Margo Martindale has a helluva laugh. When she has a really big one, her head slams forward then back again. The actress — or, in the parlance of “BoJack Horseman,” on which she voices a crazy, bazooka-toting version of herself, “character actress” — can be scary or scarily efficient on shows like “Justified” or “The Americans.” But in person she’s closer to the nicer characters, like the one she plays in the new indie dramedy “The Hollars.” Directed by and starring John Krasinski, it follows a family whose matriarch (played by Martindale) discovers she has a possibly fatal brain tumor. But her character doesn’t go quietly. In fact, Martindale insists she’s living, not dying.
First things first: I have to admit I didn’t know you were a New Yorker.
Since 1974. I’ve been on the same block since 1978, on the Upper West Side.
I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of change.
Tremendous change. There were pimps and whores on my block when I moved there. They’re not there anymore. I had a lot of propositions from this pimp on my block. And I was very flattered. But I decided I wasn’t going to go work for him. [Laughs] I think I even remember the guy’s name: It was Harbo.
Harbo is probably be the name I’d go with if I was a pimp, even if it’s not very menacing.
I’d be Harbo.
I wanted to ask about “BoJack Horseman” and if there are now a lot of people calling you “Character Actress Margo Martindale” to your face.
Uh-huh. Quite a few of them.
How do you feel about that?
I feel really great. I love it. Somebody stopped me on the street the other day and said, “Are you Character Actress Margo Martindale?” I said, “You recognized me from my cartoon?” [Laughs]
At least it’s a great thing to be called.
The thing that’s so bizarre is, that I’ve always thought: What is acting except for character acting? If you’re not character acting, then you’re just not really acting. Because every part is a character.
It also means you haven’t been typecast. You’ve never played someone who is dying before, as you do in “The Hollars.”
I’m not dying. I’m living.
It is the rare chance for you to play a nice mom. The one you play in “Mother’s Day” is nice, too.
At times. I wasn’t that nice in “Mother’s Day.” I was obnoxious!
But there’s a core of decency there. She means well but she comes off as obnoxious.
That’s right. But [her character in “The Hollars”] was, as my friend Patty said, a graceful mother —which she didn’t think she’d ever see me play. [Laughs]
And it’s a film that really lets Richard Jenkins, who plays your perpetually crying husband, be funny.
Can I say I find him the funniest person I’ve ever known? He makes me fall over laughing, [Laughs]
He’s always so serious.
Look at him in the eyes and you’ll see he’s not serious at all.
I actually wanted to ask about “Lorenzo’s Oil," from 1992. That was an early film role for you. How did director George Miller find you?
I love George Miller. He came to see me in a play twice at the Manhattan Theater Club. I was in something about the Ku Klux Klan, I think. He saw me twice and he hired me. I remember sitting on the lawn of the house in a director’s chair with my name on it. I was thinking, ‘This is where I belong. This feels perfect.’
Was it the first time you felt that on a movie set?
Uh-huh. I’d done “The Rocketeer” and a few other movies. But I had a real part in this movie.
I think one of the first times I really noticed you, after “Million Dollar Baby,” was the Alexander Payne short you starred in from “Paris Je T’aime.” Payne wrote the part for you and you spend the movie as a tourist in Paris badly speaking French. How close to home was that?
Alexander asked me, “Do you speak French?” I said, “Not a word.” He said, “Even better.”
So you didn’t have to totally fake it?
I worked with a French person. I learned the dialogue in French. Then Alexander and I did eight hours of voiceover. He wanted me to do it differently than I had learned it. He made it better.
How’s your French now?
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge