Margo Martindale, who recently won a Best Supporting Actress Emmy for her work as the villainous Mags on Justified, now takes the lead in a very small, very indie film called Scalene. The film shifts timelines and points of view among the three main characters — a single mother, her disabled son, and his college-age part-time caretaker — each of whom has a very different take on whether or not the son has committed a rape and whether the mother has abused him. The POV shifts constantly change the story’s tone, so at times, depending on who is telling the story, Martindale’s character Janice seems either frazzled or indifferent, loving or loathing. The question, of course, is: Which take on this woman is the truth? During a set break while shooting her new show, A Gifted Man, Martindale set the record straight — a bit — and revealed how her Emmy statuette got broken and what she intends to do about it.
Thanks for taking the time to talk during your shooting break. What would you be doing usually?
Playing Words With Friends — I’m addicted! I’m a little Alec Baldwin. I would love to play it with him someday, why not?
With the constantly changing perspectives and nonlinear storytelling, do you think of Scalene as a comedy or a drama?
It’s a little wild! I didn’t know what it was when I first read it. I was in the middle of a cross-country trip with my family when I got it, and my daughter, who was 21 at the time, really liked it. In the beginning, I think it’s a comedy, because there are these very comic overtones, like when she tries to shoot the gun and it keeps jamming. But then it changes with each perspective from the three main characters, and there’s this tension between each character’s perspective. It’s impossible to say who is telling the truth. Was I abusing my son? I didn’t think I was. So I played it like I was not guilty, but it works either way. But taking care of a disabled child, all by yourself, is an impossible task. At what point do you finally say, “I can’t do it anymore”? So my character is completely worn out when we meet her; she’s already at her limit. It’s just a little independent movie, a backyard movie, but I can’t wait to see what [director Zack Parker] can do with a real budget.
This is the first complicated role you’ve had since Mags Bennett, where you can be both maternal and malevolent.
Mags is Mags. I’ll get to do something like that again one day, I’m sure. But I did this long before I even met Mags Bennett.
Do you keep an eye on Justified? Have you been watching the new season? All these new villains are trying to fill the void Mags left.
You know, they sent me the first few episodes, but all I’ve seen is the first one so far. I thought that one was really good! That show has such great writers. Those Justified guys, I wish they would write me a new show! [Laughs.] I pitched them the idea of doing a spinoff, a prequel: Mags, the early years. I wondered what it would have been like as she came to power, but you’d need a younger actress to play her. Mags was so much fun, but it’s over, and I have to move on.
What did you do with your Emmy? Where do you keep it?
I had it in our bedroom, but it’s broken, and I have to send it back. We were traveling back by airplane, and my husband had it in his luggage, and the luggage handlers must have tossed it around, because the globe was broken off. So they’ll have to send me another one. [Laughs.]
With your stints on Justified and Dexter, I always associate you with pie. Key-lime pie, apple-pie moonshine. I half-expected you to bring out some pie on the last episode of A Gifted Man, but it was cupcakes instead.
It’s strange to be the pie lady! I should have brought out some pie — that would have been a good idea. I should have everything associated with pie. But you know what, I actually don’t like Key-lime pie. I had to keep eating it on Dexter, and I had to eat so much, I actually started to enjoy it a bit — there were one or two variations I did like. But that was a lot of pie!
When are they going to start having you do something more worthy of your talents on A Gifted Man? Or let you get into the supernatural stuff?
Maybe they can infuse my part with some more stuff. I would love to do something supernatural. Maybe I should open a card-reading shop in the reception area! I could get some high-end clients there. I’m totally open and receptive to the supernatural, probably more than anyone here.
I heard you saw a ghost once?
It was in a dream, so it was real and not real at the same time. My late actress friend Susan Kingsley came back [as a ghost], and she was wearing a gold dress, and she sat on the corner of my bed. She was reading from the Book of Life, and I forget what she was saying, but it sounded very true at the time. I asked her, “Can people see you?” And she took her finger and slid it down her face so I could see she was clear, but wearing some makeup so as not to be transparent. It was an incredible dream.
So what’s next for you?
I’m going to Jacksonville, Texas, for a family reunion, and while I’m there, I want to go take pictures of the place where I had my first job, as a teenager, because I’m writing a script about it. When I was 16, I worked at a mental institution for the criminally insane, teaching drama. It was the only job I could get at the time! I liked theater, so I volunteered to work with the men there, and I thought I could make a movie about it — it’s an interesting story. I don’t think I’ll be in it, but maybe I’ll make a cameo. But I want to take pictures to help me remember everything, because I’m in the really early stages of writing. Then I’ll give it to someone else to shape up!