Martha Plimpton has been a smart-girl icon since Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were in knee-socks, and we have loved her for nearly as long. Happy for everyone, then, that show-business scion Plimpton found a pitch-perfect TV gig in the role of Virginia Chance on Fox's breakout hit Raising Hope. She's doing the work of her life as the "grandma" to baby Hope—we cry about the meaning of life when Virginia tells us to cry about the meaning of life. (Emmy nominations are out next week, and we're crossing our fingers hard that Martha's name is on the list for best comedy actress!) We just spoke to the star about what's to come for Virginia, Burt and the rest of the fabulous Chance gang:
Run us through the casting process? How did you get the part of Virginia?
When I heard there was a new pilot that Greg had written, I was already happy and excited to read it because I knew about his work before, and we have a lot of mutual friends. I was a big fan of his. And then when I read it I thought it was hilarious, and it made me laugh out loud, and the only concern I had was playing a grandmother! My feeling was that they tend to age you pretty quickly in Hollywood, and my attitude was that I did not really want to help them. But I mean, that was the joke and I talked to Greg and he explained it to me clearly that my character is far too young to be a mother but now she is far too young to be a grandmother. So when I looked at it, realistically the math made sense and lets face it, it's not like they were asking me to hunch over and wear a gray wig and play a 70-year-old woman.
You and Garrett Dillahunt have amazing couple chemistry. Where did that come from?
We had met before but we never worked together. Of course Garrett was on Deadwood and he played the guy who ended up killing the guy my father played in Deadwood so we had met before on the set of Deadwood and we already knew each other any ways because we had a lot of mutual friends in the New York theater world. He had originated a role in a play called, "Eye of God," that I had seen him do in Seattle, which I then went on to do the movie version of it a few years after that so we had a lot of odd connections and ties but we had never worked together, and I have always thought he was one of our best actors, I really do and I have always thought that about him so the thought of working with him on this really couldn't work out better than that for me.
I really hope we get more Burt and Virginia next season!
It's funny because one of my good friends who I think had excellent taste said to me, "Is it bad that Burt and Virginia are becoming my ideal couple?" I took that as a tremendous compliment.
And let's talk about working with Baylie and Riley, the amazing babies who play Hope.I work with the babies every week and almost every day. I mean, they are the stars of the show really.
You guys get the most amazing reaction shots out of those kids.
The beauty of it is, is that we have been working with them since they were about six months old and they're such good-natured babies anyway, and their parents are such great and loving people that they just have great personalities, and I think them being around us every day they sort of get the vibe that we are going to take care of them and protect them, we are sort of like their other family, so they are very comfortable with us. We make a big effort to make sure when they come on set; the vibe is happy, fun and easy for them.
What's the vibe on set for everybody else? Is there a shorthand? Do you get to improv at all?
The short hand that we have is Greg Garcia, he is our fearless leader and we all trust him implicitly. The fact is, that our writers are a real crack team and they work really hard. Also, we don't really have the time on set to improv. Improv is something you do when you have the luxury of time. We work really hard and the writers work really hard so we want to make sure that...I don't think I could be any funnier than they are even if I really tried so I let the writers do that part of the work and of course if something isn't working, it gets changed. Or if someone isn't able to do something for whatever reason, the vibe is very loose that way, it's very comfortable. No one feels pressed or dictated, it's not a dictatorship. Greg Garcia is definitely a benevolent figure. He is not a dictator at all.
What have you wanted to do or try with Virginia?
That's a good question because I am not the type of actor who thinks about all the stuff I'd like to show off to the world, I don't really have that trait in my personality, but I have a feeling that in next season, because we're more used to things, there will be even more ease and comfort with it, which will make it even more relaxed. Not just for me, but for everyone.
What else are you doing these days?
Well I did Company with the Philharmonic with this crazy, giant, all-star cast. And it's now screening in around 700 theaters across the country and that has been huge. It has been incredibly gratifying hearing about all the people that are selling out movie theaters around the country to see this, it's incredible. I did a Good Wife episode that aired a while ago. And then I did one little quick spot on How to Make it in America, where we just sort of wrapped up my character on that show.
How many years have you been working as an actor?
I've been working for 32 years.
What has changed in 32 years? Can you see changes?
Everything has changed. It's constantly changing. The celebrity culture is certainly very different even than what is was when I was a teenager. I think it's a lot harder now to be someone who works in the public eye than it might have been in the past because the level of scrutiny is so high and so unforgiving. We are in a constant state of change and growth and alteration and I think the press makes it hard for people to develop. There is no safe haven for people to be who they are. But in other ways I think it's gotten better, I mean, TV has improved enormously with cable, all the channels and digital. This makes the demand for more and more excellent content. There is a terrific amount of work for brilliant characterized actors. I was just at the Critics' Choice Awards and I was delighted that Margo Martindale was honored, Christina Hendricks is obviously lovely and brilliant and just a fantastic lady. But I am also happy that Margo gets that kind of recognition. The writing is there and there is room for people of different types on TV and that's really great, a positive change in the TV world.