I spoke to her last month about her new role in the promising CBS drama 'A Gifted Man,' and she said she was both surprised by the Emmy nomination and gratified by how it had raised her profile after decades in the entertainment industry.
"It's lovely to be treated with such respect," Martindale said. "That has changed, and I think it changed with 'Justified.' I have been working for a long time, but it makes me feel great at my age to have a wonderful dressing room, for people to tell me how wonderful I am at what I'm doing."
Martindale's connections on 'Justified,' where she played the imposing clan leader Mags Bennett, actually helped her land her current gig on 'A Gifted Man.' On the CBS show, her character, Rita Perkins-Hall, runs the high-end medical practice of a top New York neurosurgeon. 'Gifted' executive producer Sarah Timberman had also worked on 'Justified,' and when it was decided that the actress previously playing the role had to be replaced, Martindale got the call.
"I got this role overnight," Martindale recalled. "I went to a wardrobe fitting at 10 p.m. and I was picked up 5:30 a.m. the next morning, and I had to learn all the lines that I was shooting."
So there was no time to meet with the producers before taking on the role, but Martindale said that Timberman and showrunner and executive producer Neal Baer ('Law & Order: SVU') were very open to consulting her about how the role would develop. Martindale's role has already been beefed up in the medical arena: Viewers will learn that Rita used to be a nurse, and after 'A Gifted Man's' Sept. 23 premiere, she'll travel between the neurosurgeon's uptown, spa-like practice and a decidedly unglamorous clinic in a low-income community.
"I will be going over to the other place and I will be getting my hands dirty," Martindale said.
The most exciting thing about 'A Gifted Man,' she said, was that it was not "formulaic." "I thought it was beautiful and I thought it looked different from anything I'd seen on television," Martindale said. "I hope that they can hold on to that."
Perhaps, come Sunday, Martindale will have an Emmy statue of her own to hold on to. Every contender for the award says they're honored just to be nominated, but the glowing excitement on Martindale's face the day I spoke to her made her excitement about the Emmy festivities seem winningly sincere.
"I'm beyond delighted," she said.
[The next paragraphs discuss events that occurred at the end of the second season of 'Justified.' If you haven't watched the show, consider yourself forewarned.]
Martindale was less delighted when she got the script for the season 2 finale of 'Justified.' She began playing Mags Bennett not knowing how long the character would last on the show -- when season 2 began, it hadn't been decided whether she'd be around for one season or longer. As the season progressed, when other characters were killed off, those actors got calls from executive producer Graham Yost before the scripts containing their characters' deaths arrived on their doorsteps.
Martindale didn't get a call. And then she read the finale script, and saw that Mags would die at the end of the hour. The ensuing conversation with Yost was a little bit awkward, as you might expect.
"I said, 'You called everyone else when they were being killed, but because you didn't call me, I didn't think I was being killed!'" she recalled. "He's apologized about a thousand times. He said, 'Margo, I'm so sorry.'"
Though Martindale was surprised to find out that her character would die, there's no bad blood at all between her and Yost, she hastened to add ('He's fabulous, I love him,' Martindale said). And even at the time, she recognized that that Mags' tragic death was not only the right thing for the character, it was the kind of "poetic" fate that actors long to play.
"It really was the way for it to end," Martindale said. "I hated it. I cried. I broke down sobbing, isn't that pathetic? I felt like I was killing something that I'd given life to. But I don't think it would have been as grand and wonderful had it been anything other than what it was."
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