Martha Plimpton has one heck of an eclectic resume. Through film and television and theater, she always manages to make her choice of roles unique. And until Raising Hope came along, it’s hard to believe that she’d never been a series regular on a television show. She’d done a few guest spots but never made the plunge into serial TV. “I figured if I was going to do something like that I’d want to do it with people I really liked who seem really smart and kind and funny and sweet,” she said.
Martha and series creator Greg Garcia had a conference call last week where they talked about working with babies, how the Raising Hope cast don’t improv lines and if Martha feels like she missed out on things growing up as a child actor.
Martha, as an accomplished actress, what excites you about playing a character like Virginia?
Martha Plimpton: Gosh, well I appreciate the compliment and first of all. Second of all, I don’t know. I like to have fun and Virginia’s really fun. I mean, Greg’s written some really characters. It’s not something I’ve ever done before. I’ve never done a television series where I was like a regular before. I figured if I was going to do something like that I’d want to do it with people I really liked who seem really smart and kind and funny and sweet. So it kind of all worked out perfectly.
Greg for you, how did you know that Martha would be a perfect fit for the role?
Greg Garcia: Well, I’ve just always been a fan of Martha’s. She’s a great actress and I just felt like she could definitely do this. I think that one of the things that Virginia has as a character is some balls and the things I watch Martha in, I just always feel that there’s some balls there.
They say you never work with babies? Have you had any mishaps while filming the show?
Martha Plimpton: I can’t think of any mishaps really. I mean, we did shoot a scene where one of the twins was pooping the whole time. That was pretty good.
Greg Garcia: Yes, you’re going to have that with the twins or any other various cast members … because of our catering, but no, it’s been a delight. That’s what they say and usually that’s a fair thing to say. You tend to spend a lot of time waiting for the babies to be in the right mood to just sit still. So far, we’ve been very lucky with that that our babies have really grown attached to the cast. So there’s no separation anxiety there when they have to just leave their parents for a little bit and be with our cast. I think that they kind of consider the cast their family at this point, which is nice for everybody
Martha, from the beginning until now, what has been the most surprising thing for you?
Martha Plimpton: Oh my gosh. A lot of things have been surprising. I had never done a TV show where I was like on the show every week like a regular. I think part of that was I was afraid that I’d get bored, like I’ve never played the same character for a year before, ever. I haven’t ever one time been bored at all. I can’t say I’m surprised by this necessarily, because I knew what I was getting into and I knew Greg. I was a fan of his and I know how good our writers are. So I can’t say it’s necessarily a surprise. I guess it’s more of a sort of a happy relief. I don’t know. I don’t know how else to describe it. Yes, I’m always happy to go to work every day.
You’ve been referred to as one of the hardest working actors in the business. What keeps you working so hard and what is the appeal that you’ve got that you think means the parts that keep coming at you?
Martha Plimpton: Well, thank you for the compliment. Why I keep working so hard? Well there are a number of reasons for that. Number one, I really like working. I really love it. It’s what I do for a living and I’ve got to make a living. I’ve got to keep at it. I like to try new things. I like to go new places and I like to work with new people. That’s sort of the definition of my job. As an actor, you just go where the work is, right.
I guess, maybe part of the reason why I’m fortunate enough to get to keep working, I’m hoping, is because maybe people like working with me because I like what I do for a living and I want to have a good time. I want to have fun doing it and it’s important to me. It’s important to me if I’m having a good time than I feel like the work is better. The quality of it is better and my level of interest is higher. So maybe that’s why.
I feel like, obviously, it’s a little bit of both. You have to really keep at it and keep focused on moving forward as an actor and a performer. You can’t get stuck in ruts or allow other people to stick you in ruts. You have to keep challenging yourself. Then, hopefully, the pleasure that you take in that leads to other people going, “Hey, she seems like fun to work with I want to work with that,” maybe.
You said that you haven’t done a long running character like this before. Is there anything kind of in the back of your mind that you’ve never been given a chance to do that you’d like to?
Martha Plimpton: You know what’s funny is I very rarely think about things like that. I almost never have a plan for myself or think about some—I’m not ambitious in that way. Like I don’t see someone else do something and go, “Man, I could really kill that. Man, I could do that way better.” I’ve never actually had that thought. Things tend to come when they are meant to come. I know that sounds kind of like spiritual and cheesy, but I think things come when they’re meant to come. If you try to push it or you if you try to overly strategize as an actor I think you stop having a good time and you start white knuckling life a little more and I don’t like to do that.
How much of the show is ad lib verses scripted?
Martha Plimpton: Almost none.
Greg Garcia: It’s 99% ad lib, right?
Martha Plimpton: What? We’ve both given you simultaneous opposite answers.
Greg Garcia: And we ad libbed those answers.
Martha Plimpton: Yes. Almost none of it, right?
Greg Garcia: Yes. There’s not a lot. I think it’s a combination of the cast, kind of trusting the writers, and the writers kind of spend a lot of time trying to get the words right on paper. Also we have a lot to do in a day. We usually shoot anywhere from 12, 14 hours in a day and we have a lot to get done. So, I think as long as the actors are comfortable with what’s on the page we try to stick to it and get the job done and move on. That doesn’t mean there aren’t discussions before we shoot a scene. If something feels wrong coming out of their mouth or it just doesn’t feel like the character then we’ll talk about it and we’ll make changes.
Martha Plimpton: I think we’re all pretty confident that—maybe Cloris [Leachman] is the one exception because she’s been doing this so long and she’s such a pro, but I think the rest of us is pretty confident that we’re not sure we could come up with anything as funny as our writers come up with. I think we’re all pretty confident that they’ve got their eye on the ball with it.
Although you obviously didn’t start acting as young as the little ones on your show, you started when you were—was it—eight. What are your earliest memories of acting and how did you think it helped to starting off at that kind of age?
Martha Plimpton: I was actually having a conversation about this the other night with some people that I was working with. I was remembering that when I did the first play that I was in when I was eight years old, I remember my mother—who is not your typical stage mother at all. She was not thrilled about me doing this. She didn’t necessarily think I would keep doing it, which was something to do in my summers instead of going to camp, which I hated—she watched the performance and then afterwards she said, “Honey, you did great. I’m really proud of you. You really were excellent. I just want you to remember one thing. Even when you’re not talking you’re still in the play.” I would say that that’s probably the most valuable advice I’ve ever received as far as acting is concerned. It’s certainly stuck with me the longest.
Would you say you missed out on anything by starting working when you were young?
Martha Plimpton: No. My goodness no. What could I possibly miss? I’ve gotten to do all kinds of crazy things. I’ve gotten to learn how to drive boats. In fact, I learned how to ride a bike because of my first big movie job. I grew up in New York City and I hadn’t learned to ride a bike by the time I was 12 years old because it’s hard to learn how to ride a bike in Manhattan. It was because of a movie job that I got to learn how to ride a bike; so not at all. I had a very, in most respects it doesn’t seem like it, but I’ve actually had and continue to have a very normal banal life.