Actress Marin Hinkle, 52, was born in Tanzania and raised in Newton. After graduating from Newton South High School, she went to Brown University and then earned a master’s at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her numerous stage credits include A Thousand Clowns and Electra, and her TV breakthrough came on Another World. She’s known for her roles on Two and a Half Men, Once and Again and, most recently, as Rose Weissman on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. She just finished filming the sequel to Jumanji. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.
Jonathan Soroff: Did you ever consider changing your name?
Marin Hinkle: Interesting question, especially because my name is so hard to pronounce. When I was working on Two and a Half Men, I tried to change the way the people working on that show were mispronouncing it. Finally, after 10 years in, we were at a party, and I corrected one of the producers, and he was like, “Hey, have you thought of changing it?” I was like, “I’ve been on your show for a decade.”
So why not? Well, when I first got out of grad school, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones who landed a big agent and got the auditions. So I met some scrappy agents, and one of them said, “Well, first of all, you might think about changing your nose. You have a bit of a bump. And your last name is a little more ethnic than you necessarily are. You could change it.” I remember thinking, “What are you talking about?” Interestingly, I’m not Jewish, but he seemed to be suggesting that I was “too Jewish,” as if there was such a thing. The whole thing was just bizarre. It was a truly odd moment. Obviously, I didn’t take his advice, and now I have an amazing role playing a Jewish Mommy, and if I’d taken his advice, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten the role. So there you are.
Your nose gives you so much character! Want to hear something crazy that happened last year? I was being interviewed, and someone actually asked me what I did to my nose for the show. I was like, “What? I don’t understand the question.” And the interviewer said, “Well, you look so much different in the other work that you’ve done than in this role.” And without meaning to, he gave me such a compliment, because the truth is that I don’t do anything to change my appearance as Rose, except that they do put a wig on me and some false eyelashes. I will say that one of the pure joys of my career is that I’m never recognized in real life. I don’t look the same. If you saw me now, I look like a bag lady. I’m so the opposite of Rose that I love that I disappear into her.
So you’ve based Rose on your mom? In part, but I think my character has a true love of theater and she’s in her own performance. Like when she goes to the fortuneteller, or when she talks to the neighbors, or the three episodes we shot in the Catskills last year. I feel like she’d like to be in her own MGM musical—and my Boston Ballet background and all those dance teachers, I think I’m channeling a bit of them, as well. They were very strict.
How are you most like her? Great question. Sometimes people say that when they watch it, they see my mom. My mother is such a strong force. She’s a lawyer and was a superior court judge in Boston, and she was the captain of the ship of my house. And I think there’s part of me that understands how to be that, because I watched her do it, but the funny thing is that I’m not at all that way in my own life. I’m channeling my mom and the parts of her that I wish I had more of in my own life.
Do you still do ballet? No. I injured myself. I did maybe 300 productions of The Nutcracker in the 10 years that I was a dancer and, by the end of that, I had ruptured and really done some damage to my Achilles tendon. I loved it so, so much, but my junior year, I had to stop dancing. I put on 30 pounds, and suddenly I was like, “Who am I, and what am I?” That’s when I started to pursue the route of going to college and all of that, but I danced a little bit. It was so hard for me not to be the kind of dancer I’d been before, so that kind of led me to theater. My love of performing originated in my love of dance, and fortunately I was able to transfer that passion for performance into acting.
So what did your parents say when you told them you wanted to be an actor? Well, to this day, I never go home without my father saying, “Hey, have you thought of teaching?” [Laughs.]
Have you ever been back to Tanzania? I have not, and it’s interesting. My parents are no longer together but are both remarried very happily, and they’re still very close. I have this dream of taking everyone in my family, my parents, their spouses, my brother, his kids, mine, and go back and ask my parents to show us everything. That would just be so lovely. It’s funny. My junior year, I had to choose between two programs—studying abroad in Dar es Salaam and the other was a theater festival. It’s sort of my road not taken. I think if I hadn’t chosen the theater route, I might be working for Habitat for Humanity or something.
When you first read the script, did you immediately think The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was going to be a hit? In my career, there have been a few times I’ve gotten close to jobs when I could feel that they would be successful. One was Ally McBeal and the other was Will & Grace. I just knew the show was going to go. Also, with Two and a Half Men, when Charlie [Sheen] and Jon [Cryer] got together, something just happened. You could just feel an alchemy happening. But when I read this, I had no idea who was going to be on the show, so I read it like a great short story. And I said, “Please let me be in this,” but I didn’t even let myself think about success. There were plenty of things where I thought they would be, like a pilot I did playing Stockard Channing’s daughter and sister to Hope Davis, and it was for HBO. Jake Kasdan was directing. And it didn’t take off. So I stopped doing that to myself.
In so many of your roles, you’re kind of defined as “the wife of.” Does that ever frustrate you? My first big series regular role was on Once and Again, and I was “sister of.” Then very quickly I was “the ex-wife.” And you’re right. But the truth is I love that I am that person. The pressure is a little less intense to be the focus. I can be the quiet person who comes in the back door and then hopefully announce myself in very strong ways. I don’t feel like just the wife. I feel like I bring life to these really great characters.
The 1950s fashions on the show—do you love them? Well, if you saw me, you’d see that I do not put myself together very well, so what I have to say is extraordinary, is how much I’ve been taught about accessorizing and what palette of colors works on a woman. So I put those clothes on, and 90 percent of the work is done. I’m in awe of our wardrobe people, and I think clothes are the secret weapon of my character. It’s like a superhero outfit.
Worst audition nightmare? Well, there was this super-powerful director whom I was asked to do a table read for. There were major superstars in it. I was reading a number of different roles, and every time I got to a line, I tried to do my damnedest to disappear into the character. It obviously didn’t work for this director, because he stood up in the middle of my reading, with all these important people in the room, walked over to me, and not quite in a whisper said, “What the fuck are you doing?” He did it a couple of times, and needless to say, I didn’t get any of the roles I read.
Worst job you ever had starting out? I had a really hard time making a living, so I agreed to be one of those people who dresses up for young children’s birthday parties. I convinced myself it was still a form of acting, and I thought I’d be dressing up as Snow White or whatever. This was on the Upper East Side. I got to the birthday party, and instead, they had me getting the punch and the cupcakes, and it happened a few times. I was like, “I can’t do this.” I also cleaned bathrooms at MIT one summer, but I actually really loved that. The people were great. It was strangely a delight.
Name a working actor who hasn’t appeared on Law & Order. It’s so funny. My son and I were watching it the other night, and for some reason, he’d never seen it. He was like, “Mom, this show is so good. Wouldn’t it be great if you were on it?” I was like, “Honey, I’ve been on it four or five times.” And I loved every second. But I’ll bet you Cate Blanchette has never been on it, unfortunately. Wouldn’t you love to see her as one of those hard-nosed attorneys who takes someone down? That would just be so delicious.
Hardest thing about doing a soap opera? That was my first job in television. For me, the hardest part was that everything moves so fast. It was like, “Here’s the script. Here’s the new pages.” And you have to memorize it all. I was used to the theater, and I’m kind of painstakingly detail-oriented. So letting go of that was like jumping off a huge diving board and praying there was water there.
Theater, TV or film? Well, I haven’t done much film. I just finished the sequel to Jumanji with Jake Kasdan. I’d love to do more of that.
Director who you’re dying to work with? I’d love to work with one of these hugely talented female directors. I had a tiny role in Friends with Money that Nicole Holofcener directed, and I’d love to work with her again. Or Jane Campion. Or Ava DuVernay. There are so few women who I’ve been able to work with as directors. Not that I’d say no to Spielberg or Soderbergh.
Ever tried stand-up? No. My God! As my husband and family will attest, I actually am not comfortable and not great at not having a script. I know comics work out their routines, but I really get nervous without being told what to say. I’m in awe of what Rachel [Brosnahan] is doing on the show.
Which do you want most: an Emmy, an Oscar or a Tony? I haven’t done enough film to ever even dream of an Oscar, but because theater was my first love, I’m going to say getting a Tony would be a totally magnificent dream come true. ◆