The Sunday Conversation: Mary McDonnell


July 10, 2011

Article taken from the Los Angeles Times

When TNT’s crime drama “The Closer” returns for its seventh season on Monday, Oscar-nominated film, stage and TV actress Mary McDonnell, 59, comes back as a series regular — the crisp internal affairs officer Capt. Sharon Raydor. The Emmy-winning series starring Kyra Sedgwick as LAPD Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson ends next summer, but McDonnell will remain on duty as the series star of a spinoff titled “Major Crimes.”

I interviewed you many moons ago about the L.A. Stage & Film theater company you co-founded. I came up to the church rehearsal space where you guys were living the high life.

It’s so interesting because that whole group of writers, actors, directors in New York Stage & Film is still going strong at Vassar, and my daughter just did some work with them, so it’s just amazing how time flies.

What happened with L.A. Stage & Film?

It organically grew out of New York Stage & Film. They never really funded it to have someone run it properly on both coasts. So it’s kind of still there as an entity if someone would like to inject some money or a project into it. It doesn’t have a full-time staff.

Welcome to 2011.

Oh, I know. Honestly, I think it’s going to be a very interesting time over the next five years to see what’s going to happen, because the arts are in so much trouble; there’s always the hope that at that point things do start springing up at a more grassroots level. And the work starts to be everywhere because no one has money.

That sounds rather optimistic.

Well, it’s happened historically. During the WPA [Works Progress Administration] years in New York, for example, some amazing theater started to blossom out of that feeling that everybody was in it together. And I think we’re there now, and writers I know who write for the theater have this feeling that there isn’t money for them anyway, so put it up at whatever level you can put it up instead of waiting for the big one. And also because the human spirit at that time really needs to talk about what’s happening, the arts can sometimes blossom independently of the economy.

So you know that this is happening in New York?

It feels to me a little bit like the arts right now in New York, certainly in the outer rims — Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway, whatever — there’s a liveliness that’s occurring. There’s a lot of young talent in New York right now, and there’s not a lot of work for the generation that is just coming out of universities and great programs. And that’s not just in the theater. So a lot of these people are flocking to New York because there’s a way of experiencing life there whether or not you have money.

Let’s talk about Capt. Sharon Raydor. Was she created to give Brenda a female foil after she tamed the men she works with in the Major Crimes Division?

I’m not sure if it was so much gender-specific as it was to bring in someone who would give her a different kind of foil, an antagonist who would have an effect on her in a different way. And perhaps that therefore created the gender idea because we do know that we respond to our particular gender differently. And that women in power have, underneath it all, this place where they identify so strongly, but they’re also apt in certain circumstances to have their buttons pushed a little more radically and maybe in a different way than a male in the same position. And she’s so good at wiling her way around the men, Brenda Leigh.

Were you ever concerned about the show devolving into the cliché about competition between catty women?

I was never concerned about it because I know the people creating it — [executive producer] James Duff and Kyra — they had their eye on that. And I certainly always have my eye on that. Women can be very brutal and petty at times, so you don’t want to back away from that and tell a story that’s not true. You have to make sure that it’s balanced with two incredibly serious professionals who do what they do well and find that balance, so we get to see a real story being told about the way women truly are.

How has the audience been responding to her?

I think quite well. I have gotten amazing feedback on Capt. Raydor when I’m out and about in the world. People who hate her love hating her. People who like her secretly love liking her secretly. I was so happy to come in and shake things up a little bit, but I certainly didn’t see this spark.

I understand that your spinoff, “Major Crimes,” is still in the formative stages, but it’s one thing to bring her in as a foil, it’s another thing to make her the series lead. Don’t they generally make the series lead someone who’s likable?

I think the creative task of carrying the character from being an antagonist to being a protagonist is an extraordinary challenge. It’s very exciting because it really addresses human nature. I don’t think we are one thing or the other. Different circumstances, different opportunities in our lives, different things open us up to revealing different aspects of ourselves, so really and truly, we don’t really know that much about Capt. Raydor at all.

Why is it ending?

It’s something I’m not privy to. I think it’s been, what is it, seven years? It felt as if perhaps Brenda Leigh Johnson had been explored as much as one could or something. I don’t really know. But I do believe that all good things come to an end, and really having this show at such an incredibly high point is a really interesting moment to go out on.

Most spinoffs have new settings and new casts.

You’re right. That’s really what is unique about this. It leaves everybody going, ‘How is this going to happen?’ And then it gets exciting because probably there’s only one person in the world who could answer that, and that’s James Duff. He has such an extraordinarily creative mind that going on that ride is going to be a blast.

Script developed by Never Enough Design