Emmy Hopeful: Martha Plimpton - 'Raising Hope'

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Martha Plimpton's 2011 Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy caught some people by surprise -- but that simply goes to show how criminally underrated Raising Hope is because anyone who has seen an episode knows that it's one of the most consistently funny and heart-warming shows on television.

And a large percentage of that perfection is due to Plimpton's full bodied commitment to grounding this comedic character, who could seem like a caricature, in reality by infusing her with soul.

Will she repeat on July 19, when the 2012 Emmy Nominations are announced? Odds are in her favor, but to help increase the chances, ETOnline's Jarett Wieselman had the pleasure of moderating The SAG Foundation's NY Conversations with Martha Plimpton last night at the NYIT Auditorium on Broadway. Here are some of the best moments from the discussion.

ETOnline: When you first read the role of Virginia Chance, what appealed to you?
Martha Plimpton: I just thought she was funny [laughs]. She seemed kind of pissed off and a little bit bitter and a little bit done with everything – but there was still a core of love for her family, and I thought the balance of that is usually extremely difficult to strike in television. Especially with female characters. Usually female characters in a family are long-suffering and annoyed. They're not a part of the comedy. Virginia is a part of the comedy.

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ETOnline: What I've always loved about Virginia's relationship with husband Burt is that their marriage isn't adversarial -- they truly seem like partners.
Plimpton: To me, that's one of the biggest strengths of the show. It's very common in sitcom marriages to have the funny husband and the thinner wife. In this instance, Garret [Dillahunt] is in a lot better shape than I -- which is encouraging. I like that Virginia could be with someone who is hot [laughs]. The husband is usually the protagonist, while the wife is the straight man on sitcoms, but I feel like Burt and Virginia's relationship is much more equal. Which is rare on television. And in movies. It's rare anywhere in pop culture. That's one of the most attractive and enjoyable things about the writing for me.

ETOnline: This is the first time you've been a series regular -- how does working on television, where you don't know the long-term destination, compare to coming from Broadway, where you take the audience on a nearly identical journey every night?
Plimpton: In television, the hours are insane. You're working an 80 hour week, which for someone coming from the theater, is completely uncivilized [laughs]. The writing changes, what the studio wants changes, what the network wants changes, what the writers are interested in changes – things alter and mutate and shift. But I've learned that being able to go with the flow is the key to enjoyment. To get rigid and fearful and protective is probably the key to misery on a series. I feel strongly that if I can remain positive, willing, open-minded, I will have a good time and enjoy myself.

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ETOnline: Clearly it's changed your perspective, but has working in episodic television changed your process?
Plimpton: Absolutely. First of all, there's no rehearsal. You're expected to be on the ball and ready to go – you don't have time to sit there and [marinate about things]. There's none of that. Working on a series is actually a great acting lesson – if the writing was lousy, then I might be saying something different. I think [creator] Greg Garcia is interested in moments that are less raucous and more heart-based. If it goes too over the top, then Greg loses interest. That's an acting note we've gotten many times. If it gets too wacky, he loses an emotional investment in the characters. The pace its done on is a wonderful lesson because there is only one major rule in acting: commit. Make a decision and do it. If it sucks, it's not your fault because you committed.

ETOnline: And commit you have -- from Virginia's fat suit to strapping sponges to your underarms. Looking at the season as a whole, do you have any favorite moments?
Plimpton: It wasn't the fatsuit episode. That thing was misery [laughs]. Yes, there are moments that I love with Garret, but they are small moments – they're not like, "Well, I got to be in a car with a pig!" I mean, that's great, but what I always come back to are the small moments. Like the episode where we're sitting on the edge of the bed toasting with a bit of Jack Daniels before he has to go sleep with my cousin to save our house. Moments like that are what I love.

ETOnline: That episode featured Amy Sedaris as your cousin -- the two of you are also part of the recurring cast on CBS' The Good Wife. What is it that you like about going into a show and creating a character in a vacuum?
Plimpton: You know, it's really hard being a perpetual guest star. When I got Raising Hope I was so pleased to play a character for more than five days. It meant I could establish a relationship with a cast and a crew. It's great fun coming onto shows that are well-written like The Good Wife and Fringe, but it gets very lonely. At the same time, it's good experience. It's good at teaching a lesson about the function and uses and strengths of what you do. And for a character actor, which is what I am, it's the ultimate way to practice. And who can ask for anything more than that – as long as you’re working it's a good thing.

ETOnline: You're not only working, but thriving. Last year you not only received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy, but you -- along with the other women in your category -- created the night's most buzzed about moment. What was the genesis of that?
Plimpton: That just came out of Amy Poehler and I at dinner talking. Amy brought up an old telecast, I think it was Best Supporting Actor or something where Chevy Chase was the first one called for his category and he just got up out of his seat and got on stage. It was not planned, it was not scripted. And then, Tim Conway was the next one called and he got up and went on stage. It was this huge raucous thing because people used to drink, were on drugs – who knows what they were doing. They know how to have a good time, is what I'm saying. We wanted to do something cool and I have to tell you, the minute we came up with the idea and got in touch with each of the nominated women, every single one said yes immediately. There was no negotiating. Every single broad was in. Immediately. The only thing we had to change is that Edie Falco, who is first in the alphabet, didn't want to be the first one to crack the joke. Which is totally understandable. She doesn't consider herself a comedienne. So we just changed the order of the names when they were called.

ETOnline: What does it mean to be Emmy nominated?
Plimpton: These kinds of accolades are lovely and can be really wonderful for the show. But ultimately, really, they're not about who is better. That's an impossible thing to quantify. The only reason there is a winner, really, is so people have a show to watch. In my opinion, everyone who is managing to work and is enjoyed by an audience is a winner.

Raising Hope is now available on Hulu.com.