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October 8, 2015

'Justified' Star Margo Martindale on Mags Bennett & What's Really in the 'Apple Pie' Jars

by Kim Potts, posted Mar 30th 2011 1:15PM
Hands down, 'Justified' gets my vote as the best show on TV this season. The FX drama has shown absolutely no signs of a sophomore slump, with storylines that continue to explore the complexities of life in small-town Kentucky and U.S. marshal Raylan Givens' (the Emmy-worthy Timothy Olyphant) ongoing struggle to find out whether or not he fits in in his old stomping grounds.

A couple more performances Emmy voters should note: Walton Goggins, who continues to be fascinating to watch as Raylan's frenemy Boyd Crowder, and this season's big scene-stealer, newbie cast member Margo Martindale as moonshiner Mags Bennett, Harlan County's answer to Tony Soprano.

Margo MartindaleMartindale -- who TV fans already knew from 'Mercy' and her memorable stint as Dexter's key lime pie-loving friend Camilla on 'Dexter,' and from movies like 'Walk Hard,' 'Dead Man Walking,' 'Million Dollar Baby,' 'Paris, Je T'Aime,' and, yes, 'The Hannah Montana Movie' -- has been a force on 'Justified' this season, creating a character so delicious to watch that you almost hope she gets away with her many misdeeds so she'll continue to pop up on the tube every week.

With Mags and her boys returning front and center to the 'Justified' storyline this week (Wednesday, 10PM ET on FX), AOL TV had the chance to chat with the delightful Martindale about Mags, how geography factored into her development of the character, the shocking history of the Bennett-Givens feud (including some details that Martindale concocted to help her play the role) and a little hint about whether or not the Bennetts are going to continue to stir up trouble in Harlan.

TV Squad: Thanks so much for chatting today, Margo! I love you so much in this role on 'Justified.'
Margo Martindale: [Laughs] It's so hilarious, isn't it?

It is hilarious and sweet and scary, and I can't imagine that there has been a more fun role as an actress.
No, there really hasn't. I have had a blast.

How did the role come about?
I was in Los Angeles for the premiere of 'Secretariat' and my agent said, "Would you like to go on this appointment for this" -- he said a Kentucky woman -- and I said, "Oh, please, can't you just send my reel?" He said, "No, they really want to hear you read the words." And then he sent me the script and I said, "Oh, this is fantastic. I'll go anywhere." And by the end of the day, I'd gotten the part. So it was really, really nice. But that's how it came about. Just an audition.

You're from the south -- Texas?
That's right. I'm from East Texas, yes.

Margo MartindaleThat's a different kind of south than Kentucky.
It is very different, but you know, I worked in Kentucky for four years at Actor's Theater of Louisville, in the early '80s ... and so, I knew Kentucky like the back of my hand. Those mountain people are very interesting and sort of leery and not particularly open people. So terrains really influence the way people respond. And they're more guarded because of the mountains. Texas people are very open, because it's open. I love that, to use that kind of stuff when I'm trying to create a character. The geographical land.

And that absolutely fits, as you said, between those two places, probably more than any other geography in the country.
That's exactly right. That's exactly right. I love Kentucky people, but you have to get on the inside before they accept you.

You've used that to shape Mags, then.
Absolutely. And I try to, with the accent ... it's much different from mine. It's harder and it's more rrrrs. All of that plays into it, and I don't really get to inject much of my own ebullience, my humorous look at life, into her. Mags doesn't really have that.

She's a very practical woman.
Very practical. She sets her own laws and you better abide by them.

I read a review where someone described her as "Tony Soprano meets Paula Deen." That's kind of perfect, isn't it?
I read that somewhere, too. That's so hilarious. [Though] I think she's tougher than Tony Soprano.

Is it true that Mags is based on a real person?
Yes, that's what I heard from Graham [Yost, 'Justified' series creator]. She's based on a woman who ran moonshine named Mag Bailey. And I think she had a bunch of sons and she put them all through law school so that she'd be surrounded lawyers. So, not the dim-witted sons that [my Mags] has. [Laughs] She was really a smart, smart woman, and she lived to be 101.

You mentioned Mags' sons. I think one of the most interesting things about the character is her relationship with Loretta, the teenage girl she sort of adopted after killing Loretta's dad. Mags obviously feels very maternal towards her, and seemed to even before Loretta's dad died. Is that because Mags has raised all these boys or is there something more in her background that kind of feeds into that?
I decided that it was like I had been around men all my life, and of course my boys. But also the family that I grew up in -- this is just something I cooked up as my own background for the character -- and that it was like getting a doll or some sort of toy that I could play with and try to be a mother to a girl. I think Mags is a woman who never really learned very well how to be a mother. I think she started having children very, very early, in her teens probably, and you know, you mother in the way you know how to mother. Or you don't mother. She's a woman that did not know how to mother I think. Anyway, this little girl presents something new and that maternal streak really does sort of come out toward the girl and not toward the boys.

Kaitlyn DeverYou have fantastic chemistry with Kaitlyn Dever, the young actress who's playing Loretta.
Oh, my, oh, she's just fantastic. She is fantastic. One of the best I've ever worked with, truly.

The whole 'Justified' cast is a movie-quality cast.
It's like doing a movie. A long movie. It's the best actors I've ever worked with really. All of them. Every single one of them. It's fabulous. The writing is fantastic. The direction has been just great, and the actors are incredible. I've gotten to work with Walton [Goggins] twice, which is just fabulous. Tim [Olyphant], of course, is fabulous, and my boys are pretty damn good. I mean, all of them. And Jeremy [Davies] ... just fabulous.

The Bennetts have been missing for a couple of episodes, but they roar back into the story tonight and things take a turn for the worse, without spoiling anything, between Raylan and one of the Bennett boys. We've gotten little bits and pieces about the history between Raylan's family and the Bennetts, but will we ever get the full rundown of all that's happened between them?
Well, I'll tell you what I know -- and I believe it certainly does go further back than what I know -- but Arlo, Raylan's dad, killed my husband, Purvis. And I killed Arlo's wife, Francis.

Wow! Is this something that Raylan knows?
I don't think Raylan ever knew that.

Does he find out?
Uh, no. No, he doesn't.

Margo MartindaleSpeaking of Arlo and Mags, you and Raymond J. Barry, who plays Arlo, played husband and wife in 'Walk Hard.' Do you have any scenes together on 'Justified' this season?
One small thing. We were so disappointed. Ray said, "I wanted you and me to get married!" [Laughs] And then sort of resolve the feud. But yes, you'll see us in one scene, and we absolutely love each other, Ray and me. We also did 'Dead Man Walking' together. We've done four movies together, so I've known him a long time and I think he's one of the greatest guys in the world. I just put some more backstory in for myself, while thinking about the character, and I imagined that we had all been in high school together. You know, that we grew up together in a little school, or something. And that maybe -- again, this is just something I cooked up -- that maybe Francis, his wife, Raylan's mother, stole him away from me.

Ooooo ...
Isn't that good? Of course, it never plays out. But that's what I imagined it to be.

This should be a companion book series. You should be writing the back story, which could be a whole series of books on the Bennetts and the Givens.
[Laughs] It could be, it could definitely be!

Mags is famous for her "apple pie" moonshine, and you're all taking a lot of swigs from those jars this season ... what are you really drinking?
Apple juice.

And are you sick of it yet?
Well, I told them, I can't drink too much of it, because I've been on Weight Watchers. I said, "Please, I can't drink all that sugar!" [Laughs] So, the prop guy, Doug, who's just lovely, he cut it down for me and put in some Diet Coke and mixed it up a little. And I kept saying, 'Now it looks too watered down, you've got to make it look more amber.' So that's what's in it now: watered-down Diet Coke and watered-down apple juice.

Jeremy DaviesMags has her apple pie, and Camilla, the character you played on 'Dexter,' was all about the key lime pie. This has become a little theme in your TV world.
[Laughs] I guess pies are part of my personality. How funny! Oh, that's funny. I had a premiere of a movie that I have a small part in, just a fabulous movie, 'Win Win.' I was there, and Jane Alexander came up to me and she -- it was just so complimentary -- and she said, "My daughter is just dying to meet you," and it was because of Dexter.

Great show, and Camilla was another great character ...
Fabulous show. I love Michael [C. Hall]! I love that show. But I'm dead on there.

But your character made a huge impact in a relatively small number of episodes.
It was a lovely ending to that character.

You travel between the mediums, TV, movies, theater ... do you have a preference at this point for what you enjoy most, or what you would most like your next project to be?
Television. I really want to work in more TV right now. I love the movies. But [there's] consistent money from television. And in something like 'Justified,' I really love it, because it was like doing a movie. And I love having the job to go to every week. With movies, there's a lot of downtime. I like working, and television really does that.

And you get to spend more time really creating the character, too, as you've done with Mags ...
Exactly! You get to really go. Now, will I ever have a part as good as this in television? I don't think so! [Laughs] I don't think so. But maybe. I hope so.

Raymond J. BarryWould you want to do lead your own show? Or do you like jumping into a show that's already established?
The second banana, the third banana. Doing your own show ... Kathy Bates, an old friend of mine from the Actor's Theater in Kentucky, is doing her own show now, 'Harry's Law,' and I did one episode of it, and it's hard work carrying a show. Learning monologue, after monologue, after monologue. Would I turn it down? Absolutely not. I would probably love it. But it sounds daunting to me. No, like this, this is kind of playing a leading role in a different way, not having to carry a show, with Mags. It's just been really fun.

As for Mags' future on the show, again, without spoiling the next couple of episodes, there's a major flare-up that's going to add to the Bennett-Givens feud, for sure. Can you say whether or not the Bennetts will factor into Harlan County happenings beyond this season?
[Laughs] Well, let's just not say anything, OK?

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