Martha Plimpton has played a host of roles across film, TV and stage throughout five decades, but for many she’ll always be associated with the role she played as a 14-year-old – Stef Steinbrenner in The Goonies.
One of the most beloved films of the 1980s, many of the young teens who starred in it – including Plimpton – defied the curse of the child star and continued their screen success as adults.
And in a twist of fate, one of the original Goonies – Ke Huy Quan, who found it harder than most to get work due to a paucity of parts for Asian-American actors – is now taking Hollywood by storm after being cast in multi-Oscar nominated Everything Everywhere All At Once.
The film is the most nominated at this year’s Oscars. So far he’s won a Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and SAG award, and will potentially add an Academy Award to his haul on Sunday.
It’s a Hollywood comeback Plimpton couldn’t be happier to see. She tells Sky News: “I’m especially excited for Ke [Huy Quan]… My gosh, he’s just the dearest human being and the sweetest man and that he’s experiencing this wave of appreciation and love from all over… it’s just really lovely. I’m really excited and happy for him.”
Visibly proud of her co-star, she admits she’s unlikely to be watching the ceremony live – it’s available exclusively in the UK from 11pm on Sky News and Sky Showcase – but says she’ll be rooting for him nevertheless.
Oscars aside, Plimpton is in fact here to talk about her latest project – A Town Called Malice – a very different prospect, which sees her play Mint Ma, the matriarch of a South London crime family – the Lords – who have re-located to the Costa del Sol in a bid to improve their lot.
Described by its creator Nick Love as a “neon Western”, it’s also a love letter to the 80s, filled with all the bright fashion, big hairstyles and memorable music you’d expect from the era.
Plimpton credits the crime drama’s “camp quality” as part of the attraction – indeed there are moments in the show when the characters break into song and dance.
The New York-born star worked with a dialect coach to nail her English accent, which is impeccable throughout. Partly, no doubt, due to the fact she now lives in the UK.
She explains: “I love my Sunday roast and I love the culture, I love the people. I think the British people are extraordinary and have a great sense of humour and a wonderful self-deprecating nature to them that is really just lovely and charming.
“Despite this country’s problems, which, believe me, I’m familiar with, especially coming from the United States… I think that there’s something to the English character that makes dealing with those problems sort of charming, hilarious, and funny.”
‘Terrifying’: What it feels like to be nominated for an Oscar
Meet the woman who taught Austin Butler to move like Elvis
It’s no surprise, then, that she jumped at the chance to play a British character, albeit one on the wrong side of the law.
“I loved the idea of this woman from South London – her stealth and her commitment to her family,” she says.
“And I love the idea of playing a mum to all of these gorgeous young men and being a part of this crazy crime family.”
In the show, her youngest son Gene and his girlfriend Cindy are on the run from police following a hit and run.
Spain offers them safe haven thanks to a breakdown in an extradition treaty with the UK, but matters only become more complicated once on the Costa del crime.
Plimpton says it’s a theme rich with dramatic possibilities: “Our fascination with crime probably has some primal reasons for it that I’m not qualified to list, but it’s the excitement and it’s the unpredictability. And people who live life on the edges of society, on the outer edge of what we all consider acceptable.”
And setting it in the 1980s adds a colour and energy to the show that only that era could.
She calls her costumes – including terry towelling swimming costumes, tight white jeans and lots of shoulder pads – “absolutely phenomenal”.
And as for the soundtrack which accompanies each episode, she says: “I’m already immersed in eighties music, those were my teen years. So, I’m pretty familiar with that musical era, and I’m not ashamed to say I still listen to it quite regularly.
“I think we always cling to the music that we grew up with and that connects with us as young people. It’s not necessarily nostalgia for me, it’s an ever-present reality.”
While she agrees the 80s was a great time to grow up as a teen, she admits: “It was also a difficult time to be a teenager. The world was changing spectacularly during that time. It was a scary time, we were terrified of nuclear annihilation.
“The AIDS crisis began in the late seventies, early eighties. It was the beginning of Reaganomics and Thatcherism, which was a huge shift in both of our countries away from a sort of post-war idea of collective responsibility and moving into an era of greed and personal enrichment philosophy that’s unfortunately stayed with us. But it was a very, very interesting time to be a young person.”
But she’s optimistic about today’s youth: “There’s a wonderful quality to the young people now that I think is really extraordinary. Their willingness to be accepting, their openness to new stories, new realities, their eagerness to challenge the status quo and be responsible for their own futures is extraordinary and impressive.”
Click to subscribe to Backstage wherever you get your podcasts
Now 52, Plimpton herself has been working since she was just a child. Starting off in a Calvin Klein advert, before moving on to film, as a teenager she played opposite her then boyfriend River Phoenix in Oscar-nominated Running On Empty and Keanu Reeves in Parenthood. Both movies were Oscar-nominated.
More films, plus theatre followed, and TV shows including Raising Hope, and The Good Wife, with the latter earning her an Emmy.
On her enduring career, Plimpton says: “I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. And, you know, I’ve been very fortunate. I mean, there have been periods of downtime and dry spells like there are in any person’s career or work life. But, yes, I’ve been very lucky to generally have made it without having to get a civilian gig.”
Blockbusters, first-timers and snubs – all the Oscars talking points
How to watch all the big films nominated for Oscars
She’s previously spoken about the UK’s “appreciation” of its older actresses, in contrast to the US which she says has been “really slow” on the uptake.
However, she says America’s getting better at showcasing its more mature female talent, citing the growing number of streaming services “telling a lot more stories. A lot of different stories. A lot of stories we traditionally haven’t been exposed to”.
And of course, one of those stories has to be the multi-verse madness that is Everything Everywhere All At Once, which has propelled her former Goonies co-star Quan back into the spotlight.
Looking back on The Goonies – the movie which changed both their lives – she says its success has been a happy surprise: “I’m certainly impressed by the fact that it’s really taken such a hold in popular culture. And I don’t think any of us expected that it necessarily would when it came out. I mean, we all had an extraordinary time filming it. And, you know, I guess ultimately it did change all of our lives, really. It’s just wonderful.”
While she hasn’t stayed in touch with Quan, now 51, Plimpton says: “I do follow him on Instagram and I see all of his adorable selfies and it’s really sweet.”
Along with the rest of us, Plimpton will be cheering Quan on come Sunday night, hoping his unexpected showbiz return has a happy ending worthy of Hollywood.
A Town Called Malice is available on Sky Max and streaming service NOW from 16 March.
You can watch the Academy Awards on Sunday 12 March from 11pm exclusively on Sky News and Sky Showcase. And for everything you need to know ahead of the ceremony, don’t miss our special Backstage podcast available on Friday morning, plus a winners’ special episode from Monday morning.