This post contains spoilers for The Act Season 1, Episode 6, “A Whole New World.”[hhmc]
If The Act has one central theme, its that things are not always what they seem. That maxim applies not only to Gypsy Rose Blanchard, played in the series by Joey King, but also to her mother, Patricia Arquettes Dee Dee, who abused her daughter from a young age—likely due to an undiagnosed case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Although it would have been easy to portray Dee Dee flatly as a villain, The Act has consistently worked to ground her actions in a complex emotional reality—and in Wednesdays episode, viewers got their deepest glimpse into Dee Dee yet.
In “A Whole New World,” TV vet Margo Martindale makes her debut as Dee Dees own overbearing mother, Emma—who, as seen in flashbacks, picks apart her daughters every choice, dismisses her parenting instincts, and, eventually, declines to bail Dee Dee out of jail, separating her daughter from Gypsy. “Sometimes,” she says sternly in a courtroom scene, “the only way out of the fire is through.” As Martindale noted in a recent interview, the shoot was a reunion for her; she previously worked with Arquette on NBCs Medium, playing the psychic mentor to Arquettes titular clairvoyant. Working with Arquette on this troubled mother-daughter dynamic, Martindale said, “was deliciously fun and deeply dark.” As Dee Dees mother, she said, “I mustve done something strange.”
“Doing what we do as actors,” Martindale added, “the most fascinating and wonderful thing is trying to figure out why people do what they do. And its just a deeper dive into what motivates people. And I love Patricia.”
One challenge? There wasnt much solid information out there about the woman Martindale was playing, Emma Lois Gisclair Pitre. Martindale tried to dig up as many photographs of Gisclair Pitre as she could, and wound up being struck by one particular facial feature: “I liked her eyebrows,” she said. “It was the brow and the bang. Those were the two biggies for me.”
Playing Gisclair Pitre gave Martindale a degree of insight into Dee Dee, the actress said; having such an overbearing parent would likely debilitate a person, draining the life out of them. “All I understood was that I wanted to be controlling in a way that I believed was right,” Martindale said, explaining Emmas motivation. “Im starting to sound like a crazy person . . . Controlling in a way that I believe was right. But outwardly, if somebody looked in, theyd go, What was she doing?” As this character, Martindale said, she wanted to have an enormous presence, “like it eats the room up.”
Difficult as Dee Dees mother may seem, though, there are no black-and-white heroes and villains on The Act; every character has a clear motivation for even the worst things they do. On this show, everyone is, to some degree, both a perpetrator and a victim. “I think Dee Dee needed love because she got discipline, and rules, and You cant do it like that from her mother, and she needed to be loved,” Martindale mused. “Cause maybe she didnt feel that she was.”
“This is a world of fun for me,” she added. “Its like being at a playground.” A dark and twisted one, perhaps—though Martindale is no stranger to this sort of material. She has been drawn to complexity like this since she was a teenager, when the actress worked in a maximum-security prison unit teaching drama—“if that gives you a little insight into me,” Martindale said with a laugh. “And [I] loved every minute of it.“
“I always could see things from the other side, and I think thats it,” she continued. “You know, these were rapists and murderers. I was 16 years old; I became friends with them. And taught them drama—like I knew anything about drama.”
Now, after years as a familiar face across the TV landscape, Martindale has found a new, niche collection of fans thanks to Netflixs BoJack Horseman, an animated series that has roped her in for several wild adventures. On that show, she plays “Character Actress Margo Martindale”—a slightly more eccentric alter ego whose exploits land her in and out of prison. Martindale has gotten a kick out of the responses shes received from fans of the show—especially one amusing, well-timed Wikipedia edit. Just over a year after BoJack debuted, Martindale won her second Emmy for outstanding guest actress in a drama series on The Americans.
“My husband went on Wikipedia before we flew home just to see if it was on there yet,” Martindale said. “And it said, Margo Martindale spent the last year in prison for armed robbery.” Lets hope The Act doesnt lead to similar confusion on her Wikipedia page this Emmy season.
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