Eye on Emmy: Raising Hope's Martha Plimpton Is Having a Moment

Without exaggerating, Martha Plimpton can say that she’s done it all. Movies? Check. (Everything from Oscar bait like Running on Empty to cult classics like The Goonies.) Television? Check. (A 2002 guest appearance on Law & Order: SVU earned her an Emmy nod.) Theater? Check. (She’s been nominated for a Tony three times.) She’s even modeled (for Calvin Klein, in the 1980s) and sung (at Lincoln Center, no less, in her own one-woman show). But it’s her sweetly tart portrayal of baby-faced grandma Virginia Chance on the freshman Fox series Raising Hope that may be winning Plimpton the most enthusiastic audience of her career — as well as, just maybe, this year’s Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

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TVLINE | Congratulations on all the Emmy buzz about you!
There’s Emmy buzz about me? Oh, that’s nice!

TVLINE | I can’t be the first person to tell you that.
Yeah, you are, actually. Thanks!

TVLINE | Do you care about that kind of thing, or is it more like, “OK, cool, whatever”?
It’s hard not to care about something like that, because it means people are watching the show and liking it, which is huge. I mean, that’s what we’re doing it for. It doesn’t hurt to feel a little bit validated and encouraged that we’re doing a good job. That’s a nice feeling, going into the second season knowing that people are watching the show and talking about it.

TVLINE | Even if it’s you rather than the show that gets nominated, in a team-spirit kind of way it’s got to let you know, “Hey, we’re on the right track!”
Exactly. If this happens! It’s early in the game, and this [nomination chatter] is new territory for me. I don’t even know when the Emmys are! And there’s a lot of good stuff on television, a lot of good writing and a lot of shows that people really love.

TVLINE | You’ve been up for awards before. What’s that like for you? Do you get stressed out, or is it, “Whee, party time!”?
Well, the Tonys are really fun in the sense that you see all the people you know and worked with all year. It’s a much smaller community than Hollywood is, so it is kind of like a party. And people in the theater world don’t often get an opportunity to wear really fancy clothes! So that’s fun… But as far as [getting] an actual award itself, that’s another thing… I was nominated three years in a row [for a Tony] and didn’t win. I had a lot of people saying to me, “Hey, you were robbed!” I don’t really see it that way. I kind of feel like I’m in probably the best company there is! A lot of great people have lost. A lot of really, really great people! I know people say this and you never believe them, but…

TVLINE | Oh, you’re not going to say it!
I am! People think you’re full of [bleep] or you’re a [bleep]ing liar, but I really, really appreciated just being nominated! That is 100-percent sincere.

TVLINE | Coming from you, I almost buy that. Now, you go back and forth between very mainstream material and really out-there stuff. Is that a conscious choice, to try to keep yourself from being pigeonholed?
Being a character actress, I just kind of go where the work is. I want to keep working. And you have to keep working if you want to stay sharp… and if you want to stay in your apartment! For me, there’s no strategy other than that I want to keep working. And for me to do that, as a character actress — and even though I’ve done 80 roles, mostly in the theater — I have to keep my chops up. For a long time, I was doing mostly theater with the occasional TV guest spot thrown in when I could, because that’s where the work was that was most interesting to me. I wasn’t getting offers to star in giant movies.

TVLINE | Would you really want to fight aliens in some blow-’em-up blockbuster?
Not particularly! Although I will say that it would not have been horrible to do a couple. [Laughs] The work that might have been happening in movies at that time [when I was focused on theater], or at least that I was hearing about, was just stuff that I didn’t really think I wanted to do. Talk about being pigeonholed! It was the same character all the time… The Most Successful Quirky Best Friend… I wanted to be able to do different things and play different kinds of people… to work with people who were smart and from whom I could learn some things.

TVLINE | That said, did you have any trepidation about signing up for Raising Hope and potentially playing the same character for years?
No. The writing I saw in the pilot left me thinking, “Oh, this is going to be fun.” [Besides] there’s no guarantee that the show is going to go on and on, so you have to just take the plunge. I could just tell from meeting Greg Garcia [the series’ creator] and talking to him, that the writing was going to stay sharp and smart. He’s just a very smart guy and a very decent guy. Very ethical. His heart is 100 percent in the right place. And that comes through on the page. You can see in the writing that, as dark as it might get sometimes with things that happened in the pilot — like the baby flying across the car in the car seat — it never felt cynical or vicious. It never felt cruel. It always felt like it had, at its core, a very authentically kind heart.

TVLINE | Do you think, in these trying times in the real world, that’s something people are yearning for in their comedy right now — a sense of kindness?
The thing about it is, it’s not treacly or corny. There’s little danger — I hope! — of watching an episode and seeing some fake, plastered-on sweetheart ending. It’s not like you’ve watched 20 minutes of viciousness and buffoonery and people being jerks to one another, and have the last two minutes turn into a “lesson” of some kind. Over the course of the show you’re seeing these people who are on the same team. They love each other. They’re all idiots, but they’re all trying to figure stuff out together. There’s something great about that, and it leaves more room in the writing for it to be expansive, funny and honest. There’s more there to be mined when there’s less hostility going on. You get the sense that, even if these people don’t agree with each other on exactly the right way of going about something, they’re in it together.

TVLINE | Yeah, an element of “If these guys can do it, by God, so can we!”
Right. Or “Look at what horrible parents those people are! I’m really doing OK!”

TVLINE | I know you were concerned about playing a grandmother on the show. Is it a relief now that Virginia’s being regarded as a GILF?
Oh my God! [Laughs] I’m pleased that that joke is working and fits into the body of the show so well. To be honest, I feel comfortable being my age [which is 41]. I guess it remains to be seen what happens after this, but I don’t feel like Greg is aging me at all! I’m not walking away with a gray wig on and saying things like, “Hey there, sonny!” I’m not playing older than I am, so that’s good.

TVLINE | If you do end up winning the Emmy, is there anyone you plan on forgetting in your acceptance speech that you’d like to thank now, just in case?
It’ll probably be like the most important person, like Greg Garcia. I don’t even like to think about such things! I think it’s distracting. One of the things that you try hardest to do as an actress is be in the moment, so thinking ahead to such eventualities is impractical and probably unhealthy. In other words, I don’t write acceptance speeches!