It's hard to ignore that Martha Plimpton, stage performer, movie actress, singer, and now tv star in the new series Raising Hope, always shines in the alternative roles she chooses. In a recent conference call, Martha and the show's creator Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl) spoke about the show's special ensemble cast, hilarious moments on set, the ubiquity of mommy blogs, and how similar Martha is to the spitfire character she portrays.
Martha on the similarities between her character Virginia Chance and her own real-life mother:
Martha Plimpton: My mom just basically popped me out and let me figure it out on my own. (laughs) No, my mom was a young mom, just like Virginia, not quite as young as Virginia, but young. It was the ‘70s and she was a hippy. She was a single mom and she definitely had to make stuff up as she went along. That was the only way to go. They didn’t have mommy blogs back then. She definitely was an improviser, no question about it.
On how her childhood shaped her work ethic:
Martha Plimpton: Well, it didn’t hurt that I was around theatres and actors from basically the time— I mean when I was gestating, my mom was on stage with me in her belly so I had that around me constantly from the time I was brand new to today. I guess I just watched other people do it and figured out how to do it and how not to. I don’t know that I have the greatest work ethic in the world. I’m not a huge fan of waking up really early in the morning. It’s not my favorite thing in the world to do. But the fact that my job is so fun definitely makes it easier.
On discovering Virginia's particular neuroses:
Martha Plimpton: I think one of the things I take the most pleasure in is Virginia’s soft and chewy core. She’s kind of tough. She says what's on her mind. She kind of doesn’t take any crap, but at the same time she’s got a really gooey, chewy, soft center. She’s a sucker for love. Playing around with that has been really, really fun as well as—I’ll only hint at the sort of things that you guys haven’t seen yet but that you will—her sort of Lucy-esque desire to be in the spotlight. Her aspirations are very cool and exciting to me. The fact that she has aspirations is great. I feel like we’re going to be seeing more of that as the season progresses.
Martha on working with a new star and fellow Chicagoan, Lucas Neff and a veteran actor Cloris Leachman:
Martha Plimpton: I’ll start by talking about Lucas. It’s actually really fun watching somebody who hasn’t experienced this stuff before and let’s be honest, none of us really has. I certainly have never been a regular on a TV series so it’s new to me, too. Of course, we’re all new to the show so we’re all in it together, sort of figuring it all out as we go along as well, in life and on the show, which is a fortunate parallel.
It’s great because obviously Lucas, coming from Chicago, is an incredibly proud and excited actor as most actors from Chicago are. He comes to it with a really ensemble-minded attitude, a very Chicago thing. It’s been awesome watching him get his sea legs and get more confident in his performance. Also, he’s really easy to tease. He has got the biggest bull’s-eye on his forehead.
As far as Cloris Leachman is concerned, babies are a breeze. Cloris is the one who gets the leash. This is a woman who can find 15 jokes in one-half a joke. She is fearless and is willing to do anything for a gag and then some.
Greg on what made this cast right for this comedy:
Greg Garcia: I think everybody just feels real. That’s just a credit to them as actors. Everybody can just be natural and get the laughs off of subtle smaller things. I got really lucky. It’s funny, too, [to hear Martha mention the audition process]. To me, pretty much with everybody on this thing, the audition process was such an exercise in keeping the studio and network involved. I knew I wanted Martha to play this role. As soon as I saw Garret do it I knew he was the guy and the same with Lucas. I just got incredibly lucky that I have all the people that would be best for these roles playing these roles. I think for me it comes down to that at the end of the day, everybody just feels like these characters.
Martha on her relationship with co-star Garrett:
Martha Plimpton: Garret and I have known each other, or known about each other, for many years. I’ve wanted to work with him a lot of times before but the opportunity just never presented itself. We have a lot of mutual friends and I’ve always admired him. He’s one of the best there is, honestly. It’s an entirely pleasurable experience working with him because, as Greg said, Garret is the perfect example of the understated choice. Everything he does just kind of sneaks up on you.
It’s all about behavior with him, which I love because it gives you something to work with. You’re working with a character instead of just a situation. When I’m working with Garret I feel like I’m getting better at my job. He’s also a hilarious person. You’d never know from the more visible [role]s he’s done that have been evil and horrible. You’d never know that he is truly and honestly one of the funniest people around. He’s hilarious.
Martha on getting picked up for a full season:
Martha Plimpton: It feels really good that Fox is behind the show and likes what we’re making because we’re having a really good time doing it. Sometimes, from what I understand, there can be a disconnect there. The people making the show [can be] having an awesome time but the people airing it are like, “Nah,” so it’s really nice that [Fox is] enjoying it as much as we are.
On the most memorable moments of filming this season:
Martha: Oh my goodness! Well, they all involve Cloris Leachman. Seeing her dressed as a kitty cat for Halloween was pretty hilarious. I mean it’s really hard to describe to anyone who isn’t there exactly how insane it gets.
Greg: I think one of my favorite moments was a scene where Martha is shaving Cloris’ legs and Garret is cleaning Cloris’ ears with a Q-tip. They’re using real shaving cream. At a certain point they hide because she wakes up and then Cloris takes it upon herself to reach down and take the shaving cream ... it was real shaving cream and takes it off of her legs and just starts eating it. She eats handfuls and handfuls of it. Now, it makes complete sense for the character to be crazy and doing this and it’s very funny but I’m sure people at home will think, “Oh, that’s funny but I’m sure that’s whipped cream,”. But it not, it’s shaving cream. No one told her to eat it but they started laughing so she kept eating more and more.
Greg on what role music plays on the show:
Greg Garcia: Actually we’re shooting an episode next week that Jason Lee’s in. And there’s a whole musical component about Garret’s character and the fact that he plays the guitar and he has some unfulfilled dreams with that. I think that music is a very cheap way for these people to have a creative outlet and feel good. I think we’ve had some fun with a guest character who plays the ukulele and some fun songs. Certainly in the pilot we had them singing to the baby. I think we end our Thanksgiving episode with them sitting around the porch and singing. I think it's something that this family is good at and uses it as an outlet.
Martha on the differences between working in theatre and television:
Martha Plimpton: They’re so completely different. One can’t be more rewarding than the other because it’s just totally different worlds. But I think the reason why I like doing television and theatre is because it’s where the fun work is for an actor like me. In the theatre and on television I can play a variety of characters that are available to a character actress. Certainly, the lifestyles and the schedules and the pay grades are completely different in both areas. They both have their rewards and they both have their difficulties, but for me it feels like a natural progression. I’m an actor first. I’ll go where I think I’m going to have fun regardless of the medium.
On the best part about working on Raising Hope:
Martha Plimpton: Well, the thing I’m enjoying the most is working with these really awesome actors on this really funny, smart material. That’s the most exciting part for me. That we have an opportunity to work together, people who obviously, clearly like each other. We have really good chemistry together as a company of actors. Then we get this awesome material that’s hilarious. When we get together every week to read through it we just crack up. It’s not just that it’s funny. It feels very well rooted in who these people are. They feel like people, actual people.
Raising Hope's hourlong Halloween special airs Tuesday, October 26 at 9pm on Fox. It began in the UK on Sky One on Thursday, November 18.