Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Interview: Mary McDonnell Is the Woman in Charge

Mary McDonnell and the rest of her crew are back on TNT June 10, when “Major Crimes” begins its second season. A successful spin-off of the equally successful “The Closer,” “Major Crimes” follows Mary’s Capt. Sharon Raydor, who took over the major crimes division last year when Dep. Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) left, and since then, she’s certainly made her mark within the division. Coming from the “enemy camp” of Internal Affairs, Capt. Raydor brings a new perspective to the department’s investigations, and, likewise, stage and screen vet Mary McDonnell brings her own brand of justice to the role. I spoke with Mary recently about the show’s premiere, and she assured me that fans won’t be disappointed.

Celebrity Extra: First of all, a lot of new shows don’t even make it to a second season, so you all must be excited that you have indeed been renewed — and not just for the normal order of 13 episodes, but for a super-size season of 19 episodes.

Mary McDonnell: Yes, we’re really, really happy. We are about to finish shooting episode number five, so we already have a strong sense of at least the beginning of the season, and we’re pretty excited. It’s fantastic. And it’s new and it’s interesting and it’s complicated. It reveals more of all the characters and new characters. And it’s just really great. We’re very excited to premiere.

CE: I am not only excited to see how this new season picks up, I’m also eager to see what new cast member Tom Berenger will bring to the show. Are you excited to work with him?

MM: We’ve worked together before, so we know each other, and we knew that it would be awesome to work together again. He’s been on the set for the past couple of weeks, and it’s been absolutely great!

CE: He plays your character’s estranged husband, who we learn has a gambling problem. Are you glad to be able to explore more of Raydor’s personal side?

MM: It really is exciting, because any time you can start to fill in the gaps, start to have a larger container through which to view any character, it’s always refreshing and exciting and reassuring. The more I find out about the moment-to-moment experience of some of her past, the more I understand her present. And then you can start to share some of what you learned; it’s a wonderful, wonderful process to go forward and backward and forward. It’s really gratifying as a performer.

CE: What do we get to learn about her past?

MM: Well, we learn about her and how she deals with having him back in her life; whether or not it’s estranged. We learn a lot about her at work through the relationships there. We get to have a much more revealing picture of a woman. I don’t want to say too much about this because I certainly don’t want to give too much away. But let’s just say, there’s a lot to be learned, and it’s complex, and it’s been a tremendous amount of fun to shoot.

CE: A lot of last year was about Capt. Raydor’s career change, going from an “outsider” to an “insider” when she left her job at internal affairs to take charge of the major crimes unit. How difficult or challenging has the change been for her?

MM: She’s a very bright woman, and she knew that part of her job in internal affairs was not to make friends with people; you can’t keep your eye on the police while being friends with them. Sharon is very comfortable being an outsider. So, to have to then suddenly develop trust among those who you had been monitoring, she knew it would be a very difficult thing to do. It required tremendous discipline and humility. It also speaks to a kind of management style that I think she represents, which I think a lot of women who are in higher positions can relate to. There is an emergence of women in upper management in the workplace — women my age who are close to retiring are getting even bigger jobs.

So the question was, How does one step into hostile territory and begin to go about working with them? How to deal with oneself while making it very clear that she was the boss, but that she also respects their talents as great cops. She also needed to be really open about the fact that she has never been in the position where she sends her horse into the line of fire, literally. With internal affairs, they show up when the crime is finished. She wasn’t necessarily putting her people in harm’s way. They were there to investigate what went wrong. That’s a very different way that you go to sleep at night, where you worry about your people.

CE: What are some of the more difficult aspects of your job?

MM: I’m just beginning to understand the difficulty in having three scripts running in my mind at once. There’s the script that I’m shooting, there’s the script that I’m memorizing to shoot, and there’s the script that I’m just starting to read. As an actress, I have this wonderful gift: Our wonderful writers and producers trust us, and we have the chance to inject our opinions about the script, and think and talk to the writer. We’re not in the situation like a lot of television shows where you get the script the night before. So because of that luxury of having three scripts to work with at any given time, I’m finding that every once in a while, I go to shoot a scene, and I say, “This isn’t making any sense, because in the other scene I said, ‘blah-blah-blah-blah.’” And everyone looks at me like I’m out of my mind, and I realize I’ve already jumped to another script. My imagination has already started to work on one of the others, and so I’ve gotten mixed up.

It made me remember the organizational skills and the discipline that it takes to do this. I learned a lot from Kyra (Sedgwick). She was very generous with me about how to keep an ongoing story going and how to organize things. That’s when I start to feel the heat, keeping track of the overall arc and how to keep it moving. That’s been a huge challenge.

CE: I follow you on Twitter, so I was wondering if you’ll be live-tweeting the premiere episode?

MM: No, I won’t be. I love developing that social-media relationship with the fans, I really do. But I think that the actress’ primary job is that when it comes to the actual product, you do it and stay quiet and let the audience enjoy it. If you’re constantly chatting with them while they are watching it, you’re editorializing, and to me, it interrupts what’s supposed to be happening onscreen.

I tried to do it during my “Battlestar Galactica” days, but I couldn’t do it. I know that a lot of the shows’ fans are really tech-savvy and they really get the process. But they’re used to me. They’re like: “Oh, yeah, that’s Mary. She’s old-school. We know.”

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