It’s been a long road to the top for Margo Martindale. The Jacksonville, Texas, native didn’t land a movie until she was 38 (1990’s Days of Thunder), but the steely confidence she’s shown in many memorable roles kept her going.

“I always believed in myself, even when most people didn’t!” Margo, 68, exclusively tells Closer. “I’d say that the only reason I didn’t get a role was because I wasn’t pretty enough, or because those people are jerks! I always had a way of not being a failure.”

She certainly made up for lost time, winning a 2011 Emmy for playing a fearsome pot kingpin on Justified and two more in 2015–’16 as a tough Russian agent on The Americans. Through good times and bad, she’s always had the support of “the most incredible man in the world,” her husband since 1986, singer William Boals, 67, and her daughter, Margaret, 31. “We just made it] work over the years,” she says. “It paid off!”

Keep scrolling for Closer’s exclusive Q&A interview with Margo.

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Your FX on Hulu miniseries Mrs. America is great. It’s amazing to see a Texan bring a New Yorker like Bella Abzug to life so well!

I had lived on the Upper West Side [of Manhattan] since 1974, so I’d see her in the news with her hats and hear how loud she was! I knew where she stood [as a congresswoman], but I didn’t know much about her, quite honestly.

The show covers Equal Rights Amendment opponent Phyllis Schlafly and supporters like Bella. Why are their stories still relevant?

Because we’re still fighting for the same things. They were the pioneers, the warriors, full of passion and hope and promise. They fought harder than we’re fighting now. Maybe this will light a fire.

Were you involved back in the ’70s?

No. My best friend and I worked at Harvard and moved to New York together. I asked her, “Why weren’t we out marching?” She said, “We were always trying to get a job!” Also, we were very liberated. We never thought we couldn’t get anything we wanted.

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How did you two meet?

I was doing a play at Harvard, The Threepenny Opera with Christopher Reeve and some other fabulous people. I was seeing one of the guys in the cast — not Christopher — and I thought I was the girlfriend. Then his girlfriend showed up and I thought, “I was the summer fling!” But we became best friends, and are to this day. She opened Steps, the biggest dance studio in NYC.

Speaking of roles that brought good luck, what was it like playing a villain from Kentucky on Justified?

The most glorious, freeing, incredible thing that I can imagine. I felt I was in my backyard flying, because it was a world I could create. I loved the guy who wrote it, Graham Yost, more than anything. All of his writers, too.

After he created that show, he was an executive producer on The Americans

Graham called me and said, “Hey, you want to come play a Russian spy?” I asked, “Is it good?” He said, “Yeah! It’s real good.” I asked, “Do I have to speak Russian?” He said, “No!” I said, “OK!” That’s how that happened. It was just this incredible thing that I found, another time of brilliant writing by Joe Weisberg. It was a perfect series with a perfect ending.

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In 2004, you were nominated for a Tony for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway, but many people remember first seeing you as the evil mom in Million Dollar Baby that year. How’d you get the role?

I had auditioned for Clint Eastwood many times on tape. He always liked me and had me come back to read another part. I read Million Dollar Baby and said, “I want this. This is a part I understand.” Clint told me that when they saw the tape, he said, “Well, there she is!” That was a breakthrough role for me. My brother died during that time, and Clint just couldn’t have been more kind. He’s a wonderful man.

You’ve played some intimidating roles very convincingly. How do you tap into that? Where does that come from?

I don’t know. It’s very easy for me, and I don’t know why, but it is! [Laughs] I’m not very mean at all. So it’s kind of shocking that it comes so easily. I always like to pretend — that’s really it.

How’s it been playing yourself since 2014 on the animated show BoJack Horseman?

It makes me so happy! To be recognized on the street from a cartoon is odd, but that’s OK!

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When did you first realize you were meant to be an actress?

I was always acting in my backyard. I was the head of an orphanage, the head of a circus. So I’ve been acting all my life, but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I was asked by the choir director if I would audition for a musical, because I had a loud voice. [Laughs] I got the lead and I could not see anything else from that moment.

Was there a time you felt, “I’ve made it!”

Many times. I thought it from Steel Magnolias, the play [in 1987]. I thought it from [1992’s] Lorenzo’s Oil! From [1994’s] Nobody’s Fool, from Million Dollar Baby. I knew it from winning an Emmy at 60 for Justified. So I guess you never know it.

How did you juggle having a career with starting a family?

I have a great husband who always stepped in. We did it together without [hired] help. When I’d go off to work, he wouldn’t work, or we’d bring one of our mothers up from Texas to fill in.

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Is there a secret to your long marriage?

We were very, very good friends, and he continually makes me laugh harder than anybody. Also, we sing together! I don’t sing very well, but he does. We have a lot of similar interests, which is really important. He’s respectful and very sensitive to those around him.

And you have a daughter, Margaret.

She’s an incredibly strong woman. I passed that on to her, along with all of my crazy fears and wild imagination as well. Which is both a blessing and a curse! [Laughs]

What is she up to now?

She’s a great teacher, working from home now. I said to her, you might have landed in a great profession, because you’re always going to be able to have a job.

Any grandkids in the picture?

No, damn it! We’re pushing for a marriage first! [Laughs]

— Reporting by Amanda Champagne Meadows

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