MAJOR CRIMES: Mary McDonnell Interview
July 23, 2012
Article taken from The TV Watchtower.
Taking the helm of the new TNT drama series MAJOR CRIMES as it spins-off from THE CLOSER, Mary McDonnell embraces the challenge. In a recent press conference call, Mary talked candidly about both series and what to expect as THE CLOSER wraps and MAJOR CRIMES prepares for its debut.
How will MAJOR CRIMES differentiate itself from THE CLOSER, and in what ways will it try to stay similar for the fans?
MARY: Well I think inherently it will change because Brenda Leigh Johnson is gone. She was the center of the show, and it was called THE CLOSER. So right there, that is the biggest difference. The MAJOR CRIMES division continues as it would in life with almost all of the same people, so there is the sameness. We’ve got these really wonderful rich characters that we’ve been attached to and exploring life with for many, you know, seven years. And they are still there, most of them trying to solve crime in Los Angeles. So there is the sameness. How this particular division goes about solving crime now has to change inherently because they no longer have Chief Johnson. And therein lies the reality of the new show. That’s where it begins.
Can you talk about how the character Captain Sharon Raydor is going to be evolving and has changed since she first appeared on THE CLOSER?
MARY: Well I think evolving is the key. You know what I’m saying in that what we’re doing is we’re seeing a woman who was in a very specific professional role; through a very specific lens and as a character she had a very limited functionality within the ensemble of THE CLOSER. And she was clearly brought in to be the antagonist. And as we evolve into MAJOR CRIMES this character is evolved into — she professionally changes, she shifts. And we begin to view her through a different job, a different set of circumstances, and different things are asked of her. And one of the beautiful things about the writing is that it very organically allows her to grow in front of us because we’re watching her in a different situation from a different point of view.
Can you kind of talk about how the show started? Were you approached for this spin-off at the very beginning how did that all start?
MARY: No, I wasn’t approached at the very beginning. I was asked to come on and do an arc of three episodes. And I was quite happy to do it. It looked like a lot of fun to come in and sort of stir the pot, as they say. And I really wanted to work with Kyra and James Duff offered it to me, and I thought I was coming on to do three episodes. And it just sort of evolved, and here we are.
What is the secret to Captain Raydor’s success, do you think?
MARY: I think its commitment. I mean, I honestly feel like what I’ve learned from her is a kind of unabashed commitment to whatever it is she’s doing, and she stays incredibly focused, and that can create many responses in many different people. And I think that’s a lot of her fun.
Would you ever like to see her paired with another of the other detectives in the department to work a case?
MARY: Oh absolutely I’d love to see her paired with some of the other detectives, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she begins to engage when they have common ground.
How was the transition initially coming into THE CLOSER to play Raydor? And will we still see some of the kind of buffoonish, Detective Flynn and Provenza kind of episodes still?
MARY: Well, I’ll start with the second one first. That Flynn and Provenza — their wonderful natures — those don’t go away. Believe me. Oh my goodness that’s like precious gold. You will see plenty of Flynn and Provenza in that way that you described them as wonderful. And the first part of your question, the transition? Well it was kind of interesting because having been, excuse me, the president of the universe, I did learn a little bit about a sort of solitary woman in power position. So I did a little bit of research about that when I was working on her. And when I came into THE CLOSER and I realized that this woman, the character that James brought to me had an element of that, in that she had to have her eye completely, clearly on what the goal was. And not get mixed up in some of the other dynamics that quite often we do get mixed up in. So it was a little bit of that to tap into. And that was kind of interesting. And it was also kind of interesting to be working in L.A. as opposed to Canada, and you know, there’s a lot of differences in the work environment, but in both case it was really strong exciting ensemble and great writing so I just felt kind of lucky.
Will there be a female antagonist for Captain Raydor on MAJOR CRIMES?
MARY: I’m not sure. I’m not sure the answer to that question. I do know that what we are slowly and very richly kind of carving out is beginning to understand how — let’s just keep looking at how does the crime get solved in the new dynamic, and what aspects does that bring out in this character that we have not seen in her other job. And how does that interact with these other fabulous actors and characters, and how they feel about things. And so there’s absolutely room for antagonism on all sides and connection on all sides, and I think that that’s what’s really exciting about the exploration.
Will Captain Raydor be the center of the show or will she blend with the cast?
MARY: Well I don’t think that there is — how do I put this? It is both an ensemble and she is both at the center and it is more of an ensemble in that. Raydor’s, without giving away too much, Raydor’s position in the new show is by it’s very nature forcing or asking of her to be more present for each and every other character in it, and there will be a deepening of the engagement between Raydor and the other people.
Captain Raydor does not yet have anyone watching her back. Does she develop an ally among the department?
MARY: This is how I would describe it without giving too much away. It’s a great question. She begins this journey pretty much a woman alone. And yet what I’ve found out doing it and what we’re finding out as James is writing is that she has a deep commitment to whatever job she is in. And by necessity in the new show, the job dictates a stronger connection with her engagement, with the other members of the ensemble as it were. And that starts to create stories that take us in new directions. And it isn’t that she develops one ally here or one enemy there, anything like that. There is a natural necessity for this group of people to figure out how to solve crimes together. And out of that comes a new show, a new story. She hasn’t had this particular job, but she’s been a professional running a captain in internal affairs for decades. This is not a woman who has not been in a corporate situation where she’s a boss or had to have a lot of people working beneath her. We’ve just never explored her professional situation on her turf when we were in THE CLOSER. And now she’s on their turf, but this is a woman who knows how to be in the position she’s in.
Captain Raydor is so focused. Does she have room and time for family?
MARY: That such an interesting question. And it’s like the kind of thing where I can’t wait until the show has evolved more so that we can talk more about it. I can’t talk about it yet, because of, you know, the spoiler thing. But I will say this. In a general sense, we’re looking at a woman eventually. We’re looking at a woman who actually had a very full life. Whether or not it was perfect, of course not. But has had a full life. And there are reasons why someone may or may not have chosen to go through the LAPD as an internal affairs person as opposed to a detective where you are on call 24/7. And there a question and an exploration there about how do professional women also raise children? How does it happen? What are the choices that a woman at mid-life has to make at a certain period of time in order to create the goal being balanced perhaps? You know what I mean? And so there’s a little bit of exploring of that reality in there because that is what we are seeing with women who are my age who are now taking on positions in their professional life that are demanding more of them than ever before, and a generation ago these same women would have been retiring. So we have an opportunity, I think, to explore something that’s happening all around us. And to have some stories evolve out of that. And also is interesting is the response of the people around women in our culture who are taking on these positions. I mean, I think I’ve said it a couple of times today, but I really mean it. This is the era of Secretary Clinton. And we are beginning to redefine how we are perceiving what women are doing once they turn the corner at mid-life. Are they taking on bigger jobs? Yes they are. And had we been telling stories about that for the past 100 years? Not really. So it’s a really wonderful thing to explore in my opinion. I feel happy about it.
What kind of tone will we see from MAJOR CRIMES?
MARY: Well, what I can tell you is that this is a new show based in an old show or an original show. This is a spin-off from the same incredible creative mind of James Duff. And he’s a very funny man. And I think that the same responsibility that he felt during THE CLOSER towards finding what is delightful and light, it will be his impulse in MAJOR CRIMES. You’ve got to find the balance. I mean, that is his style of writing. There is a tonality to his writing that also addresses the humor inside the dire, and I think that that will continue.
Is there something in particular that you would like to see happen to your character, you know, if it was up to you and you could write anything?
MARY: Is there something in particular that I would like to see happen to her? You know what I am so busy playing what has been written and really exploring it and trying to understand it and enliven it, you know what I mean? So I haven’t really projected outside of that yet, but I think that as soon as we finish the first season I will have all kinds of ideas. So far it’s been pretty fascinating.
What do you find the most challenging acting-wise on the show?
MARY: What do I find the most challenging? That’s a good question. I think that the biggest challenge for me at the moment or for the character or for myself, I think for me, what I really felt was very important was to be patient with the evolution of Sharon Raydor because I felt it was very important to not abandon the Captain Raydor that we got so used to getting angry with or upset by or whatever it is, frustrated by and how much we enjoyed that in her. I wanted to make sure that she came along and that what we end up doing is opening her up so that we begin to see other aspects of her but we don’t suddenly change that woman.
Have you done any kind of police work like ridealongs, anything like that since you’ve played the part?
MARY: I actually have spent some time with some lady female detectives at the LAPD. Absolutely. And of course it would be great if Kyra came back — I mean, oh my God, it would awesome. I mean, there’s all kinds of potential for a lot of things to happen in this situation.
What was the biggest thing you learned from this female detective. I mean, what was her kernel of wisdom she gave you?
MARY: One of the greatest things I found out about them is that they loved, and this is very helpful for me with Sharon Raydor, the two women that I spent the day with that I just absolutely loved them. They both commented on how difficult it would be for them to work the schedules that we work in Hollywood because things were so out of control. That their lives and their jobs had shifts and sort of a routine to them, that they found was easier than what we were explaining to them — I’m sitting there with these women who have gone after major criminals and had huge careers in the Los Angeles Police Department, and they’re telling me that they would find it very difficult to be in the crazy floating kind of hours of what it is that we do out here — I found them so wonderful and amusing and human. They were great. They were absolutely awesome. And very practical women, and very cool looking and very wonderful and warm and funny but really like focused when they needed to be. It was just a great wonderful thing to see.