Martha Plimpton has been acting since she was 10, so she can be forgiven for wanting a break.
With her latest film, “Hello Again,” now in 300 theaters nationwide for a limited run, Plimpton said, “I want to enjoy my time off and think of where I want to go next. I’m interested in developing stuff — not for myself. I’m in a transitional phase. My career has always moved that way. I started acting very young.”
Plimpton’s acting pedigree — her father, Keith Carradine, and mother, Shelley Plimpton, met during the original Broadway run of “Hair” — meant that she grew up around the theater. “I was always involved in something backstage somewhere,” she said. “Every time I do a performance, it’s another moment. It’s the thing I know how to do best.”
The much-awarded Plimpton takes chances, stepping outside her comfort zone, as she did in “Hello Again,” a musical film featuring 10 characters who pair off and slip in and out of each other’s arms through 10 decades of the 20th century. Themes such as love, eroticism and betrayal unfold against moody, neon-tinged backdrops. Only one member of each pair advances to the next decade, tossing aside their old partner for a new one.
“It was a super low-budget shoot,” said Plimpton. “We’d film in one or two locations over the course of three or four days. I’d done musicals and a one-woman show, but I’m not a trained singer. It’s not what I’m known for. It was very out of the ordinary, but I thought, yeah, I’ll be there. We had earphones in playing the music so we could sing live. It’s not all lip-synched.
“I love the way the film looks. I’m incredibly impressed with the way it turned out visually,” Plimpton added. “It’s more evidence that you can make something extraordinary, even if you have few resources, if you’re creative.”
“Hello Again,” directed by Tom Gustafson, is an adaptation of Michael John LaChiusa’s 1993 Off-Broadway musical, itself based on the 1897 play “La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler. Audra McDonald, Cheyenne Jackson, T.R. Knight, Rumer Willis, Jenna Ushkowitz, Sam Underwood, Nolan Gerard Funk, Al Calderon and Tyler Blackburn round out the ensemble cast.
“There’s so many wonderful people from all different areas in the film,” Plimpton said. “Rumer Willis has a phenomenal voice. My scenes are with Audra. Because of the vignette nature of the story, you’re thrust into situations very quickly. Everybody was game and so giving. There were no egos.
“My character is kind of mysterious,” Plimpton added. “I launch the film into the way we’re going to tell the story by going to a peep show and seeking a lost love. It’s almost an unconscious dream state that we enter as the film begins. Later on, my character is a senator. The role was originally written for a man. During the run-up to an election, she’s conflicted and has this secret life and secret love, who is Audra. The relationship is impossible and full of longing and sadness. My story lines are sad.”
Asked about the significance of a red diamond ring Plimpton wears at the beginning of the movie, she said, “I didn’t delve too deeply into the ring. I work better taking things as they come. These are vignettes, snapshots, moments in time and a cultural history. There’s no fulfillment. You never know how [a film] will work out. I won’t say I was surprised that it turned out as well as it did. I felt very confident with Tom. I don’t usually experience that level of relaxation with a young or new director. He knew what he wanted it to be.”
Plimpton knows what she wants as well. She’s passionate about women’s reproductive rights and the non-profit organization she and some friends in 2012 founded, A is for, the name is a reference to the “Scarlet Letter.” “We’re challenging the stigma [of abortion] to remove the artificial shame of a necessary medical procedure that’s protected by the constitution,” Plimpton said. “One in three women is sexually abused.”
Plimpton said she’s heartened by the women who’ve been willing to speak out against highly placed offenders. “I don’t think there’s a woman in any industry who hasn’t felt threatened at some time,” she said. “Now things are going to change, aren’t they. Why was this allowed to continue? This is important because it’s so common and so endemic. People have truly been victimized. At the same time, I want to make sure this isn’t just a trending topic. I hear a lot of comments from men, like, ‘I don’t know what I’m allowed to do.’ Err on the side of caution and shut your mouth.”
“I didn’t go to college. I went into the theater and movies. It’s been a prism since I was a kid. I started at 10 or 11, in bit parts, and at 12, I had a lead,” she said, referring to “The Goonies,” in 1985, which was followed by “Mosquito Coast,” 1986; “Running on Empty,” 1988, and “Parenthood,” 1989. “I worked with pretty great directors in my teens and twenties. In my thirties, the roles weren’t all that interesting. I wasn’t a typical ingenue. I don’t have the looks for it. I do more plays. I joined Steppenwolf and did a lot of regional theater, new plays and Shakespeare.”
Plimpton received a Tony Award nomination for playing two different characters in Tom Stoppard’s epic three-part work “The Coast of Utopia,” and was nominated for “Pal Joey” at the Roundabout Theatre Company, and “Top Girls.” “I’d like to do some theater in England,” she said. “I won an Obie award for doing a Lancashire accent in ‘Hobson’s Choice.'”
The actress won an Emmy for “The Good Wife,” and landed a lead in “The Real O’Neals.” “I was disappointed when it was canceled,” she said, “but that’s TV and you move on.”
Plimpton who enjoys throwing dinner parties, was asked to compile her ultimate guest list, which included Margaret Sanger, Nellie Bly, Adrienne Rich, Scottish comedic actor Billy Connolly, Rachel Maddow, Prince, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gene Kelly and British poet Philip Larkin, “who’s also an asshole,” she said. “I miss Roddy McDowall. We used to put on some great dinner parties. They would last until 5 a.m. I’m a sloppy, much more improvisational cook. I make roasts, but I’m still working on my Yorkshire pudding.”