Martin Short, age 60, is best known for his comedy work on SCTV and SNL and as Ed Grimley or Jiminy Glick. But his serious turn as attorney Leonard Winstone on the FX legal thriller Damages earned Short a drama supporting actor Emmy nomination, a category that finds him competing against Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), John Slattery (Mad Men), Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age), and Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn (Lost). Short spoke with Ray Richmond for Deadline Hollywood about why playing against type is his new way to stave off career boredom.
Deadline Hollywood: People were surprised that you could play a dramatic character who isn’t supposed to make people laugh.
Martin Short: When someone can be effective at something that’s not predictable for them, it tends to get extra attention.
DH: Was this trying to stretch your performing muscles?
MS: It isn’t as if I’d felt unrequited never playing the assassin. Whether arrogantly or what, I view myself simply as an actor. I’ve always been drawn to comedy because there aren’t too many people who can do that in an odd original way. And I take great pride in that. But that isn’t to say I couldn’t one day play George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
DH: So we may see you do Shakespeare next?
MS: You never know. I’m an actor who loves doing comedy. But I’m now entering the most interesting phase of my career. When you have to worry about paying the rent, you’re never bored. You’re just happy to have that job. But once you don’t have to worry and reach the point where it’s no longer about the money, you’re able to look at other opportunities outside of your comfort zone.
DH: Like this role in Damages?
MS: Exactly. When they phoned me up and asked if I wanted to be a part of that show, I jumped at it.
DH: Is that how it happened?
MS: That’s more or less it. Glenn and Todd Kessler and Daniel Zelman called to inquire if I’d be interested in playing this character. And I tip my hat to them for going out on a limb and saying, “Hey, we think you’d be great’’ when I wasn’t the obvious choice. They had no way of knowing I already was a fan of the show.
DH: What is it that you like about Damages?
MS: It’s one of a handful of shows where the assumption is the audience isn’t dumb as a post. Shows like Damages and Mad Men are saying “Hey, we think you’re as hip as we are as writers. We’re not going to pander.”
DH: So are you now abandoning comedy to become a serious actor?
MS: Oh God no. I still do live concerts all over the country – about four a month – with singing and characters and improv. It keeps me limber. I’ll never lose that. And comedy is still the bread and butter.