Entertainment

Rose Byrne leaves her mark on Mrs America co-star Margo Martindale — and her fans

Rose Byrne leaves her mark on Mrs America co-star Margo Martindale — and her fans

Mrs America’s Australian actors Rose Byrne and Cate Blanchett have drawn great support from their American co-stars like Margo Martindale. Their friendship also shocked their fans.

“I love Rose, I absolutely adore her, and Rose and I had just done a movie together – Instant Family – and we were in the process of doing Mrs America and she came to see me in my apartment in New York with her two boys,” Martindale says down the line from her Connecticut home, where she’s in coronavirus lockdown with her husband, musician Bill Boals.

“And it was so funny, because Rose’s boys were running around the hallways and my next door neighbour had left her door slightly open and the boys just ran into her apartment, thinking it was my place,” she continues, with a giggle.

“And my neighbour comes out and Rose and I are standing there and this woman just about flipped, and she said, ‘I just watched your movie last night!’ I think she thought she was hallucinating!”

Martindale, of course, is currently starring alongside Byrne and Cate Blanchett (“another great Australian”) in the fantastic limited series Mrs America, which traces the rise and fall of the Equal Rights Amendment’s momentum through the 1970s women’s movement with Byrne, resplendent as feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and Blanchett, simply extraordinary as Steinem’s conservative and powerful detractor, Phyllis Schlafly.

Martindale says she was blown away by the Australian Oscar winner’s performance.

“A class act from beginning to end and watching her is like watching I don’t know what … it’s extraordinary what she does,” gushes Martindale.

“I kind of knew her as this gal who sat close to me at the script read-throughs and is so much fun and funny, as every Australian is. To see her in action is extraordinary. I can’t give her enough praise.”

James Madge as John Ashbrook, Cate Blanchett As Phyllis Schlafly.

Martindale plays lawyer and politician, Bella Abzug, who was an early leader of the women’s movement in the US.

“It was a huge responsibility to play her and a great honour,” says Texan Martindale, who watched “hours and hours of footage” to get Abzug’s strong New York accent just right.

Martindale, brought up by a “liberated mother, who happened to be a housewife,” says she always thought she “could do anything.”

“I never thought I wasn’t equal,” she says, “and my mother taught me that.”

She remembers being enamoured by Steinem and Shirley Chisholm – the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for president – after moving to New York in the early 1970s, but Martindale says she wasn’t actively involved in the women’s movement (she does remember once speaking to Gloria Steinem at the counter of famous Manhattan department store, Saks Fifth Avenue).

“I am the age that should have been out there marching, but I wasn’t one of them,” she confesses. “I was only interested in acting, theatre and boys! I asked my best friend recently, ‘why weren’t we out marching?’ She said, ‘we were too busy trying to get a job!’”

But the biographical series has given Martindale an even greater respect for the women at feminism’s front lines.

“What I found was that the women back then were so fierce and bold and passionate and on fire, more so than we are today. And I find that is something that has been lost and it would be great if we could get a little bit of that back. A little bit of that fire, a little bit of that passion.”

Indeed, it’s been a stellar few years for the 68-year-old who, after a long career, is finally getting the recognition she deserves.

In recent years, she has taken home Emmy Awards for her performances as Mags Bennett, the matriarch of a hillbilly crime family, on Justified; and for her excellent turn as Claudia, a KGB spy “handler” on The Americans.

Martindale isn’t sure why people are suddenly jumping on her bandwagon.

“I’ve been playing this age since I was 16 so what happened was, you don’t have to act so much anymore,” she laughs. “I don’t have to play old, I just am.”

Right now, though, television and film work is on hold as America emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m so ready to see people – I mean, really, really ready,” laughs Martindale. “I dreamt of seeing people last night. I dreamt about playing charades! I mean, how pathetic! But I’ll take it.”

* Mrs America, 8.30pm Tuesday, Fox Showcase and streaming on Binge.