In a perfect world, Martha Plimpton typically has three to six months before shooting to get into character.
But her latest role, in “Sprung” — which reunites Plimpton with her “Raising Hope” creator, Greg Garcia — happened on the fly.
About a year ago, Plimpton was at her London home cooking dinner when Garcia called to ask about her plans for the next couple of months.
Why? she responded.
“He said, well, could you get on a plane on Sunday, do fittings on Monday and start shooting my series on Tuesday?” she said. “And I said, yeah, absolutely, get me the ticket.”
“I didn’t even have to read the script,” she added. “It was Greg, and I would follow him into a volcano.”
On her flight to Pittsburgh, she dug into that script. And somewhere over the Atlantic, Barb was born: the mother of a recently released convict (Phillip Garcia) who offers two of his fellow inmates room and board — if they join her robbery crew to earn their keep. A dowager’s hump, bright red hair streaked with white and a perma-snarl completed the character. “Sprung” debuts Aug. 19 on Amazon Freevee.
In a video call from London, where she lives when she’s not in Brooklyn or Los Angeles, Plimpton elaborated on 10 things she can’t live without from a list of hundreds — “I wanted to say toilet paper or, I don’t know, clementines,” she quipped. Among them: driving Highway 101; her pandemic pooches, Walter and Jimmy Jazz; and abortion rights, for which she is a famously outspoken advocate.
“They can make all the laws they want,” she said of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, “but they’re not going to stop us.”
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
1. “Gloria” (1980), directed by John Cassavetes “Gloria” is the first movie I remember seeing that was an action film with a woman heroine, firing a gun and running through Penn Station in heels and a fabulous silk Ungaro suit and easily the best hair in the history of Hollywood. I get goose bumps from Gena Rowlands’s power in this movie. It’s just a badass woman, kicking butt and taking names. It’s part of why I wanted and still want to be an actor, because I really [expletive] hope I get a role like that someday.
2. Her Dogs During the early months of the pandemic, I thought I was going to lose my mind if I didn’t have an animal to take care of to get me out of the house. I contacted a lot of shelters and nobody had any dogs left. Then this lovely woman named Tiffany [at Animal Haven] wrote me back and said, “I just happen to have two little dogs here. I’ll bring these guys over.” I wanted to foster first, but I’m a typical foster fail because my dogs bring me enormous peace and a sense of living in the moment as much as humanly possible. They’re magical little creatures that make my heart bigger and teach me patience.
3. Highway 101 It’s the route to my family home in Oregon. It’s astonishingly beautiful going from the California coast up through the redwoods and past the little motels on the side of the road and the lighthouses. And you’ve got to drive slow. You cannot go 75 miles an hour on Highway 101 or you’ll end up in the ocean. It forces you to take it all in one mile at a time.
4. Tate museum membershipSome of the most exciting things I’ve seen have been at the Tate Modern. Also, they have the best museum gift shop, and I’m huge on museum gift shops. The last show I saw was Lubaina Himid, who’s an extraordinary artist who works in a multitude of mediums, from sculpture to audio to site-specific stuff to these colorful, bright, beautiful paintings about life in London and colonialism, family, food.
5. Public Radio I listen to NPR or WNYC easily 24 hours a day. I love the reporters. I love the name generator, where you can type in your birthday or whatever and it gives you one of those kooky names that they all have. It brings me a sense of continuity and keeps me informed because I don’t like to watch television news. I’m like one of those crazy spinster ladies who listen to the radio at night.
6. The photographer Weegee My mom, for a time, was a research librarian so she had a lot of great photography books, like Robert Frank’s “The Americans.” But the one that I still have, and that I will never let go of, is her book of photographs by Weegee. I’ve been totally entranced by those photographs, completely mad for them. Photos of city life, freaks and weirdos and criminals and cons and card players and kids playing in the street. His photograph of a transsexual being carted off in a police wagon — just the look of joy on her face as she lifts her skirt to show her stocking — is one of the most extraordinary photographs I’ve ever seen.
7. Edward Gorey My first and only tattoo is an Edward Gorey phrase. [Reveals the underside of her arm.] It says, “On which she flung herself over the parapet.” And then down here [shows her rib cage], there she is flinging herself over the parapet. I got that when I was 42. But Edward Gorey is an artist that I’d been looking at since I was very little — 3, 4, 5, 6. His “Gashlycrumb Tinies” book is, I suppose, the most famous. It’s all these children’s names that start with a letter from the alphabet, along with what horrible way they died.
8. Abortion rightsI’m angry, and I’m frustrated. I feel very strongly that a law codifying the right to abortion federally needs to be passed. I think we should pass the [Equal Rights Amendment] sooner rather than later. I think that our president has an obligation to do these things without concern necessarily for the climate in the Senate. Abortion is normal. It is a regular health procedure. I think the way we’re living now with this is sadistic and cruel, and it’s meant to silence us and to sideline us. And that’s just not going to happen.
9. Pamela Adlon“Better Things” is one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. I have rarely seen family portrayed so brutally honestly and also with such heart and good humor. Pamela has this sort of signature move. She leans over, she grabs her knees and she just exhales. [Demonstrates the move.] And that’s something that I so relate to, even though I don’t have kids. The boring, tedious agony of being a middle-aged woman, and particularly an actress, in our culture is ripe for that kind of exploration, for that kind of truth.
10. Stephen Sondheim He is easily for me the greatest composer-lyricist of the 20th century, and he was utterly fearless, seemingly, in what he was willing to do. Musical theater has died a million deaths and he always seemed to be the one to bring it back to life. There are certain things that I will never be able to listen to without collapsing in a heap of tears and chills and goose bumps. “Sweeney Todd” might be up there as my absolute favorite. “Sunday in the Park With George” is another. When he died, I had those two on repeat very, very loud in my house, listening to them over and over again. He’s just such an extraordinary capturer of what it means to be a human being and to love and to believe in art.