Margo Martindale tells AARP about her new limited series, Mrs. America (FX on Hulu), centered on the 1970s Equal Rights Amendment fight between her character, Bella Abzug (and her fellow feminists Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm and Betty Friedan), a New York City congresswoman, and anti-ERA conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, played by Cate Blanchett, 50.
Why Mrs. America is good to watch now
Honestly, I found it very comforting. I don't know why, because it's upsetting that the ERA is not ratified yet. Maybe because it was a time that was hard that we got through. I think it's great historical escapism.
How to play Bella Abzug
It's exciting and a big, huge responsibility. You read as much as you can, watch as many videos as you can — there are lots because she was such a public figure. And you listen to her voice before you start every day. I worked with a dialect coach for two months. It's the most studying I've ever done for a role. And then you try to make it be yours.
Her feminist memories
When I moved to New York in my 20s, in 1974, the women's movement was all around, and Bella Abzug was always in the news. There was a fear factor — that women might not really want the ERA because you're going to be drafted and you're going to have to do all the things men do. That wasn't true, but I had knowledge of that other movement [Schlafly's] that was starting up.
I come from a small town in East Texas. Women in Texas have always been liberated in their own way. I was always taught to try to be the top of the class — the best in math, the best in biology. None of that pushing women down there.
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Bonding with her all-star castmates
On Mrs. America, we all [Blanchett, Sarah Paulson Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba and Tracey Ullman] remained really close friends. No cattiness. I'm going to have a Zoom cocktail party with some of my cast members. I'm just going to wear sweats on the bottom with some sort of fancy top.
Older is wiser
Who said women need to go out to pasture when they hit 50? I was 60 when I won that first Emmy [for playing Kentucky drug lord Mags Bennett on the FX series Justified]. It just seems to me that women really do get more powerful — more knowledge, more wisdom.
Hometown: Jacksonville, Texas
Emmy wins: Justified, 2011; The Americans, 2015, 2016.
Stage great: Nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in her Broadway debut in 2004’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Hit films: August: Osage County, The Hours, Million Dollar Baby, Marvin’s Room, Lorenzo’s Oil
Acting Inspirations: “Maureen Stapleton, she was my very favorite. I saw Maureen on stage. I loved Doris Day before I even knew I wanted to act.”
Latest roles: Lucianne Goldberg (who urged Linda Tripp to record Monica Lewinsky) in Impeachment: American Crime Story (FX, late in 2020).
Her winning streak on The Americans, BoJack Horseman, The Good Wife, Sneaky Pete and The Good Fight
I was on a wave when things were changing for older women. Things couldn't have been better for me, and I'm old — I'm the oldest one on Mrs. America.
Advice to herself at 20
Load up the knowledge and then let it ruminate and let it live and get out of the way. That's really it. I'm talking about acting. I'm not talking about life. But that may be life, too.
Original career plan
I really wanted to go to beauty school, but it was expensive. I did the original Steel Magnolias, so I did a quick internship at a salon. After I did that play, I thought, I never want to be a hairdresser; you have to keep your arms in the air at all times.
Life in coronavirus times
I'm so losing my mind. But I'm so grateful we have a Connecticut place in the country to get away to. I've lived in the same apartment, on New York's Upper West Side, since 1978. I talk to people every day on our block, just trying to keep tabs on everyone. I hope everyone is safe.
What she's doing
Eating too much, drinking too much, doing a lot of singing. Trying to keep my spirits up, walking around on these country roads. All the people on my road have a WhatsApp thread, so we keep tabs on everybody.
Bad hair nowadays
My daughter said, “Mom, you've got to do something with your hair. You can't just comb it straight back.” You can't even get over-the-counter dye. I ordered some, but it hasn't arrived. I'll just paint my hair! I'll take a can of paint or spray paint.
What she's watching
Something fun, something that takes you away. Mrs. America; Belgravia; an English mystery series, Ordeal by Innocence, on BBC. And I'm going to go back and watch Mad Men, which I never watched.
Going to eat in a restaurant. I'm bored with my cooking.
Her dream costar
I'll say it again, Tom Hanks. I've said this to anybody that has asked me. It hasn't done a damn bit of good.