Jonathan Storm: At 60, she's enjoying ride to big role in new drama

Posted: August 09, 2011

Inquirer television critic Jonathan Storm is reporting from the television critics' press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. These items are taken from his blog "Eye of the Storm," at

www.philly.com/eyeofthestorm.

Riding into the 2011-12 fall season with a big role on a CBS drama, Margo Martindale is enjoying a successful period in her career.

The actress, who has appeared in more than 75 movies and TV shows, did a crackerjack job last season as Kentucky family crime boss Mags Bennett on FX's Justified. This fall, she plays the assistant to a hotshot surgeon whose dead wife has been giving him advice about lightening up and paying more attention to his patients.

The show is called A Gifted Man, and it will air Fridays at 8 p.m. on CBS, TV's top slot for well-meaning ghosts and the people they help. Martindale's a bit in the background in the pilot, but executive producer Neal Baer promised she'd have a bigger influence as the show progresses.

"I know how good she is," Baer told TV critics Wednesday, "because when I did [Law & Order:] SVU, she put Elle Fanning in a cage and told her to set Connie Nielsen on fire."

That's a little more demented than Bennett, whose homemade "apple pie" whiskey was famous throughout Harlan County, Ky., in Justified. She slipped some deadly nightshade into the moonshine to kill an associate who was talking to police. "It was in the glass, not in the jar," she told him as he gasped his last gasp while she kept on sipping. She repeated that line, her last in the show, after Timothy Olyphant's Marshal Raylan Givens put her crime enterprise, and her family, into shambles, and she took a poison drink.

Martindale, Emmy-nominated for the role, is enjoying the ride. "It just feels fantastic," she said. "I mean, I turned 60, and everything fell into place. It's great. I've been working, honestly, as an actor professionally since I was . . . 23, I think. And, you know: poor, some money, poor, counting pennies on the floor. It's great to go from that fabulous, wonderful part where I had to die, to a luxurious, spa-like existence with another good-looking man. What can I say?"

"When you go out now, are people afraid to take apple cider from you?" asked a critic who was confused about the nature of her homemade beverage.

"I sell it on my blog," she said.

Adorable goof. Without Zooey Deschanel, Fox's New Girl would be routine. With her, it's one of the best new series this fall.

"What I like about the character is she's not one thing. I feel it's common in TV, especially with female characters, to kind of put them in a box and be like, they're a dork, so they can't be attractive," said creator Liz Meriwether. "They're attractive, so they can't be smart. I have definitely come across that before, and I think Zooey is everything."

"This show advocates the attractive dork," director Jake Kasdan chimed in.

Zooey and friends entertained the critics Friday, as the star tried to deal with the obvious love in the room. Saying the word adorable has gone out over Twitter more than at any other time in history, one critic asked her, "How do you feel about that?"

"Twitter?" she replied. "I love Twitter."

The guy wouldn't stop. "When did you first know you were adorable?"

So she put her hands to her head and said, "My mom told me when I get compliments to cover my ears. I mean I'm sorry. I'm so embarrassed now. Thank you for saying that."

Zooey's older sister, Emily, has been investigating cases on Fox's Bones for seven years. The new Fox star said she'd gotten tips on the mechanics of press conferences and personal appearances from her sis. "She's been amazing and has been so supportive, and I'm excited she's pregnant. She's going to have a baby soon, so she's going to have this baby around and stuff. It's going to be awesome."

'SNL' gig thrills McCarthy. No surprise: Alec Baldwin will launch the 37th season of Saturday Night Live Sept. 24, surging into the lead as the host with the most on the show - 16 times, passing Steve Martin at 15, who I'll bet every dollar I have will turn up to do a bit about the rivalry.

Big surprise: Melissa McCarthy, from CBS's Mike & Molly, will host week two. McCarthy's kind of surprised herself, or at least she was when the topic came up last summer during a meeting with SNL boss Lorne Michaels. McCarthy was writing for Michaels' company.

"I went to meet him," she told me Wednesday at CBS's big party in a parking lot transformed into a Japanese garden next door to the Beverly Hills Hilton. (It's amazing what the party gods can do out here in the Land of La.) "And he said something about hosting, and I just quietly sat there and thought, 'I can't believe I'm in his office.' I was just trying not to say anything weird. And then he said that.

"So I said, 'You said something that made it sound . . . can you just repeat yourself? He just threw it out casually. And I was leaving the office, and he said, 'We thought you could host this year, but it's probably better that you're doing it next year.'

"And I got kind of light-headed, and then when I left I thought, 'You know, that was just like, maybe he just says that to people, or even if he's just thinking it, it's too big for me to seem real.'

"And I literally didn't want to talk about it, and I told my agent not to say anything about it. And then when I finally got the call that it was official, I just bawled like a lunatic."

McCarthy says she'll be doing a lot of writing in the next couple of years, "which I love. I love. I love. I love. I like all sides of the business. I've always written. I was at the [Los Angeles improv company] Groundlings for 300 years, and we had to write our own stuff there."

Some people say she stole the feature Bridesmaids from SNL vet Kristen Wiig, and TV heads remember her as Sookie on the glorious Gilmore Girls. "That was my first long-time job, and that was the one to have," she said.

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