Martha Plimpton



Also Known As
Martha Campbell Plimpton
Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
November 16, 1970


Actress Martha Plimpton rose from a brief tenure as a teen star to become one of the most respected stage actresses on the New York theater scene, as well as a versatile character performer in films and on television. The daughter of actor Keith Carradine, she made her theater debut at age nine before vaulting to film a few years later; though she was cemented in the minds of many young ...

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River Phoenix
Actor. Deceased.
John Walker


Actress Martha Plimpton rose from a brief tenure as a teen star to become one of the most respected stage actresses on the New York theater scene, as well as a versatile character performer in films and on television. The daughter of actor Keith Carradine, she made her theater debut at age nine before vaulting to film a few years later; though she was cemented in the minds of many young viewers for her sassy turn in "The Goonies" (1985), she quickly developed into a cagey, complex supporting actress with critically acclaimed turns in "Another Woman" (1988), "Running on Empty" (1988) and "I Shot Andy Warhol" (1996). In the late 1990s, she devoted her attention to plays and musicals, earning several Tony nominations and the respect of the formidable theater community. Over the next decade, Plimpton appeared regularly as a guest star on dozens of television series before joining the cast of the family sitcom "Raising Hope" (Fox, 2010-14). As Virginia Chance, mother of a twenty-something son raising a child of his own, Plimpton showcased her spiky blend of heart, humor and brittle charm that had long made her a favorite with audiences of all ages. She followed that up with another endearingly complex matriarch, conservative Catholic Eileen O'Neal on "The Real O'Neals" (ABC 2016- ).

Martha Campbell Plimpton was born Nov. 16, 1970 in New York City, NY. Through her father, she was part of the sprawling family acting dynasty that included paternal grandfather John Carradine; uncles Robert, Bruce and David Carradine; half-uncle Michael Bowen; and cousins Ever and Calista Carradine. Other relatives included author, writer and occasional actor George Plimpton, who was a cousin, as was cartoonist Bill Plympton. Her mother was actress Shelley Plimpton, who met her father while both were in the original Broadway production of "Hair." Their union was short-lived; Carradine, then only 19, returned to Los Angeles shortly after his daughter's birth, leaving her to be raised by her mother in a small two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. Though they were not close during her childhood, Carradine and Plimpton did build a relationship in later years.

She first stood on stage with her mother during a curtain call for the Broadway production of "The Leaf People"; her professional debut came at the age of nine in an avant-garde musical version of "The Haggadah." While attending the Professional Children's School in Manhattan, Plimpton began working as a model, most notably for Calvin Klein. In 1981, she landed her screen debut in Alan J. Pakula's financial thriller, "Rollover," as the oldest daughter of Macon McCalman's character. Two years later, she was top billed as a teenaged girl who meets her ex-con father (Tommy Lee Jones) for the first time in "The River Rat" (1984). The tomboyish role would largely define her screen persona for the next few years, and encompass her best-known feature film performance, that of Stephanie "Stef" Steinbrenner, who joins a group of fellow outcast teens in a search for hidden pirate treasure in the Stephen Spielberg-produced/Richard Donner-directed "The Goonies." A much-loved childhood favorite for a generation of viewers, its popularity and influence surpassed much of Plimpton's other work, including her award-winning stage roles; reportedly, during a production of "Hedda Gabler," she was interrupted by an audience member who shouted out the film's title.

Despite the enduring legacy of "The Goonies," Plimpton soon developed a reputation among critics and audiences as an effortlessly mature performer, adept at tackling challenging roles for top directors. She was a precocious missionary's daughter who flirted with River Phoenix in Peter Weir's "The Mosquito Coast" (1986), then shifted gears to play an abrasive, drug-addicted city teen whose manipulative ways with Cajun relatives come to a disastrous end in Andrei Konchalevsky's "Shy People" (1987), which earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination. The following year, she played Gena Rowland's neglected stepdaughter in Woody Allen's dramatic "Another Woman" (1988), before portraying love interest to Phoenix in Sidney Lumet's "Running on Empty" (1988). Plimpton later shaved her head to play a cancer patient in the German film "Silence Like Glass" (1989) before again shifting gears taking a hilarious turn as a teenage mother in Ron Howard's "Parenthood" (1989). For several years during this period, Plimpton was engaged in a tumultuous relationship with her "Mosquito Coast" star and kindred spirit, of sorts, River Phoenix. Though devoted to the purity of his ideals, his mounting drug addiction proved too difficult to overcome. The pair would remain friends until his untimely overdose death in October 1993.

The 1990s saw Plimpton move out of adolescent and teen roles and into more adult projects. Her unique looks often cast her as women operating on the fringes: "Inside Monkey Zetterland" (1992), written and directed by her "Goonies" co-star Steve Antin, cast her as a lesbian terrorist posing as a heterosexual housewife while publishing a newsletter than outed closeted gays, while Stevie in "I Shot Andy Warhol" (1996) was a friend and associate of Valerie Solanas, who penned the anti-male "SCUM Manifesto" before attempting to murder the pop artist. In Tim Blake Nelson's "Eye of God" (1997), she was a naïve young Southern woman who married her prison pen pal, while the indie comedy "Music from Another Room" (1998) cast her as yet another misanthropic women; this time the creator of a theater project called "Actors Without Dicks."

Despite the apparent typecasting, Plimpton's talents also carried her to a wide variety of roles, several of which allowed her to display a knack for dry comedy. In John Waters' "Pecker" (1998), she was the gleeful emcee of a go-go contest at a gay club, while 1993's "Samatha" gave her a rare lead as a talented violinist who upsets her comfortable life by searching for her birth parents. However, drama was her forte, and she excelled as serious professionals, like New Yorker co-founder Jane Grant in "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" (1994) and in "The Defenders: Payback" (Showtime, 1997), a TV movie revival of the 1961-65 legal series (CBS) as original cast member E.G. Marshall's granddaughter, who followed him into the profession. Plimpton's presence on stage during this period also grew exponentially, with several acclaimed turns for Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company among her credits.

Gradually, theater came to dominate Plimpton's acting efforts; her film career was relegated to a few well-regarded indie projects, including "200 Cigarettes" (1999) and "The Sleepy Time Gal" (2001), which received a Grand Jury Prize nomination at the Cannes Film Festival. There was also another leading role, albeit a little-seen one in "Marvelous" (2006), a drama about a woman (Plimpton) who emerged from a painful divorce with the ability to heal people. However, if fans wanted to see Plimpton outside of these limited venues, they needed to visit a theater; there, they could see her give powerful performances in "Hedda Gabler," Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" among many others. She soon became one of the New York stage's leading lights, with Tony nominations in 2007 and 2008 for the epic "Coast of Utopia," which also earned her a Drama Desk Award, and "Top Girls." In 2008, she also surprised many by tackling her first musical, "Pal Joey," which brought her a third Tony nomination for her performance as the veteran chorus girl, Gladys Bumps, which also required her to perform a burlesque routine each night. This led to an acclaimed one-woman show, "Martha Plimpton Sings?" (2010), for Lincoln Center's American Songbook program, as well as duets with singer Lucy Wainwright Roche on her EP, 8 More (2008). In addition to her acting career, Plimpton dabbled in screenwriting with an episode of "7th Heaven" (The WB, 1996-2007). She also sat on the board of directors for The Players, the century-old New York social club for actors.

When not on stage, Plimpton was a frequent guest star on episodic television, where she essayed an array of memorable women, notable either for their power or vulnerability. She was a heroin-addicted waitress who found herself pregnant on four episodes of "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), then received an Emmy nomination for another drug-addicted role, this time on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) as an assault victim who is accused of murdering her infant sister. On the other end of the spectrum was her mysterious secret agent on the short-lived science fiction series "Surface" (NBC, 2005-06) and Lake Bell's big-hearted boss on "How to Make It in America" (HBO, 2010-11). That same year, she signed on to play the world-weary, chain-smoking mom of clueless teen father Lucas Neff on the comedy series "Raising Hope" (Fox, 2010-14), a role that earned her an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. In 2012, Plimpton earned an Emmy - this time as a guest actress in a drama - for her role as an opposing counselor opposite Julianna Marguiles on "The Good Wife" (CBS, 2009-16) She next appeared on TV in the sitcom "The Real O'Neals" (ABC 2016- ) as Eileen O'Neal, the stern but loving matriarch of a family suddenly roiled by the exposure of multiple family secrets.

Life Events


Stage debut at age eight in "The Haggadah" at New York Public Theater


Made film acting debut in a bit part in "Rollover"


Appeared in a Calvin Klein jeans commercial at age 11


TV acting debut, "The Hand-Me-Down Kid"


First substantial film role, "The River Rat"


Breakthrough performance as Stef Steinbrenner in "The Goonies"


Critically lauded performance as the Reverend Spellgood's daughter in "The Mosquito Coast" starring Harrison Ford and her future real-life love interest, River Phoenix


Co-starred in the critically praised but commercially unsuccessful feature, "Shy People"


Second film with River Phoenix, the Academy Award-nominated film, "Running on Empty"


Played the indignant teenage daughter of Dianne Wiest in "Parenthood"


Co-starred with Campbell Scott in Shakespeare's "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" at the Public Theater


First feature starring role, "Samantha"


Portrayed the lesbian lover of radical feminist Valerie Solanas in the indie film "I Shot Andy Warhol"


Appeared in "The Defenders: Payback", the first of a projected series of TV-movies for Showtime


Won praise for leading role in "Eye of God"


Donned a dark wig to play Edward Furlong's sister in John Waters' "Pecker"


Had a recurring role in the television drama "ER" (NBC) as Meg Corwyn


Appeared in the ensemble film "200 Cigarettes"


Made stage directorial debut with "Absolution," performed at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company


Starred in a Chicago stage production of "Hedda Gabler"


Nominated for an Emmy Award for her guest appearance on the television drama "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC)


Guest-starred on an episode of "7th Heaven" (WB), also received her first writing credit for a different episode that year entitled "Red Socks"


Cast in the play "The Coast of Utopia," a trilogy by Tom Stoppard; earned a Tony award nomination


Appeared in the Broadway play, "Top Girls"; received a Tony award nomination for Featured Actress in a Play


Earned her third consecutive Tony nomination for her role in "Pal Joey"


Performed a one-woman show called "Martha Plimpton Sings?"


Returned to TV to star in the FOX comedy "Raising Hope"


Nominated for the 2011 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series


Joined the cast of the sitcom "The Real O'Neals"


Starred in the musical drama "Hello Again"


Had a recurring guest role on "The Blacklist"


John Carradine
Keith Carradine
Actor. Met Plimpton's mother when he appeared in "Hair"; did not meet daughter until she was four years old.
Shelley Plimpton
Actor. Met Keith Carradine while appearing in "Hair"; later married and divorced director Daniel Sullivan.
Daniel Sullivan
Director. Divorced from Plimpton's mother.


River Phoenix
Actor. Deceased.
John Walker