Mary McDonnell's 'Major' New Gig

Jarett Wieselman
The Insider
Mary McDonnell's 'Major' New Gig

There are a handful of actors whose presence alone transforms a television show into a Can't Miss TV Event! Such was the case when Mary McDonnell joined The Closer in 2009 for a three-episode arc. The response to her character, Captain Sharon Raydor, was so strong (both behind the scenes and in the real world), that producers wisely extended her time on the show -- and then crafted a spin-off explicitly for Mary to carry.

But as the award-winning actress stressed to me this morning, a show is only as strong as its ensemble, and Mary counts her blessings to have once again landed among a myriad of heavenly co-stars on Major Crimes. When you signed on for The Closer, did you ever envision the character headlining her own show?
Mary McDonnell: No. Honestly, that's the truth. I was brought on to The Closer for three episodes as a great thing to do – Kyra [Sedgwick] and I would get to really go at it, and James Duff, the creator of The Closer was a great fan of Battlestar Galactica and Laura Roslin. Then, immediately they said, we would love it to be more, this is working like gangbusters, so we just started going like that. I would say, at the beginning of season seven, the idea of Major Crimes started to emerge. It was an evolving idea. It didn't happen right in the beginning but we were able to plan for it for a while.

VIDEO - On the Major Crimes Set! Did any part of you hesitate to commit to another hourlong drama?
Mary: Not at all, I love the hour drama format. I found doing BSG that it was extremely gratifying. Mind you, BSG was an extraordinary situation so part of you thinks about what you would need to do it again. Obviously, you need a great writer. Someone you want to collaborate with. Someone you truly want to share ideas with and push the envelope with. And you need a great ensemble because I honestly believe the strength of the ensemble is truly the most essential element of the hour drama format. If the ensemble itself isn't living, breathing and bringing new things all the time, it will never be the creative experience you hope for. This was the job where all the elements were there for me. It was a no-brainer once I got inside of it. What are you excited for fans of The Closer and Major Crimes to see as the first season wears on?
Mary: The beauty of Major Crimes is it remains tied to and forever emotionally connected to its predecessor because it's an on-going story. That is a very rare and beautiful thing to get to be a part of. But Major Crimes takes us in a direction that has a different kind of immediacy to it. It's a different look at the justice system, a different feel for the procedural, and you have more experience with some of the other characters that you loved on The Closer – it's shifting into more of a true ensemble. That is very gratifying to the fans because you didn't have to change your mind about anything because we're not trying to do the same thing. Those beautiful, personal storylines continue through the first 10 [episodes] and revelations are made. These characters and their relationships get deeper and more complex as we go along. We're still solving crimes and getting the bad guys, but it's a much different way of going about it. Outside the office, your character has taken in an orphan named Rusty. What do we learn about her through that relationship?
Mary: One of the things I love about this show, and what James Duff is committing to, is he's opening up and articulating the mother archetype at the center of the crime drama. Traditionally when we have seen that character, cops who are mothers, quite often we've seen the damage and dysfunction that's happened with a person who has tried to raise children while being a cop. This is a very interesting and different refreshing brave exploration of a very strong mother archetype. And we get to enter that through Rusty. He's a phenomenal segue into that, but you also learn about all of the characters more deeply through that storyline. It touches, expands and reaches out to all of us. You realize, this is a family.

VIDEO - Tricia Helfer Talks BSG: Blood & Chrome! You did a sensational job bringing another motherly archetype to life on Battlestar Galactica. Are you surprised that the show is just as popular today as it was in its heyday?
Mary: No [laughs]. I'm not surprised. And I don't mean to sound arrogant, but we knew when we were shooting it that the questions we were asking, the situations we were showing and the portrayal we were bringing to life was absolutely contemporary and that these feelings, issues and ideas were not going to be solved for some time. If they were going to be solved, then this planet wouldn't be in so much trouble. You could feel the far reaching nature of that writing and the quality of the show was so interesting, so I'm not surprised – if anything, the show is gaining in popularity as it matures. It's like a good wine, really. It's not going away and people continue to discover it and need it and rewatch it and that's gratifying. But again, you have to have the writer. You have to have the visionary. And if that person loves what they do and is willing to commit to that vision, it will last forever Bryan Singer is currently working on a film that will, theoretically, bridge the two series. What are your thoughts and have you been approached about participating in any way?
Mary: I will have to say to you that I don't think I will be involved. With Bryan Singer's movie, there's two different worlds coming together – the transition from the old BSG to the new BSG was a bit tricky in the culture when we first did it. Not unlike The Closer and Major Crimes. There is going to be resistance. You have to have great courage. When the new BSG was so successful, there was a healing. But as we proceeded onward for that, it turns out the film rights were never given up. I just think it has gotten a little bit lost in ownership and rights, but that's not the first time it's happened in Hollywood [laughs]. I think there was a film in the making there once, but we'll see!

Major Crimes airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on TNT.

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