Entertainment

Margo Martindale: How the Texas Actress Became One of TV's Most Familiar (and Beloved) Faces

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Even if you don't know the name Margo Martindale (yet), you've probably seen (and loved) the Emmy-winner in one of your favorite movies or television shows. Maybe you know her as Hannah Montana's (or Miley's) Grandma Ruby. Or maybe from playing the polar opposite -- the head of Kentucky's Bennett crime family on the gritty series Justified. Or maybe even as a member of a witches coven with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock in Practical Magic. 

Martindale is so prolific, she even voices a fictionalized version of herself (as Character Actress Margo Martindale) in the Netflix animated series BoJack Horseman. 

Born in Jacksonville, Texas, made her Hollywood film debut in the Robert Duvall and Tom Cruise flick Days of Thunder.

One of Martindale's earliest television appearances was in the miniseries Lonesome Dove (based on the Larry McMurtry novel), starring Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. She also originated the role of Truvy Jones (played by Dolly Parton in the film) in the first Off Broadway production of Steel Magnolias. (She made her Broadway debut in 2004 in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.)

In fact, Steel Magnolias screenwriter Robert Harling told Garden & Gun he partially based the character of Truvy on Martindale.

"At the time, Margo was a working actress from Jacksonville, Texas, and she had this incredible voice," Harling said. "I wanted a name that fit her. I thought, since people come to the salon to tell the truth, there's something about Truvy. It sounds like something her granddaddy might have called her as a kid. She loved it."

Over the years, Martindale has been a standout in films, from dramas such as The Firm, Lorenzo's OilThe HoursDead Man WalkingMillion Dollar Baby and as the boisterous Mattie Fae Aiken in August: Osage County (starring Meryl Streep) to comedic roles in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (as Mama Cox) and Hannah Montana: The Movie (as Grandma Ruby), leading to yet another connection with Parton, who portrays her real-life goddaughter Miley Cyrus' on-screen godmother or "Aunt Dolly" on the Hannah Montana series.

"I love, I love, I love that movie! I think--you know, people kind of thought of it as the TV show. And it was so not the TV show. It was a Disney movie. It was like a '60s Disney movie," Martindale told the A.V. Club of Hannah Montana: The Movie.

But one of Martindale's most notable role has to be as the chilling Mags Bennett, the matriarch of a Kentucky crime family, in the FX Network series Justified, for which she won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

Martindale said playing the tough-as-nails character opened up doors for her.

"[Playing Mags Bennett] just blew it open. Because I had only played one bad guy and that was in Million Dollar Baby. And I think people thought they found me in a field somewhere in Missouri -- that I wasn't really an actor, I was just some awful redneck. I guess I surprised people, even though I had been acting all my life," Martindale told Rolling Stone in 2019. "But I was mostly doing it in the theatre, and then I didn't get into the movie business until about 1989. I don't think Graham [Yost] super knew who I was. Most people didn't know who I was."

Read More: Barry Corbin: The Lone Star State's Most Beloved Character Actor

Following her role in Justified, Martindale starred another FX series, the spy drama The Americans (as Claudia). She also co-starred on the CBS sitcom The Millers and appeared in both The Good Wife and its spinoff The Good Fight.

In recent years, Martindale has voiced Ma Beagle in Ducktales, starred in the Amazon series Sneaky Pete, the miniseries Mrs. America (as Bella Abzug), the crime film The Kitchen and opposite Bryan Cranston in the legal thriller Your Honor. She'll also appear in the upcoming Impeachment: American Crime Story as Lucianne Goldberg.

Martindale has been married to musician Bill Boals since 1986. They have a daughter named Margaret.

Now Watch: 'Designing Women' Cast: Then & Now

recommended for you

Margo Martindale: How the Texas Actress Became One of TV's Most Familiar (and Beloved) Faces