In her early stage days, Margo Martindale became friends with Kathy Bates. Honestly, in many ways, they’re similar actresses. They are both the sort of woman who gets labeled “character actress,” in no small part because they look ordinary. You could see either of them, or women who looked like them, in line at Safeway and not miss a beat, because there are so many women who look like them. They are also both Southern women, strong actresses, powerful presences. I’m not saying you’d get the same performance regardless of which one you cast, but you’d get a good performance regardless of which one you cast, and it would draw on similar energy.
Martindale is a little younger than Bates and a little less famous, but she’s still got a strong career behind her. She started out on the stage—yes, her Broadway debut was in 2004, but she did a lot of off-Broadway in her early days. She was also apparently notable for work in Downy fabric softener commercials. (This was in the ’70s, so your guess is as good as mine if she really was as famous as IMDb suggests.) A solid career for many years.
The first time I remember seeing her is not actually long after her onscreen career began. She’d done a little television, but The Rocketeer was only her second movie. She is one of only two women with more than a line or two, and she’s fully capable of stealing the scenes she’s in. She’s one of the most practical people in the movie, and while that’s not, admittedly, saying much, it’s still fun to watch her. She knows more of what’s going on than she’s been told, you figure, and she’s used to that.
Honestly, the biggest difference between her career and that of her old friend is that she hasn’t had the breakout role that makes everyone remember her name. She’s worked consistently for decades now, and I suspect most people know what she looks like, but I don’t think most people remember her name. She’s firmly in the ranks of the Hey, It’s That Guy, admittedly as a Hey, It’s That Woman. Now, people like that can be anywhere in talent from incredible to passable to awful, and the issue is that you just see them a lot and remember the face if not the name. But she’s definitely closer to the “incredible” end of the spectrum.
As it happens, another difference may be that she prefers working in TV. She likes the consistency. She likes going to work every day and having an actual semblence of a real job. Which, you know, if that’s what she likes, more power to her. I wonder if she can identify with Christopher Walken’s feeling that, if he isn’t working, he isn’t really doing much of anything. (Has anyone checked on him lately? How’s he holding up?) Either way, she’s a fine, steady actress who’s been doing good work so long that she originated the role of Truvy Jones off-Broadway. If Dolly Parton hadn’t done the role in the movie, doubtless that would’ve been Martindale’s breakout movie.