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SYFY WIRE Mrs. Davis

Margo Martindale’s Greatest Sci-fi/Genre Roles Outside of Mrs. Davis

The Mrs. Davis star is more than just "Character Actress Margo Martindale." She always has been. 

By Brian Silliman
Margo Martindale

If you are watching Margo Martindale on a screen, then you are very lucky indeed. She is often referred to as one of the greatest character actresses of all time, but she’s one of the greatest actresses of all time, no qualifier needed. She cannot be bested, she cannot be stopped. She has won three Primetime Emmy Awards, but if the stars were truly in alignment, she’d have won a dozen Nobel Prizes by now.

Martindale’s latest triumph is the role of Mother Superior in the new series Mrs. Davis, currently streaming on Peacock. As always, she grounds both her role and the series straight away. Her presence is the mark of quality, and she lets everyone who is streaming up the madcap zaniness of Betty Gilpin fighting a tyrannical A.I. know that they are in good hands.

Her role on Mrs. Davis is a fine excuse to toss more digital flowers at her. So, it’s time to go through our favorite Margo Martindale roles in sci-fi and genre. We're giving that description a long leash.

Cocaine Bear (Ranger Liz)

A depressed Alden Ehrenreich was tough to beat, but Martindale edged him out and stole this recent festival of cocaine and the bears who eat it. Her role isn’t huge, but she’s given more than enough time to do what she does best. The titular bear attacks her ranger lodge at one point, and Martindale has to fight it off. The scene is easily a highlight of the movie.

It comes down to one line that Martindale shouts during this attack. In a blood-raged fury, she shouts, “Where’s the bear, where’s the BEAR?” We can type that, but we can’t do her delivery justice.

Cocaine Bear is currently streaming on Peacock.

DuckTales (Ma Beagle)

The rejuvenated DuckTales series, which ran from 2017 to 2021, was too good for this world. It was a rare instance of a reboot being truly great. We’d proudly set it next to Battlestar Galactica in that regard.

With David Tennant playing Scrooge, someone formidable was needed to give life to the criminal matriarch of the Beagle Boys. Martindale was the logical and perfect choice. She helped to elevate the series every time that Ma Beagle appeared, giving the character exasperation and menace in equal measure. This may seem like a silly selection, but we loved this show and we loved what Martindale did with her role.

Justified (Mags Bennett)

Season 2 of this modern Western brought Martindale in to play the antagonist to series lead Timothy Olyphant. It’s not anyone who could give Raylan Givens a worthy challenge (though Walton Goggins as Boyd certainly did), but Mags Bennett, in the hands of Martindale, had Raylan on the ropes for the whole season.

With Mags, Martindale displayed one of her greatest gifts. She doesn’t have to scare you in an obvious way — she can hide her menace under layers of sincerity. She’s nice and unassuming, but she poisoned the moonshine ten minutes ago. Watching her face off with Olyphant was a serious treat, and it landed Martindale the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2011.

The Rocketeer (Millie)

It was a small role in this always overlooked 1991 wonder, but for some of us, it was our first Martindale experience. Millie is kind and good. Martindale plays her with warmth that she must have borrowed from the sun. Honestly, she really doesn’t have much to do here... but we love this movie and we will take any chance that we have to write about it.

One line of hers has stayed with us to this very day. Cliff (Billy Campbell) blows it with Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) early on in the movie. Jenny runs out of the dog-shaped restaurant that Millie operates. Millie turns to Cliff and says, “Well, go after her ya dope.”

Have we written fan fiction centered on Millie facing off with the dastardly Neville Sinclair, as played by Timothy Dalton? Maybe.

BoJack Horseman (Character Actress Margo Martindale)

We had to include this, because it was the recurring bit that kept on giving. BoJack (Will Arnett) often crossed paths with “Character Actress Margo Martindale” on this animated series, and he always referred to her using that full title. Martindale played a heightened version of herself, a version that was prone to theft, violence, and coming back from the dead.

Her work on this series is the perfect example of how Martindale takes the work seriously, but never herself. She’s not just doing a spritz of self-mockery, either. “Character Actress Margo Martindale” was a force, so the show kept bringing her back. The bit kept being elevated. It would not have worked if the show had gone with someone else.

RELATED: "Mrs. Davis Director on How Bourne Movies, Fight Club Inspired Episode 6 Heist"

The Americans (Claudia)

Do you want to see an acting masterclass? Watch this entire show, which ran from 2013 to 2018. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys played Russian spies embedded in American life. Martindale played their handler, Claudia. The role landed her with two more Emmy Awards —she took Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in both 2015 and 2016.

That was not an accident, because Martindale’s work as the cold and calculating Claudia was a highlight of a series that was made of nothing but highlights. You never knew what her angle was, and you never knew whether you could trust her. The characters on the show itself certainly didn’t. She adapted, she shifted with the tide, and if anyone figured out her game, she’d change the rules. She triumphs in an ultra-serious spy thriller just as much as she triumphs as a ranger screaming about a cocaine-fueled bear. That’s some range, that’s what that is!

Million Dollar Baby (Earline)

This is cheating even more than we already have been, because there’s nothing remotely sci-fi or genre about this movie. The 2004 heart-ripper about a boxer who won’t quit (Hilary Swank as Maggie) is gritty and real. There’s no bear, there are no spies, and there’s no moonshine. Even so, Martindale’s small role here it is our favorite. 

We wonder if any character, in anything, has ever been so utterly awful as Earline is. She’s Maggie’s mother, and she is selfishness personified. Maggie’s hard work and persistence throughout the movie pays off, and she decides to use her earnings to buy Earline a house. Earline doesn’t thank her for it, she berates her. She’d rather just have the money. Martindale twists both her face and her words in ways that should be studied by scientists. 

Maggie is in the hospital later on, and her family comes to visit. Earline storms down the hallway in full Disney regalia, and this detail shows us how truly selfish this woman is. She went to a theme park before going to see Maggie in critical care. Earline is once again only interested in money, and she's ready to take Maggie for everything she’s worth. Her daughter is critically injured, but who cares? Martindale gaslighting the injured Hilary Swank (while decked out in gaudy Disney stuff, you'll remember) is something to see. 

She only has two scenes (more or less), but that was all Martindale needed to create the most loathsome character ever put on film. Was she the reason that this movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2004? We have no proof, but yes.

Witness the glory of Margo Martindale on Mrs. Davis, which streams new episodes on Peacock every Thursday. Go after it, ya dope.