There is a moment in the final quarter of Fran Kranz’s deliberately claustrophobic, intense new film Mass where one of a quartet of horrifically psychologically scarred parents finds herself at a cathartic crossroads and she makes an extraordinarily difficult, life-changing decision. It’s an emotionally wrenching scene and a call for compassion. It’s also feels so real you want to do something—until you realize you can’t. You’re not really there. The actor embodying the role is Martha Plimpton, someone who has been showing her versatility for five decades since the age of 11 when she made her film debut in Alan J. Pakula’s thriller Rollover starring Jane Fonda.
Mass, opening this week, focuses on the parents of two teens who were directly involved in a high school shooting. First-time writer-director Kranz has assembled a remarkable group of actors. In addition to Plimpton, the cast includes Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney. All deliver rich, layered performances, but Plimpton is the soul of the piece. Her Gail is shattered and needing to connect and, possibly, forgive.
It’s no surprise that Plimpton offers up this riveting portrayal. What is surprising is that it’s taken this long for a film role to come along this millennium to match her dramatic chops.
The daughter of Keith Carradine and Shelley Plimpton, Martha got her start quite early before graduating to complex teen roles in ‘80s films like Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty, Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast, and Ron Howard’s Parenthood. In the ‘90s, her film roles were as varied as Martin Ritt’s Stanley and Iris (also with Fonda), Alan Rudolph’s Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol, and John Waters’ Pecker.
The 2000s saw her move on to strong and diverse television roles like her kick ass Emmy-winning stint as manipulative attorney Patti Nyholm on The Good Wife as well as the Emmy-nominated wacky grandma on Raising Hope and the sassy, sarcastic mom on the underrated The Real O’Neals. She’s currently wowing as the uber-conservative Megan on HBOMax’s queer-themed Genera+ion.
But the thesp also has her roots in theatre going way back. She was a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble from 1998 until 2019 and has appeared in many off-Broadway and West End shows, most recently in the London production of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning play Sweat.
On Broadway, she’s received three Tony nominations for work in Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia, Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, and the 2009 musical revival of Pal Joey.
Mass brings her right back to film with this indelible performance.
Awards Daily had a Zoom chat with Martha about the film and her role.