Martha Plimpton

Out of the loop

One of the most consistently interesting actresses working today, Martha Plimpton hasn't followed the career path chosen by most of her contemporaries. The daughter of actors Keith Carradine and Shelley Plimpton, Plimpton first achieved fame as a member of the young cast of The Goonies. In the years that followed, she has alternated between high-profile roles (Parenthood, Beautiful Girls) and independent projects (Eye Of God, I Shot Andy Warhol), sticking largely to the latter. Last seen in John Waters' Pecker, Plimpton can currently be seen in 200 Cigarettes. Plimpton recently spoke to The Onion.

The Onion: How much research did you have to do to play a character living in the early '80s?

Martha Plimpton: Absolutely none. Other than the fact that there's a lot of music from the '80s and people are sort of dressed funny, there's very little to do with the actual '80s. I think Ben Affleck mentions the word "Reaganomics" once. I think the powers that be in this fabulous entertainment industry have suddenly gotten really tired of exploiting '70s nostalgia, and it's their time to move on now.

O: Did you see The Wedding Singer?

MP: I didn't, but I heard it was kind of funny.

O: It was all right, but it sort of disturbs me that they're recreating the '80s in this really weird way that's sort of redefining what that decade is all about.

MP: Exactly. The '80s to me, more than anything else, represents a time of real criminal activity in the office of the president: an incredibly disparate economy in terms of the class distinctions and whatnot, and a tremendous shallowness—a lot of sort of bank robbery by executives. This is the '80s to me. And a lot of synthesizer music. And, of course, Madonna and the beginning of MTV.

O: Are you lumping all those in with bad things?

MP: [Laughs.] Um, I don't know. MTV is producing this movie, so they've given me a job, and I can't really bite the hand that feeds me, I guess. I've often said in the past that I thought MTV was sort of evil incarnate and signified the beginning of the end. And I don't know if I'm entirely wrong about that, but they did sign my paychecks a year ago, so I guess I'm part of the problem.

O: One movie of yours that I thought really got overlooked was Eye Of God. What happened with that?

MP: Well, we couldn't get a real distribution deal. We'd gotten incredible reviews. We'd done really well at the Sundance Film Festival, though I'm not really sure if that means anything.

O: That's sort of a curse these days, I think.

MP: I think in some ways it kind of is. That festival is... I really don't even know what's happening over there. It was supposed to be about filmmakers showing each other their work, and now it's just turned into the same old damn meat market every other festival is. I remember going there and trying to get into some party and literally getting my face smashed into a door jamb because of the crowds trying to get in. It was ridiculous. I think it's worth going just to see how easy it is for filmmakers who call themselves independent to get swallowed by this fucking swirling vortex of greed and status and... It's just a nightmare out there.

O: What sort of baffles me about it is that the films that do well at the festival get bought for a lot of money and never do well elsewhere.

MP: No. And also, the films that do well are the ones that have large companies behind them, like Miramax. Independent film is not only an oxymoron; it doesn't exist anymore. I think it existed for about five minutes, and it's just been swallowed by this dragon, this Hollywood machine that's now trying to make its own sort of Hollywood independent films.

O: I was looking over your filmography and I got the feeling that you must have turned down a lot of big Hollywood roles. Is that true?

MP: Yes.

O: What goes into deciding whether or not you'll do a film?

MP: Well, some people think I have a fear of success. [Laughs.] And they might be right. I've always been at a weird age. When the John Hughes thing was happening, I was too young for that. Now I'm seen as too old for a lot of these other things, these things that Claire Danes does and stuff. And she's great. I like her a lot. I'm sort of out of the loop all the time. I'm either one step too early or one step too late. There's not one set of rules that I follow. Mainly what I do is turn down lots of crap until I get really poor. And then I start taking the crap.

O: If you could take one of your movies back, which one wouldn't you have done?

MP: Oh, God. There are so many of them, and I'm not sure I would say anyway.

O: Did any of them involve android children?

MP: Android children?

O: Isn't that what Josh And S.A.M. is about?

MP: Oh, right... Yeah, that's a good guess on your part, but I won't say. I'd love to be able to say, "Hey, man. I'm really proud of everything I've done, and I've learned so much." And I wouldn't be lying if I said that.

O: The Goonies has developed a cult following over the years. Has that affected your life in any way?

MP: Yeah, in the sense that it's the only movie people consistently recognize me from, even today.

O: Really? I can't imagine people recognizing me from when I was 14.

MP: It's true. I guess I just look exactly the same.

O: Even without the Cyndi Lauper haircut?

MP: Yeah. I guess everybody has seen that movie. I feel like it's another lifetime, but I can't believe that... When it came out, it didn't do such great business. It wasn't a failure, but it certainly wasn't a hit. And it's gotten this incredible afterlife that's amazing to me.

O: As part of a large acting clan, do you find yourself caught up in rivalries with the Barrymore and Van Patten families?

MP: Yeah, all the time. Constantly.

O: If the Carradines and the Van Pattens and the Barrymores were in a big act-off, who would win?

MP: Well, it would probably be a draw between the Carradines and the Van Pattens. Because the Barrymores, you know, they're a little full of themselves. They kind of have this superior attitude. I don't know. I occasionally get calls, like, "Will you do a Carradine family reunion on the new Love Boat?" It just mystifies me, because I don't have the same last name. I did not grow up with that side of my family; in fact, I barely know them. I see my father maybe once every two years. Suddenly, now that I have a somewhat successful career, it's like we're all related and they're responsible for me. That's a bit of a stretch.

O: What else do you want to talk about?

MP: I don't know. Do you want me to complain about something?

O: Yeah. What do you want to complain about?

MP: Oh... Umm... I won't complain. I will say that last night I was reading an old issue of The New Yorker that did a review of this movie that stars two actresses, and the reviewer had this great line in there that said these two actresses had "high-powered but expendable careers." And I just thought that was really astute. It sort of validated me. It made me feel that even though I have no power at all, at least I'm somewhat irreplaceable.

O: Do you think you have longevity on your side, then?

MP: Absolutely.

O: Versus people who will burn out?

MP: Exactly. Well, I'm not famous.

O: You're a little bit famous.

MP: Well, some people know who I am. At this point, I don't get hired a lot because people don't think I could finance a movie. I sort of disagree with that. I think I have a lot of people out there who really like my work. I'm constantly being reminded of that every time I walk down the street. But on the other hand, I've never been on the cover of any big fucking magazine or anything. I'm also not having a relationship with any famous-guy movie star, which means I'm not, like, cemented into everyone's brains. People don't really know who I'm fucking, so they can't really fantasize about me in that way.

O: That's probably for the best.

MP: I think so.

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