Q & A: Raising Hope’s Martha Plimpton on being a child actress, guest stars and Twitter

Martha: "There’s a lot to learn about working on a show that shoots 22 episodes a year"

I have to confess that I’d never really watched FOX’s Raising Hope until last week’s season premiere. I tuned in and in 10 seconds, I was hooked. 

After it aired, I immediately gave it a season pass on my TiVo and went back to watch some of last season’s episodes. The show is hilarious and the stars Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt, Cloris Leachman and Lucas Neff form a comedy ensemble that is one of the best on TV.

I got a chance to talk to Plimpton and creator Greg Garcia last week in a conference call where they talked about working with the cast and upcoming guest stars, how they got their start in the industry and how twitter has become a great way to communicate with the fans.

Follow Martha on Twitter!   Follow Greg on Twitter!

Raising Hope airs Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30c on FOX

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

Everybody now, except for baby Hope—maybe she has an account too—is on Twitter.  I’m wondering how that has been such a great asset to the entire show and the cast, with the promotion?

Greg Garcia: Well, technically, we have everybody but Lucas Neff who I was actually just pretending to be Lucas Neff for a week and just—torturing him by tweeting like really silly things like, “Tummy aches are a drag” and things like that.  But I actually came clean.  So he’s still Twitter-free.

Martha Plimpton: Yes.  Lucas doesn’t believe in technology. 

Has it been a great asset for the show and for the cast?

Martha Plimpton: I have to trust in the powers that be that it’s getting out—that it’s bringing attention to the show because to be perfectly honest most of the people that are communicating with me have seen the show and they love it.  And that’s kind—I mean it’s nice; it’s a really nice boost hearing how people love the show.  But not a lot of people write to say they haven’t seen it, which is kind of a good sign.

Greg Garcia: Yes.  I mean from where I sit on Twitter, I mean it seems like it’s a really fun way to communicate with the fans of the show and the people that are big enough fans of the show—that they would want to reach out and follow people associated with the show.  I think if you took all of our followers and combined them together, it wouldn’t really do much of a blip on the ratings scale compared to our actual viewing audience and stuff.  But I mean, it’s just really fun to get feedback and have that communication with the real loyal viewers. 

Last season, Hope was still young enough—she was just learning to scoot and crawl at the end of the season.  This year, though, from what we’ve seen on the previews and everything she’s kind of a walking/running machine, right? 

Greg Garcia: Yes.  She’s real mobile.

How does that change how things are on the set and during filming?  Because I can only assume it’s more of a challenge because you can’t just set the little girls who portray her down and expect them to just stay there.

Greg Garcia: Yes, it’s tougher.  You have to use glue.  No, we’re learning actually.  I mean we’re learning.  We can still put them in a highchair and they’re happy and then now we found a little rocking horse that they like to be on.  And we’ll start scenes with kind of a foreground cross of one of the babies, get them from point A to point B and kind of establish that they’re there.  But the days of just putting them on a blanket and having them there are over.  And the days of carrying them around are over if anybody wants to keep their back muscles intact. 

So yes, just like real children—as they grow older, there are new challenges and then there’s new things that we can do that are fun.  And then there’s new ways of trying to figure out how to get around certain production things. 

How do you balance the humor with the heartwarming parts of the show?  Like you have Maw Maw with her Alzheimer’s, which is funny, but it’s also a serious thing. 

Greg Garcia: Well she has TV dementia.  She’s not technically diagnosed with anything other than whacky TV dementia. 

Martha Plimpton: Whacky TV dementia.

Greg Garcia: I think you just kind of feel it out based on the story you’re telling.  There are some stories that you tell that you don’t earn a nice sweet moment in it so you don’t try to jam it down the audience’s throat and you just go for comedy.  And then there are some episodes that definitely have warmer moments at the end. 

And once you have met these characters and start to care about them, I think you can do that because the audience is invested in their lives and you have actors that can pull this stuff off and make you care about what’s going on with them.

But, I think you try to mimic life as much as you can and you just combine ridiculous humor and sweet moments which is, I think, life—at least my life. 

Martha, you started off acting very young, obviously not quite as young as the babies on the set.  What was it like being a little kid surrounded by grownups when you were starting off?

Martha Plimpton: It was a blast.  I loved it.  I mean, obviously I enjoyed it; otherwise I don’t think my mother would have let me do it.  And I wasn’t doing anything quite as involved as a TV show or anything when I was a kid and I was working mostly on plays, which is really fun for kids.  It’s like two hours of work a night and you get to be in front of an audience and play act, and it’s a lot of fun.  I mean it was playtime for me when I was little.

How did your mom manage to keep you grounded?

Martha Plimpton: Well my mom just didn’t put a very high premium on me being like really famous or really wealthy or anything.  She allowed me to do it because I liked it, because I had a good time doing it.  She wasn’t interested in me pursuing it in order to enrich her or give her life meaning or whatever.  You know what I mean?

She let me do it because I liked it and she always let me know if I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have to.  I could stop at any time and we just had a very—my mother had been an actress and we came from that world in New York, the theater world and the downtown sort of theater scene, and so I guess we didn’t really have what you’d call like a Hollywood kind of life at all.  We were in New York and so we just had a different kind of life than that. 

Has that kind of lesson helped as you’ve gone along in your career, do you think?

Martha Plimpton: Oh, for sure.  I mean I think the thing about it is that it meant I grew up thinking about what I was doing as a job, as work and as something that was about the quality of whatever work I was going to be doing.  It wasn’t about getting into parties or something like that.  It wasn’t about cultivating fame or anything like that.  So, yes absolutely.  I think those are good things to keep in mind.

Greg, I read that you went through the Warner Bros. Writing for Television classes and it kind of opened the door for you, maybe in Hollywood.  What are your thoughts about that and is it beneficial for anybody to be able to do that if they’re interested in writing television in Hollywood?

Greg Garcia: Well yes, I mean I think that any program that’ll open some doors or get you around writers is good.  Yes, I was involved in an outreach program that Warner Bros. had, which they don’t do anymore, through colleges and I got picked—one of two people in the country to come out to Los Angeles.  And that’s when I got to sit around a writer’s room and I really got to kind of realize that this was, perhaps, an obtainable goal that I would want to try to do. 

Then I went through their other program, they had a ten week program that I went through that traditionally opens doors for you but actually, after that one I was told I wasn’t going to get a job at Warner Bros. and then I actually kicked down a couple doors and I did get a job out of that workshop.  But yes, I mean I haven’t kept up with that workshop.  I don’t know if it’s still going on and thriving.  But yes, I mean, any place that you can get around other writers and have a structured place where you can write and get advice from other people and feedback from other people, and then the added bonus if it’s one of these like Disney or Warner Bros. things where you can actually get placed on a show.  Obviously yes; that’s a great opportunity. 

Martha, are you bored yet?  Because you sound like you kind of get bored kind of easily.

Martha Plimpton: I am not bored at all.  I am not bored in the least.  I am still figuring it out.  There’s a lot to learn about working on a show that shoots 22 episodes a year and these characters are definitely—Virginia is definitely keeping me interested.  And I think the writers are working extremely hard to make sure the audience isn’t bored either.  So I mean it’s way too early to talk boredom.  It’s only Season Two.  Ask me that again eight years from now, okay? 

I wanted to know if there was any characters or any other actors or actresses that you would like to see guest star on your show.

Martha Plimpton: Well, I’ll tell you something very exciting which is that just the other day we were talking about who was going to play Burt’s parents in an upcoming episode.  And I got so excited about Lee Majors coming on the show because of my enduring crush on him since I was a little girl that I just—I think I just harassed Greg until he …

Greg Garcia: Yes, you were very excited.

Martha Plimpton: “Is he doing it?  Is he doing it?”  That was me, for like a day, maybe longer.  So I’m very excited about Lee Majors, of course.  Shirley Jones is going to come on and play Burt’s mom and that’s just beyond great. 

Greg Garcia: It’s funny because we get these roles and then I’ll come down with like a list and we just all kind of get all geeky and look at all the names and there’s like so many that we’re excited about and stuff.  So I think it’s hard to kind of just say, “Oh, there’s this one person that we want on the show.”

Martha Plimpton: Right.  No, it’s true.  It’s true.  But I’ll tell you, it’s thrilling that we even get to do that.  I mean, I love that Greg even lets us know who he’s thinking of casting because I don’t know, it’s just really fun and we all get very excited and we sort of sit there twisting our little mustaches wondering who we’re going to victimize next.

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