Margot Martindale — Every Drama Series’ Best Guest Star — Interrogates the Double Standard “Evil” Roles

Actress Margot Martindale won an Emmy for her performance on Justified as Mags Bennett, the manipulative matriarch of an Appalachian pot dealing family. She likewise won the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her role as the rough KGB handler, Claudia, on The Americans; and she’s already been acclaimed for recent appearances on The Good Wife as political strategist Ruth Eastman. These have all been strong, dangerous, and often frighteningly thorough characters. They’re roles that — because of the fact that television is only now somewhat waking up from its near-century long sleepwalk through tired norms —may have formerly been played by men. In a just-published interview with Vulture, Martindale addresses the commonality between these characters, and the fact that people have been wont to classify them as “evil,” noting the semantic double standard therein:

Most people on the street say to me, “You’re so evil!” And I find that so interesting. These three parts people consider evil — Claudia from The Americans, Mags, and Ruth — they’re just excellent at what they do. If I were a man, would you call me evil? No. These are smart characters. Ruth really is great at what she does. That doesn’t make her evil, it just makes her really good. She knows how to play the game, and it is a game, it’s a football game. She’s great with eyeing people and knowing how to play them. And Claudia is a great soldier; she’s been doing a fantastic job for her country and was recruited because of her skill to read people. And Mags Bennett, well, she could rule the world, as far as I’m concerned. Smart as a whip in a room with men.

In the interview, she discusses how she’s built a career out of being a “memorable guest” on so many shows, instead of being with them in a longer capacity, saying, “I guess it’s more interesting. My dream was always to get on a show and be on a show, but I think I landed in a place I actually didn’t expect. I have the best of all worlds right now.” Indeed, it seems like she does: as she says, she has “five films in the can,” and is about to be in Bryan Cranston’s new show, Sneaky Pete.