Carrying the weight of transitioning a successful television series as it spins off into a new series is no easy feat. Yet star Mary McDonnell made the transition between the TNT hit series THE CLOSER to MAJOR CRIMES look seamless. With a strong team of actors and characters aiding in the launching of MAJOR CRIMES, it too was an instant success. At last winter’s WB Mondo International Press Tour, Mary McDonnell shared a few key insights into Captain Sharon Raydor and also gave a glimpse into the kinds of shows she watches when she has a spare moment or two.
Can you talk about whether the Sharon Raydor/Rusty relationship was something that was decided for specifically for the spinoff?
MARY: I think that James Duff has a very instinctive, intuitive creativity. So as he’s seeing this character of Rusty in THE CLOSER and he’s starting to feel and see whatever he sees in this young man and whatever his needs are, he began to understand that perhaps he was a transitional character. But I don’t think that when he first put him in THE CLOSER that he had that in mind. But knowing also that he had to take Captain Raydor from the watercooler person that everybody talked about and hated to someone in the center in this division, he had to be on the lookout for elements in the story that would reveal other aspects of her. And that was kind of an organic transition with Rusty.
How did that feel for you with the character?
MARY: Oh, it’s great. It’s great, because I just like dimension. It’s sort of opened up a different part of my personal energy, which is very useful in creating.
What do you identify with most about Sharon Raydor and what’s most challenging for you about her?
MARY: What I identify the most about her and with her is the position of being a middle‑aged woman who, instead of retiring, is working more with bigger challenges, with more power. We’re moving into territory that’s uncharted, and I love representing that dilemma, both its exuberance and its pitfalls. And I love coming up against society’s prejudice and I love pounding away at ageism. I just love it. And it excites me to be on the cultural swing forward. If you look at the women that are running the world right now in their sixties and seventies and it’s really quite fascinating to watch how they are getting stronger and more specific, but they’re also mothers and grandmothers. And the feminine of their maternity can be absolutely a part of the story. So I’m excited about that. The challenges in this first season was to be able to transition a character from being an antagonist to a protagonist without trying to ask anything of the audience but to take a look and to veer this way or that way when it felt like there was too much effort and to keep her mind on the job. Because she kept wanting to spin out or react or stand up or just do whatever happens to you when you’re put in that kind of position. She knows everything about these people. She was Internal Affairs. She knows their personalities. She knows how much they hate her. She knows the whole thing. What’s the job and what do I have to do? So it was like a mental exercise. That was the really hard thing. For the actress, for me, the hardest part was to resist thinking about whether or not it would work. And that’s what I worked very hard on and, for the most part, resisted it. But every once in a while, we would all just go, “Ahh, what are we doing? This could flop.”
Which aspect of her personality do you wish to go, to discover, to try to find out?
MARY: I would like to find out what her relationship to men is on a personal level. That’s what I want to know about next. I’d really like to know.
Can you suggest that to the writers?
MARY: Well, they’re very lovely and they have all kind of ideas going on, and I think that they listen to all of us. So hopefully, that would be something I’d like to know more about her. And I really want to understand if she is going to develop a vision for this job that she has been placed in and what is she going to make use of it on and is she really going to put her heart and soul now into this? Is she still kind of trying to just make Major Crimes work because she was put in there?‑ I don’t know yet where her destiny is in a role, and I can’t wait to find that out.
What’s surprised you about the character? What’s been revealed that you’ve gone, “Oh, that’s unexpected”?
MARY: Several times I was surprised by how flexible she actually is. Because in THE CLOSER, in the Internal Affairs position, in the position where your job is to not connect, but to sit back and keep track and part of the goal is create an inflexible presence so the people will be shook up, so that’s what we knew about her. When put in MAJOR CRIMES situation after situation after situation, I found her incredibly flexible and I was thrilled that she had that kind of size.
Do you think that was secret of how she won over the team to kind of be more on her side to become one of them?
MARY: I don’t think it was manipulative. I think it is an essential element, because it never has a kind of agenda to it. She didn’t play games with them. And it wasn’t in the writing. It’s not like this is the greatest job in the world yet, being head of MAJOR CRIMES. Everybody hates her. She’s not getting paid that much. The State’s broke. She can’t do anything the way Brenda did it because Brenda kind of ended that story. So she’s got to figure out a way to make it work at a time when the State can’t afford the justice system anymore. This is not fun. This is not a job one necessarily aspired to. So there’s no agenda there.
A lot of people now like to buy a season of a show and watch it all at once and see everything else in there. Have you ever done that? What do you think of the idea now that people are discovering shows on DVD?
vMARY: I like watching a series all at once. What I answered earlier is that I personally haven’t gotten into all the backstage stuff and the behind the scenes and everything like that, because I grew up in a time in the business where that was all secret and it was magic. And now we’ve got the cameras back there. I’m like, “Stop, I’m still discovering this role.”
But you do like the fact that your show is on DVD?
MARY: Yes. Because that’s the way people are watching now. It really is. People dig in for an entire season. And one of the most delightful things about BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is when it made it to the series PORTLANDIA. And there was an episode where they were going out to a party and he said, “I just want to watch this one episode of this show called BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.” They never go to the party. Weeks go by. She loses her job. There’s food everywhere. They smell. They haven’t taken showers, and they’re almost at the finale ‑ and I thought, “Okay, here we are. This is it. We made it.” Because one TV on another TV show is talking about that very issue.
So what shows have you watched on DVD, then?
MARY: I watch THE KILLING, which I adored. I turned it on, I couldn’t stop. I watched a great deal of THE NEWSROOM this year because I didn’t have time, so I just recorded them and then watched them all. And that was a wonderful show to watch. I loved that show. And my whole family used to watch FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS in big chunks.
To see more amazing performances by Mary McDonnell as the stalwart Captain Sharon Raydor, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of MAJOR CRIMES Monday nights, starting June 10th at 9:00 p.m. on TNT.
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