EXCLUSIVE: Margo Martindale Has Done Enough Dying for One Day

Photo: Getty Images

“I’ve done enough dying for one day,” Margo Martindale tells ET. The beloved character actress, known for her Emmy-winning work on Justified and The Americans as well as supporting roles in August: Osage County and Million Dollar Baby, has her limits -- at least when it comes to certain roles that now come her way. “There are parts about people gaining and having things go wrong.”

Her most recent film role in The Hollars, available now on DVD/Blu-Ray and digital HD, sees her playing Sally, a dying matriarch to a dysfunctional family who has a brain tumor. The story may be a familiar one, but it’s elevated by its ensemble cast, including John Krasinski, who also co-wrote and directed, Charlie Day, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick and, of course, Martindale, who has earned considerable praise for the part.

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Spending a large part of the film in a hospital bed, Martindale says “was very interesting to me because the movie sort of happened to me.” She likens it to watching a home movie. “Something unusual happened to me during this movie and it felt completely real,” she continues.

Adding to the reality, for Martindale at least, was the fact that she spent those hospital scenes hooked up to a real blood pressure machine. “I was hooked up to the monitor the whole time, so I could keep tabs on how I was doing,” she says, adding: “And I did really well!” 

Photo: Sony Pictures

While the hospital provided a certain stark reality to the film, it was the moment Sally was forced to shave her head before surgery that delivered a real gut punch. “It was an extremely vulnerable thing to have done to you because it felt as if I was really having my head shaved,” Martindale says of the scene that sees her onscreen son, played by Krasinski, running the clippers through her hair. The prosthetic wig, she jokes, “cost more than they paid me… And I knew that we only had one shot doing it.”

Martindale didn’t prepare for the scene in the same way she didn’t believe Sally would have prepared to see her hair go. “I still had to stay in the space of being strong,” she says, adding that it’s the moment of reality for her character, who is forced to hide her terror from her kids.

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“It’s a very close thing for somebody my age,” Martindale says of playing Sally, who eventually dies in the hospital. “The fear of death is something I’ve fought since I was a little girl.”

And with that in mind, Martindale is happy to sit the next onscreen death out. Though she was offered a death in another movie before The Hollars (“It was a wonderful script”), the 65-year-old actress is not ready to revisit that headspace any time soon. “It’s just that now, I don’t know if I want to do it,” she says. “I’m certain I’ll do it again. Just not next week!”