To give you an indication of the kind of delightful person actress Margo Martindale is, please allow me to quote a passage from our interview. Margo, presented without context: “When I started to shoot that, I broke down crying. *Laughs* That’s the pussy I really am.” In the span of two sentences, she’s fragile, funny, and lewd — she’s the perfect mother, grandmother, best friend, drug kingpin, whatever you want her to be, which is why it was such a delight to see her on last night’s episode of The Americans, FX’s latest quality drama.
Of course Martindale’s best known for her Emmy-winning work as Mags Bennett on another FX show, Justified, one of the many shows, movies, and topics we discussed during a recent chat on the phone. Also covered: singing, dancing, working with Meryl Streep, the Emmys, and, of course, The Americans. Also, pie. Always pie.
Tell me a little bit about your character on The Americans, Claudia.
I am a KGB operative. I’ve been in the United States for many, many, many years. I’m Phillip and Elizabeth’s handler. From what I understand from [creator] Joe [Weisberg], these handlers, these KBG agents who were deep cover here, were picked particularly for their skills, especially their ability to read people. I give Phillip and Elizabeth the messages from the higher-ups in Russia; I run them.
One of the things that most grabbed my attention about The Americans when it was announced is that it’s led by a female, the only FX show to do so, with the possible exception of American Horror Story. Both you and Keri Russell are very prominent in the marketing, too.
Keri, especially. I’m certainly a supporting character, but a very important supporting character. Keri, though, she’s a young Claudia. Her first and foremost eye is on the Motherland. We’re very, very devote soldiers. Phillip is probably…less. He has ideas of getting out. But it’s exciting — they’re both so incredibly good.
Before The Americans, you were on Justified, and it seems like that happens a lot — a person on one FX show going to another. What is it about the network that breeds such familiarity?
I think John Landgraf is as good as it gets. He’s a genius. I did a series before on FX, too, The Riches with Eddie Izzard, and it feels like the right place for me. It’s edgy and interesting. I think he has great taste in what he picks. I’m very happy to be here…I was also very happy to be on the show I was on last year on CBS [A Gifted Man]. That was luxury compared to this, being in the studio all the time [ED. NOTE: before I started recording, we had a back-and-forth about the terrible weather in New York, and how she had to work outside in the cold all day].
Is there a big difference between shooting a network and cable show?
In what we’re shooting, yes. Justified, for example, was all location for me. We were out in the raw. For The Americans, I’ll never be inside, I don’t think. A Gifted Man was all inside, which was really nice. *Laughs*
I can’t think of a TV show character that made more of an impact in 10 episodes than Mags did. Did you know coming in what her full arc was going to be?
Nope. They didn’t either. It was a perfect fit. It’ll be hard to find that again. It was one of those perfect everythings. To play someone like that who was actually smart and a hillbilly is really fun for me. It was deliciously fun.
And you got to sing. Was that the first time?
It was! They didn’t even know if I could carry a tune!
It was great. You even did a little jig.
*Laughs* I love that episode. I had a blast. Great directors, too. We’re getting a few Justified people on The Americans, too.
When you read Mags’ fate, were you torn apart?
Yes, I was. In fact, I don’t think it could have been any other way. It was too grand, too high, too perfect for it to have ended any other way. When I started to shoot that, I broke down crying. *Laughs* That’s the pussy I really am.