The Good Fight, in which Ruth will now be in charge of the Democratic National Committee during Season 2.
There was some slight hesitation on Martindale’s part about voicing a heightened version of herself on the animated comedy. “I told Will [Arnett] that I didn’t want to do it [and] didn’t have time to do it, and he said, ‘Well, the part is Character Actress Margo Martindale,’ so I guess I’m doing it! Once I got in there, though, I was committed” to the part, which is “bigger, louder, meaner and tougher [than I am].” She’ll return in the upcoming Season 5, having survived crashing BoJack’s boat into a cargo ship carrying imported pasta.
By the time she spoke with TVLine, Martindale had “said goodbye” to the character of Claudia, having already wrapped production on the FX drama’s farewell season. The final shooting days were “really hard,” she says, and leaving the set was “way more emotional than I thought it’d be.” Mum’s the word on the fate of Elizabeth and Phillip’s KGB supervisor — a role that has earned Martindale two of her threeEmmys — but she leaves us with this when asked about the end: “The story is surprisingly emotional in a way that you will not expect.”