Welcome to Mary McDonnell Vault, your online resource dedicated to actress Mary McDonnell. You better know Mary for her role as Captain Sharon Raydor for the TNT crime series The Closer & Major Crimes. But she also did others like Battlestar Galactica, Independence Day, Donnie Darko, Dances with Wolves, Sneakers and many others. Site is comprehensive of a big photogallery with events, photoshoots, magazines, stills, a media archive dedicated to all fans fanarts on Mary, an extensive press library to collect all the articles and interviews on her and a video gallery section for recorded interviews, sneak peeks and trailers of her projects. We claim no rights to know her personally and it's absolutely respectful of her privacy and paparazzi-free!!!
Acting Her Age: For Mary Mcdonnell, Being Unglamorous Is Paying Off
August 29, 1993
Article taken from Chicago Tribune
LOS ANGELES — “Big hair!” she screams-sotto voce because the CNN crew is still packing up in the next room-and grabs her cropped cranberry-colored tresses, winging them out. “The worst in high school, right?”
Standing next to the room service tray pulling raviolis off a plate with her fingers, Mary McDonnell is explaining now how she landed two Oscar nominations in a mere two years-“Dances With Wolves” in 1991 and this year’s “Passion Fish”-but why, at age 41, she is only now breaking free of being what one director called “the best-kept secret among actresses.”
“I never had the right hair, the right look,” says McDonnell, rooting among the dishes now on the lookout for carrot sticks. “Never ever.”
There are, apparently, lots of hair stories from this actress, who spent years in the theater playing Ibsen and Chekhov heroines with their requisite chignons and who returns to period drama with her role in the TV movie of Arthur Miller’s “American Clock,” airing on TNT at 3 p.m. Sunday and repeating Tuesday and Thursday. But the best story is the one where McDonnell was cast as the lion-maned Stands With a Fist in Kevin Costner’s “Dances With Wolves”-a role that lifted the actress from anonymous to Oscar contender-partly because of her hair.
“For once, I had the right hair. Michael Blake wrote my hair. Now that’s never worked. I’ve never been the physical description of a character in my life. Ever!”
McDonnell is not being paranoid. As often as critics have praised the actress, whose startlingly tidy film resume-a half-dozen films in five years-belies her two Oscar nominations, they also have weighed in on her appearance. Unlike the rest of Hollywood’s air-brushed talent pool, the red-haired, green-eyed McDonnell actually looks her age. When Costner was asked about his casting of the then-unknown McDonnell in “Dances With Wolves,” he said he wanted “a woman with lines in her face.” Even McDonnell’s 5-year-old daughter, Olivia, knows that, her mother’s newfound fame notwithstanding, she is still not Hollywood’s ideal.
“Did you know there’s `Barbie With Hollywood Hair!’ ” says McDonnell, nonplussed by this bit of post-feminist marketing wizardry. “She comes with long blonde hair, a stencil and spray paint so you can spray glittery pink stars in her hair. And my daughter actually said this: `Isn’t she sensational, Mom. She’s a movie star.’
” `But honey, I’m a movie star.’
” `Yeah, but Mom, she’s really beautiful.’ ”
Although McDonnell laughs at this tale told at her own expense, the irony is not lost on the actress who, in the five years since she soft-pedaled her stage career for a move into film, has found a new level of success playing middle-aged women. Her latest incarnations include Rose Baumler, the feisty Depression-era housewife in “American Clock” and, later this winter, the ex-wife of football coach Nick Nolte in William Friedkin’s drama “Blue Chips.” At an age when most Hollywood actresses begin to joust for fewer and fewer roles, McDonnell has become one of the most visible challengers of the status quo with her non-cliched portrayals of women who possess conspicuous intelligence, independence and strength of character.
These include Elma Radnor, the self-sufficient boarding house owner in “Matewan,” John Sayles’ period drama about the 1920s West Virginia miners’ strike; Stands With a Fist, the defiant white woman raised by the Sioux in “Dances With Wolves”; and Claire, the affluent wife and mother struggling to make sense of a disintegrating society in Lawrence Kasdan’s “Grand Canyon.” Even McDonnell’s performance as Liz, the teacher of gifted students and Robert Redford’s love interest in last year’s box office hit “Sneakers,” was saved from being merely decorative by the actress’ steely-eyed self-possession.
But it was May Alice in “Passion Fish,” Sayles’ contemporary drama about an embittered paraplegic soap opera actress, which he wrote specifically for McDonnell, that she found the richest protagonist of her film career. “I remember years ago, somebody once said to me `Oh, you’re one of those angry women.’ Well, how can you not be angry in this world? I mean, I’m very angry, but anger can be very creative.”
“And that’s the thing with John. You read his scripts, you go `Nobody else is doing this,’ ” adds McDonnell. “He understands how people talk. There is nothing generic about his dialogue, particularly with women.”
That interest in playing well-drawn female characters also fueled McDonnell’s decision to take the somewhat unorthodox career step of doing a TV movie, albeit Arthur Miller.
“I love period work because it allows you to fully escape from your own self,” says the actress, who seems to relish the fact that her first role after playing the bitter, lonely May Alice is Miller’s gregarious, card-playing New York matron. “In period drama, you get to explore women who look differently, moved differently, and who defined themselves by completely different parameters.”
Although McDonnell admits to having had some initial reservatikns about the role-“I said to the producers, `You’re asking an Irish-American actress to play a Jewish woman,’ “-she connected to the character of Rose Baumler, a wealthy New Yorker whose family fortune is wiped out in the Depression, because of the force and complexity of her personality.
“I got a real charge out of her, not only because of her strength, but because she is a woman who is going through that dilemma that I think affects a lot of women, particularly those who lived in the early years of this country’s history: Is she exhibiting strength or is she in denial about everything that’s going on around her? And in the case of Rose, I liked the fact that as she came to grips with her situation, she actually became more ethnic and true to herself.”
If Rose and the rest of McDonnell’s women seem unduly real by Hollywood’s normal standards, that realism has its root in the actress herself. “Unlike a lot of ladies who call themselves actors, Mary is a real woman,” says Alfre Woodard, McDonnell’s co-star in “Passion Fish” and “Grand Canyon.” “That’s what informs her work and why people respond to her. If some people have underestimated Mary, it is because she is such a seamless actor.”
“Mary is incapable of lying on stage,” says director Emily Mann, artistic director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., and one of McDonnell’s closest friends. “Even when she is doing nothing on stage, she is completely empathetic. You can actually see her thinking.”
Arvin Brown, artistic director of the Long Wharf Theater, where McDonnell starred in a production of Dennis McIntyre’s “National Anthems” four years ago, suggests that the actress “has this amazing emotional sensing device. She just picks up everything around her.”
Dan Sullivan, director of “The Heidi Chronicles” on Broadway, puts it: “Mary has a particular passive quality. She plays the observor so that you love to watch her watching other people and you can actually see their effect on her.”
And in person, McDonnell evinces much of the restless intelligence and intense emotional range that characterizes her work. Dressed in a favorite green wool pants suit that accentuates her vivid green eyes, the actress meets a reporter’s questions with a disarmingly frank gaze and a willingness to talk about a wide range of topics, professional and personal, from Hollywood’s treatment of women to the death of her parents to her love of food and clothes.
Indeed, McDonnell’s lack of movie-star pretense can be traced partly to her upbringing in Ithaca, N.Y., where, as the middle of six children in a large Catholic family, she discovered she did her best work as a member of a team. “I have this group ethic thing,” says McDonnell, who swam competitively and spent four years as a high school cheerleader. And unlike many Hollywood ingenues, McDonnell didn’t position herself in front of a camera until she had spent nearly 15 years working in non-profit theater.
After making her stage debut at Theater at the New City in the premiere of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Buried Child,” McDonnell worked Off-Broadway and at various regional theaters, including the Hartford Stage and Long Wharf Theatre in Connecticut and Boston’s Huntington Theater, playing the classical heroines of Ibsen, Shakespeare and Chekhov and originating roles in works of a new generation of American playwrights-John Patrick Shanley’s “Savage in Limbo,” Michael Christofer’s “Black Angel,” Darrah Cloud’s “Oh, Pioneers!” and Emily Mann’s “Still Life,” for which she won an Obie. Until “Dances With Wolves,” McDonnell’s highest profile role had been the third replacement Heidi in Wendy Wasserstein’s hit Broadway comedy “The Heidi Chronicles.”
“I didn’t grow up wanting to be a movie star or even a Broadway star,” she says. “My world was about finding out what was going on downtown at La Mama and the writers I had learned about in college, like David Mamet.”
If McDonnell has just begun to capitalize on her success-last year she moved from Manhattan to Los Angeles to make better use of the scripts coming her way-she nontheless remains something of the wary outsider. She and her husband, actor Randall Mell (who has a small role in “American Clock”), and their daughter live in a comfortable but unostentatious Los Angeles neighborhood where McDonnell says, “I can come home at night and we can be a family.” When she isn’t working, she spends her time teaching acting to a group of hand-picked students-a hobby virtually unheard of among actors of her stature. She also speaks about returning to the theater.
While she continues to see more scripts offered her way-there has been some speculation that she might star opposite Robert Redford in the film version of the best-selling novel “The Bridges of Madison County”-most of the roles are less challenging that what McDonnell has done in theater. Consequently, the actress is considering a move into producing as a way to gain more control over her career.
“Right now it’s difficult to think about giving up the possibility of the money that film offers,” says McDonnell, who remains less sanguine about Hollywood in the long term. Already her visibility has brought some unexpected challenges to her marriage-“We’re both very competitive and we’ve had to work hard the past couple of years to keep our relationship independent of our careers . . . It wasn’t like I was going to not do these movies. But fortunately this whole film thing has happened to me at a time in my life when I don’t have to grab onto it and hold too tight.
“Look, this town has been good to me and I’ve been fortunate, but I don’t really fit the bill (of a typical movie star) and I’m not going to,” McDonnell says. “It’s all timing. For some reason, I was always odd, odd, odd. Now, politically, socially, everything’s changed and suddenly I’m the description of the normal woman who’s out there and in her prime.”