Mary McDonnell On “Major Crimes” & “Battlestar Galactica” Interview
October 9, 2012
Article taken from Buzzy Mag
Mary McDonnell looks very much at home on one of the sets forMAJOR CRIMES at Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles. In fact, the set is the home of her character, LAPD Captain Sharon Raydor. It’s one of the new ones that’s been built for the series, which is in its debut season on TNT, playing Mondays at 9 PM.
McDonnell originated the Raydor character as an Internal Affairs officer on THE CLOSER. When CLOSER star Kyra Sedgwick decided her seventh year on that series would be her last as Brenda Leigh Johnson, TNT approached CLOSER creator James Duff about creating a spin-off. MAJOR CRIMES therefore retains most of THE CLOSER’s cast, staff and squad room sets, with the change that Raydor is now in charge and a lot of the detectives aren’t too sure how they feel about having a former IA investigator telling them what to do.
Where Raydor is often stern and intense, McDonnell is warmth personified. The Pennsylvania-born actress starred in several films for noted independent producer/director John Sayles and played opposite Kevin Costner in DANCES WITH WOLVES. She achieved science fiction immortality as President Laura Roslin on four seasons of Syfy’s BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and now hopes thatMAJOR CRIMES will settle in for a long run.
Raydor was introduced in THE CLOSER’s Season Five episode “Red Tape” in 2009. At that time, was there any thought of a CLOSER spin-off?
“No,” McDonnall replies, “that evolved around the time that Kyra decided that she didn’t want to continue with Season Eight. The idea of MAJOR CRIMES evolved, first from TNT and then outward, and they were already really thrilled. They loved the character of Raydor, and so the idea of being able to pivot her became very compelling.”
How does McDonnell feel about the home the production staff has designed for Raydor? “The condo?” she responds. “I like it. I mean, is it my [real] style? It’s a little my style. There’s a lot of art in here and it’s a very easy place to be. It’s a really wonderfully warm and easy place, and I love that in her environment. This is a woman who loves culture, and that’s going to be something that’s part of her. This is a woman who actually has a life and she loves the opera and she loves ballet and she has children. They’re grown, but she has a world that she’s been able to keep somewhat in balance. Do you know what I’m saying? And that’s an unusual thing for a cop drama, or the center of a cop drama, is a female who may have somewhat of a balance in her life. So I.A., all of these years, has given her the possibility of having a career that she loved, but didn’t usurp every living moment, like a detective’s job. Now she’s shifting into this other position, and that’s a really interesting thing to wonder how that actually feels, and when it feels fabulous, and when she goes, ‘What have I done?’” McDonnell laughs.
Although McDonnell isn’t playing the role vacated by Sedgwick, her character Raydor is taking over Brenda Leigh Johnson’s old position. “It wasn’t like I came in to replace Kyra or to replace Brenda Leigh,” McDonnell explains. “It basically evolved into this character that I was playing, who [when she was introduced on THE CLOSER] was very single-minded and was completely about being the antagonist – that was the whole point of view and it was the whole purpose of the job. [The writers] slowly – not suddenly – slowly and organically start to pivot her outward to become a protagonist in a way that was not pushy, in a way that was not asking the audience to go some place they’re not ready for, it’s written beautiful and organically, and Sharon Raydor has that ability to a certain extent erase the tape [of prior arguments] and go into the crime. They [the other characters] have all kinds of feelings about her from being I.A., where her whole goal was to make them uncomfortable.”
One character who is very comfortable with Raydor is new Detective Amy Sykes, played by Kierran Giovanni. “Raydor brings her in to a certain extent,” McDonnell relates, “and then relies on her the way she relies on the entire squad. One of the things about Raydor that we’ve discovered that is a gift of hers, is her ability to bring out their best. She is, I would humbly say, a very good boss. And Kierran’s character Sykes, is this brilliant young [detective], ready to do the whole thing. And so to see where she can shine and what she brings to this is really something.”
Another new character, introduced at the end of THE CLOSER, is Graham Patrick Martin’s young murder witness Rusty Beck, a former street hustler who Raydor has taken under her wing and into her home. This allows Raydor to display some traits that don’t always show up in the work environment. “What you will see,” McDonnell says, “this is where she really differs from Roslin – one of her strengths and one of her beauties is her maternal self. And that is going to be central to her work and her life, and you’ll begin to see that very strongly in MAJOR CRIMES.”
Can McDonnell compare Raydor with Roslin? “I can,” the actress answers cheerfully. “I would say that playing President Roslin helped me get ready for Captain Raydor to a certain extent, in that [what Roslin goes through is] sort of what happens to a woman in power who is a bit of the outsider. They’re both suddenly put in jobs that they didn’t aspire to. So in those two areas, there’s a similar leap made, internally as well. And then I think that things change. Captain Raydor has a very different life than President Roslin. And she’s not the President. They’re both incredibly strong women, and there’s a wonderful thing in being able to continue that journey, because I think we’re living in a time where women who may have been retiring are now taking on even bigger jobs, if we look at Hillary Clinton, one of our biggest examples of that. So the idea of how women begin to expand their professional capability and bring their wisdom to the male paradigm is really a wonderful thing to keep going with, and there are so many women out there who want to keep seeing it [on television]. So I feel very lucky to keep [playing those characters], you know what I mean?”
One of the aspects of the character that most appeals to McDonnell is Raydor continually having to stand up for herself as a woman in a position of power. “Not only is there some of it [sexism] inside the actual squad, which will always ebb and flow, and we handle it in different ways, but in fact, what I’m hoping for is we explore more, knock on wood, in the years to come, the resistance to women in power still is enormous. And that woman [in power] has to have the ability to see through so many situations, anticipate disaster, be both friendly and tough as nails. You have to have elephant hide. So I’m really excited about being able to explore more of that in this.
“I think that in general, what we’re talking about is that in the world, there’s still great resistance – the woman in power, the woman in charge, is still an intimidation factor, as opposed to an organic thing. Not everywhere, but it’s a big world and there’s a lot of imbalance in the feminine/masculine on the planet, and what I’ve seen all over the world are women leaders emerging at a time where I think we need to bring the feminine energy into our equations and into our negotiations, without a doubt.”
Especially in law enforcement? “Absolutely, no doubt about that,” McDonnell replies. “So it’s an interesting place to start. You really need to be sensible and clear, and you really need to understand what’s being said underneath what’s being said to you, and then choose your response all the time, try and choose it, and so when she can’t [and is frustrated], that’s kind of fun.”
As to other projects, McDonnell notes that she and CLOSER/MAJOR CRIMES creator Duff had already been talking about working together before Raydor was born. “It’s so funny. James and I, before this happened, we were trying to create something together, and we’re sort of tabled that for now, because this [MAJOR CRIMES] kind of exploded [in a good way], so we’re doing this. We’re just waiting, so I can’t really talk about it, but eventually, I do have an idea that I am going to develop, and I will talk to you about it, but I can’t do it now.”
Meanwhile, McDonnell is enjoying playing Sharon Raydor on MAJOR CRIMES. “I think that it’s a world for everyone and it represents Los Angeles beautifully. I’ve had a lot of fun. I need a challenge, I love big challenges, and the challenge of this, both as a character and as an actress, became almost the same, really, on some level. And that kind of presence of, I need to walk carefully and carry a big stick, is the sort of challenge.”