Martha Plimpton

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Martha Plimpton
Plimpton at the PEN Gala in 2015
Born (1970-11-16) November 16, 1970 (age 53)
New York City, U.S.
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1981–present

Martha Plimpton (born November 16, 1970[1]) is an American actress, activist, and former model. Her feature-film debut was in Rollover (1981); she subsequently rose to prominence in the Richard Donner film The Goonies (1985). She has also appeared in The Mosquito Coast (1986), Shy People (1987), Running on Empty (1988), Parenthood (1989), Samantha (1992), Small Town Murder Songs (2011), Frozen II (2019), and Mass (2021).

She is recognized on Broadway for her roles in The Coast of Utopia (2006–2007), Shining City (2006–2007), Top Girls (2007–2008), and Pal Joey (2008–2009). Other theatre productions in which she has performed include The Playboy of the Western World, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Glass Menagerie, The Sisters Rosensweig, and Uncle Vanya. She returned to Broadway in the fall of 2014 in a revival of A Delicate Balance,[2] and starred in the ABC sitcom The Real O'Neals from March 2016 to March 2017.[3][4][5]

She played Virginia Chance in the Fox sitcom Raising Hope, which earned her a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.[6] She has also received three Tony Award nominations, as well as a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2002, and again in 2012 as attorney Patti Nyholm in the CBS legal drama The Good Wife, the latter of which she won.

Early life[edit]

Plimpton was born in New York City. She is the daughter of actors Keith Carradine and Shelley Plimpton. Her parents met while performing in the original Broadway run of Hair.[7] Her paternal grandfather was actor John Carradine.[8][9] She is an eighth cousin once removed of writer and editor George Plimpton.[10][11][12] She is also related to cartoonist Bill Plympton, despite the different spelling.[13] She attended the Professional Children's School in Manhattan.[14] Her first stage appearance was when her mother brought her on stage in costume for the curtain call of the short-lived Broadway play The Leaf People then another play in The Ass and the Heart.[15]



Plimpton began her career as a model, securing an early 1980s campaign for Calvin Klein, making an impression as a sophisticated but tomboyish little girl.[16] She made her feature film debut in 1981 with a small role in the film Rollover.[17] In 1984, she appeared in the Deep South drama The River Rat opposite Tommy Lee Jones, as his "hoydenish daughter".[18] Her breakthrough performance was as Stef Steinbrenner in the 1985 film The Goonies.[16][19][20] She also appeared that year in the sitcom Family Ties. This began Plimpton being cast in the role of a rebellious tomboy,[16] beginning with her performance as the Reverend Spellgood (Andre Gregory)'s daughter in the 1986 film The Mosquito Coast, starring Harrison Ford.[16] The critically praised but commercially unsuccessful 1987 film Shy People [21] was followed by a performance in the 1988 ensemble comedy Stars and Bars.[20][22] This was released shortly before Running on Empty, an Oscar-nominated film,[23] in which Plimpton appeared opposite River Phoenix, her boyfriend, both 17–18 years of age, like their characters. For this role, she was nominated for a Young Artist Award.

In her late teenaged years, Plimpton was also active in theater, performing in regional theater in Seattle, Washington, where her mother was living at the time.[24] She also began a career making small independent film appearances with supporting roles in big-budget films. She appeared in the 1988 Woody Allen film Another Woman.[25] She starred as a cancer patient in the German film Zwei Frauen (1990) (released in America as Silence Like Glass).[26] The film was nominated for a German Film Award as Best Fiction Film.[citation needed] Plimpton shaved her head to play a cancer patient in Zwei Frauen.[27] She played the independent teenage daughter of Dianne Wiest's character in Parenthood.[28] Parenthood grossed over $126 million[29] and received two Oscar nominations,[30] one of her most successful movie appearances since The Goonies.


Plimpton in 1996

Plimpton appeared in the Robert De Niro-Jane Fonda 1990 romantic drama Stanley & Iris in a supporting role.[31] She also appeared in the 1991 TV movie A Woman At War in the lead role as Helene Moskiewicz.[32] Plimpton played the starring role of Samantha in the film Samantha (1992).[33] She appeared as an activist in the independent film Inside Monkey Zetterland released in 1993.[34] She appeared in the television film Daybreak (1993, HBO).[35][36] She appeared in the Showtime television film Chantilly Lace.[37] She had a featured role in the film Josh and S.A.M. (1993) as a runaway who takes care of the two boys.[38][39] She played the lead in The Beans of Egypt, Maine, based on the Carolyn Chute novel.[40] Plimpton also appeared as herself in the independent film by Eric Schaeffer My Life's in Turnaround (1993), a movie about filmmakers trying to make a movie.[41] She appeared as a close friend of radical feminist Valerie Solanas in the film I Shot Andy Warhol (1996).[42]

In 1997, the Showtime Network cast Plimpton as the female lead in a television film, The Defenders: Payback. Two more episodes (The Defenders: Choice of Evils and The Defenders: Taking the First) were aired in 1998. This show was a retooling of the classic television show by the same name, and the characters were descendants of Lawrence Preston, a role reprised by actor E.G. Marshall. Plimpton played the granddaughter, M.J. Preston.[43] [44] The intent was to spin the program off as a series, but Marshall died in 1998. The decision was made to not continue production due to Marshall's death.[45] Plimpton became involved with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, appearing in Hedda Gabler (2001) among others.[46] She appeared in the John Waters film Pecker in 1998. The film received mixed reviews—for example, the SF Gate reviewer wrote, "...Waters' patented brand of off-color fun is watered down", but wrote that Plimpton's work was "solid".[47] The 1999 film 200 Cigarettes received generally negative reviews, but the AllMovie reviewer wrote of Plimpton: "...woefully underappreciated Martha Plimpton gets laughs as a bundle of neuroses who grows more and more stressed out as people fail to appear for her party..."[48] In 1999, Plimpton had a recurring role in the sixth season of the NBC medical drama ER as Meg Corwyn.


In 2001, she starred in The Sleepy Time Gal.[49] In 2002, she appeared in the documentary Searching for Debra Winger and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award[50] for her guest appearance on the television drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Plimpton was the voice of Miss Crumbles in the 2004 animated film Hair High by Bill Plympton.[51] In 2004, she guest-starred in an episode of 7th Heaven. She wrote the episode of the show entitled "Red Socks", which aired in 2005.[52] She had a recurring role in the NBC show Surface (2005–06).[53] From October 2006 to May 2007, she was in the stage play The Coast of Utopia, a trilogy of plays by Tom Stoppard at Lincoln Center.[54] She won a Drama Desk Award and was nominated for a Tony award, Featured Actress in a Play.[54] From August to September 2007, Plimpton appeared in A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park production as "Helena".[55]

Plimpton attending the 63rd Tony Awards, 2009

She co-founded a production company, Everything is Horrible, which has produced short films for the Internet. Plimpton received her second nomination for a Tony Award in 2008, Best Performance by a Featured Actress In a Play, for her work in Top Girls at the Biltmore Theater.[56] In November 2008, she earned a positive review from Ben Brantley in The New York Times for her role as Gladys Bumps in the Roundabout Theatre Company production of Pal Joey on Broadway. "...the ever-daring Ms. Plimpton exudes a been-there, frowzy sensuality that summons a host of hard-bitten dames from 1930s movie melodramas. Leading the nightclub act 'That Terrific Rainbow,' she has the period style down pat and a more than passable voice."[57] She received her third consecutive Tony nomination, for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Plimpton appeared in the 2008 Entertainment Weekly photo issue spread as one of "The Hardest Working Actors In Showbiz". Plimpton said in the write-up, "I went to jury duty the other day, and somebody said, 'You always play drug addicts!' I've played a few on TV, and I imagine because the shows get replayed, it seems like more. But yeah, people tend to see me as this pregnant teenage heroin addict."[58] In 2008, Plimpton performed a duet with singer Lucy Wainwright Roche on Roche's EP 8 More, singing the Bruce Springsteen song Hungry Heart. The two had performed the song in 2008 at Joe's Pub and later in 2008 at the Zipper Factory.[59] In 2009, she was profiled by The New York Times for their "A Night Out With..." series, in which Plimpton hosted an evening of poker at The Players.[60]


In 2010, she sang another Springsteen song, "Thunder Road", on the public radio program Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen, accompanied by whistler Eric Gilliland.[61] She has appeared multiple times as a guest on public radio's The Leonard Lopate Show, and performed in a roast of Lopate celebrating the 25th anniversary of his radio program.[62] Plimpton is on the board of directors of The Players,[63] a New York City social club founded in 1888 by actor Edwin Booth. In November 2009, Plimpton signed on for the Fox sitcom Raising Hope. The show premiered on September 21, 2010, receiving strong reviews for Plimpton and the pilot. The New York Times called Raising Hope "the most promising of the best new fall shows",[64] and said "Plimpton isn't the only reason Raising Hope could be the best new sitcom of the season, but she is the main reason."[65] Plimpton was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of Virginia Chance in Raising Hope. In January 2010, she performed a one-woman show, Martha Plimpton Sings? for the Lincoln Center's American Songbook program.[66] This show explored her experiences growing up in 1970s New York City. Her performance, well received by critics, included songs "Jolly Coppers on Parade", "Woman Is the Nigger of the World", and The Smiths's "Ask" tied together with humorous monologues.[67] Plimpton also narrates audiobooks, including the novels Diary by Chuck Palahniuk[68] and Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh.[69]

She had a recurring role in the CBS legal drama The Good Wife from 2009 to 2013, playing attorney Patti Nyholm, who appeared through four seasons. Her performance earned her a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2012.[70] Plimpton sang "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch of Game 3 of the 2010 World Series in Texas on Fox, October 30, 2010.[71] On December 15, 2010, Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre announced that Plimpton would be the guest of honor at their second-annual "Salute to Women in the Arts".[72] In 2010, she starred in Ed Gass-Donnelly's independent crime thriller Small Town Murder Songs, and was given a trophy for best actress by the Whistler Film Festival.[73] In 2014, Plimpton returned to Broadway as Julia, the daughter of Glenn Close and John Lithgow in a revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance. The limited engagement ran 18 weeks at the Golden Theatre.[2] Plimpton starred in The Real O'Neals, an ABC sitcom that premiered on March 2, 2016.[3][4][5] In July 2019, it was revealed that Plimpton had left the Steppenwolf Theater ensemble.[74] In September 2019, it was revealed that Plimpton would voice Yelena in Frozen II.[75]


Plimpton appeared as one of four leads in the drama film Mass, which was released in 2021 to positive reviews,[76][77] and earned her nominations for the Dorian Award for Best Supporting Film Performance and the San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actress.[78][79] She also shared the Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award with the cast of Mass.[80] She played a conservative mother in the HBO dramedy series Generation, which was cancelled after one season.[81][82] She will star in the upcoming HBO miniseries The Regime.[83]

Personal life[edit]

River Phoenix and Plimpton on the red carpet at the 61st Academy Awards, 1989

In 1985, Plimpton met actor River Phoenix. They did not initially get along well, but began a romantic relationship in February 1986 while co-starring in Peter Weir's The Mosquito Coast.[84] They went on to co-star in the Sidney Lumet film Running on Empty. Their relationship ended in June 1989 due to Phoenix's substance abuse, but they remained close friends until his death in 1993. Plimpton later stated, "When we split up, a lot of it was that I had learned that screaming, fighting, and begging wasn't going to change him. He had to change himself, and he didn't want to yet."[85]

Plimpton resides part-time in London, her visa allowing her to stay until 2024.[86]

Political campaigns[edit]

Plimpton is an abortion-rights campaigner who has lobbied Congress on behalf of Planned Parenthood and is on the board of directors of the women's-rights organization "A Is For"; according to the organization's website, Plimpton has been politically active in abortion rights since her teenage years and speaks at campuses and rallies.[87] In 2014, Plimpton wrote a lengthy article decrying both U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and McCullen v. Coakley and revealing in part that she herself has had an abortion more than once.[88] She wrote that her purpose was "A) to contribute to the dismantling of an oppressive, artificial and unfair shaming of women who seek abortion care, B) make clear just how normal, common, and healthy a decision it is for the women who make it, and C) to encourage women who are part of this one third to be unashamed and come out of the abortion closet."[88] In September 2017, Plimpton created controversy when she again said she had multiple abortions and said one she received at Planned Parenthood in Seattle was her "best one".[89]

She has also advocated for LGBT rights causes. In a Twitter post in March 2016, she stated that transgender rights and abortion rights are linked.[90]



Source: PlaybillVault[91]

The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park[edit]

Steppenwolf Theatre Company[edit]

Sources: Steppenwolf Theatre Company;[94]

Off Broadway[edit]

Source: Internet Off-Broadway Database[96]

Seattle Repertory Theatre[edit]

Sources: Steppenwolf Biography[94]

New York Philharmonic[edit]




Year Title Role Notes
1981 Rollover Miss. Fewster
1984 The River Rat Jonsy
1985 The Goonies Stephanie "Stef" Steinbrenner
1986 A Life in the Day Short film
The Mosquito Coast Emily Spellgood
1987 Shy People Grace Sullivan
1988 Stars and Bars Bryant
Running on Empty Lorna Phillips
Another Woman Laura
1989 Zwei Frauen Claudia Jacoby
Parenthood Julie Buckman-Higgins
1990 Stanley & Iris Kelly King
1992 A Blink of Paradise Mother
Inside Monkey Zetterland Sofie
Samantha Samantha
1993 The Perfect Woman Short film
Josh and S.A.M. Alison (The Liberty Maid)
My Life's in Turnaround Herself
1994 The Beans of Egypt, Maine Earlene Pomerleau
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle Jane Grant
1995 Last Summer in the Hamptons Chloe Garfield
1996 I Shot Andy Warhol Stevie
Beautiful Girls Jan
I'm Not Rappaport Laurie Campbell
1997 Colin Fitz Ann
Eye of God Ainsley Dupree
1998 Music from Another Room Karen Swan
Pecker Tina
1999 200 Cigarettes Monica
2001 The Sleepy Time Gal Rebecca
2004 Hair High Miss Crumbles Voice role
2006 Marvelous Gwen
2007 Dante's Inferno Celia
2008 Gone to the Dogs Leslie
Puppy Love
2010 I Thought About You Gloria
Small Town Murder Songs Sam
Remember Me Helen Craig Uncredited
2011 Company Sarah Filmed production
2017 Hello Again Ruth (The Politician)
2018 Honey Bee Louise
2019 Frozen II Yelena Voice role
2021 Mass Gail Perry


Year Title Role Notes
1985 Family Ties Jessie Black Episode: "You've Got a Friend"
1991 A Woman at War Helene Moszkiewiez Television film
1993 Chantilly Lace Ann
Daybreak Laurie
1999 ER Meg Corwin 4 episodes
2002 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Claire Rinato Episode: "Denial"
2003 Karen Sisco Chelsea Wentworth Episode: "The One That Got Away"
Hack Louise O'Connor Episode: "Black Eye"
2004 7th Heaven Venus Episode: "Regret to Inform"
2006 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Jo Gage Episode: "Blind Spot"
Surface Mr. Big / Dr. Morris 2 episodes
2009 Medium Rosemary Widdick Episode: "Pain Killer"
Grey's Anatomy Pam Michaelson 2 episodes
2009–2013 The Good Wife Patti Nyholm 5 episodes
2010 Fringe Sheriff Ann Mathis Episode: "Northwest Passage"
How to Make It in America Edie Weitz 6 episodes
2010–2014 Raising Hope Virginia Chance Main role – 88 episodes
2015–2018 Younger[104][105] Cheryl Sussman 4 episodes
2016–2017 The Real O'Neals Eileen O'Neal Main role – 29 episodes
2018 The Blacklist Dr. Sharon Fulton 2 episodes
The Guest Book Shelley Episode: "Under Cover"
The Shivering Truth Voice role; Episode: "Ogled Inklings"
2019 At Home with Amy Sedaris Debbie Jo Jo Episode: "Creativity"
Brockmire Shirley 4 episodes
Baroness von Sketch Show Captain Marvelous / Margo 2 episodes
2019–2020 Vampirina Briana Voice role; 2 episodes
2020 Doc McStuffins Duchess of Bedazzle Voice role; Episode: "Bedazzled!"
Flack Clara Episode: "Clara"
2021 Generation Megan Main role – 16 episodes
2022 The Man Who Fell to Earth Officer K. Faraday Episode: "Hallo, Spaceboy"
Sprung Barb Main role – 9 episodes
2023 A Town Called Malice Mint Ma Lord Main role – 8 episodes
2023 Family Guy Stephanie Voice role, episode: "From Russia With Love"
2024 The Regime Judith Holt Guest role – 3 episodes
TBA Prime Target Upcoming miniseries

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2015 Minecraft: Story Mode Olivia [106]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Year Category Nominated work Result Ref.
Youth in Film Awards 1984 Exceptional Performance By a Young Actress - Motion Picture The Goonies Nominated [107]
1986 Best Young Female Superstar in Motion Pictures The Mosquito Coast Nominated [108]
Independent Spirit Awards 1987 Best Supporting Female Shy People Nominated [109]
Youth in Film Awards Best Young Actress in a Motion Picture: Drama Running on Empty Nominated [110]
Obie Award 2001 Outstanding Performance Hobson's Choice Won [111]
Primetime Emmy Awards 2002 Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Nominated [112]
Tony Awards 2007 Best Featured Actress in a Play The Coast of Utopia Nominated [113]
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Won [114]
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Won [115]
Tony Awards 2008 Best Featured Actress in a Play Top Girls Nominated [116]
Outer Critics Circle Award 2009 Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Pal Joey Nominated [117]
Tony Awards Best Featured Actress in a Musical Nominated [118]
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Nominated [119]
Critics' Choice Television Awards 2011 Best Actress in a Comedy Series Raising Hope Nominated [120]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [121]
Satellite Awards Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Won [122]
Critics' Choice Television Awards 2012 Best Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [123]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series The Good Wife Won [124]
Critics' Choice Television Awards 2013 Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series Nominated [125]
Dorian Awards 2022 Best Supporting Film Performance Mass Nominated [78]
Independent Spirit Awards Robert Altman Award Won [80]
San Diego Film Critics Society Best Supporting Actress Nominated [79]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Borel, Kathryn (March–April 2013). "Martha Plimpton". The Believer. 11 (3): 83–89.

External links[edit]