Mary McDonnell Talks ‘Major Crimes’

It’s the end of a southern-twanged era. Tonight is the season finale of The Closer, and while you may be sniffling at the thought of not seeing Brenda Leigh Johnson again, the baton is being passed to another leading lady!

That’s right, Mary McDonnell is continuing her role as Sharon Raydor in the Closer spinoff, Major Crimes, which premieres tonight directly following the Closer finale. I was able to take part in a conference call with Mary, where she talked all about Raydor, what’s new with the new series, and even working with real LAPD officers — well, as much as she could without spoiling any of the juicy details!

Check out some of the highlights of the call below, and don’t forget to watch the series finale of The Closer tonight at 9/8c, followed by the series premiere of Major Crimes at 10/9c.

Now obviously you’ve been a part of this group for a while, and Major Crimes has a built-in audience. But I still — Kyra [Sedgwick] was such a huge part of The Closer. How will the new show sort of differentiate itself from the old show, and in what ways will it try to stay similar for the fans? — popentertainment.com

Well, I think inherently it will change because Brenda Leigh Johnson is gone. So that was the center of the show, 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.

*****

So I wanted to know if you could talk about how the character is going to be evolving and has changed since she first appeared on The Closer. — scifivision.com

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.

Great, thanks. And also, can you kind of talk about how the show started? I mean, were you approached for this spin-off at the very beginning how did that all start?

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.

Okay, thanks so much.

And also I will say for you because you’re sci-fi, right?

Yeah.

Okay, one of the reasons James wanted to talk to me this is because he was a Battlestar Galactica fan.

Well that’s good. So that works out. Thank you.

Yes it did work out. Thank you.

*****

So, what is the secret to Captain Raydor’s success, do you think? — TV Addict

The secret to her success? As a character?

Yes.

I think it’s 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.

Okay. And would you ever like to see her paired with another of the other detectives in the department to work a case?

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.

*****

Well this is kind of a two-parter. Since you mentioned Battlestar Galactica, of course you were brilliant as the president for so many years. How was that transition initially coming into The Closer to play Raydor? And second part of my question is, since I do know who is coming back, will we still see some of the kind of buffoonish, Detective Flynn and Provenza kind of episodes still? – Wireless Digital Journal

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 –

How was it through this transition, yeah.

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.

*****

Raydor was an antagonist for Brenda as you had mentioned. Will there be a female antagonist for Raydor at all on Major Crimes? — Starry Constellation Magazine

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 Raydor be the center of the show or will she blend with the cast?

Well, I don’t think that there is a — 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.

*****

Okay, your character in this new show is just going to be, I don’t know, thrown into the fire basically. You have no allies because you’ve basically targeted these people, you know, for a reason, and not for a reason previously, and do you have an ally? Are you totally — you know, Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect. You’re completely by yourself, and you have no one watching your back, or do you develop an ally among these people? — Tulsa World

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 it is — what I’ve found out doing it and what we all, we’re finding out what James is writing and what everyone 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.

But doesn’t it — this is not something she’s ever dealt with before, so it’s a learning experience for her too.

Well, she hasn’t been at the center of this particular — 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.

Oh, I also wondered how do you, I mean you have to be, she is so focused that does she have room and time for family, for — or what’s her relief, I mean when she goes home from these guys who don’t want here there?

This is so — 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 has — 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’s 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.

*****

I was wondering about the tone of the show. The Closer seemed to have kind of a balance between humor and drama, kind of, you know, some of the gritty elements were relieved by, you know, a joke from someone. What kind of tone will we see from Major Crimes? — Panama City’s News Herald

Well, what I can tell you is that this is still — 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.

*****

What do you find the most challenging acting-wise on the show? — scifivision.com

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, is to — 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 the woman…or that woman.

*****

Mary, I’d just like to ask you another question. I talked to Kyra a couple of weeks ago, so I had the great ability to see four of the final six. So I kind of thought that Sharon had evolved and become Brenda’s ally towards the end there, so there wasn’t even an evolution in these last six of them. But my major question I was going to ask you is, and it’s another two parter — A) Kyra said she might come back, maybe to do some spots and how would you feel about that in Major Crimes? And B) have you done any kind of police work like ridealongs, anything like that since you’ve played the part? — Wireless Digital Journal

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 — 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 biggest wisdom of — or kernel of wisdom she gave you?

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 goes — and I’m sitting there with these women who have, you know, 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, and I found them so wonderful and amusing and human.

Wow. That’s fantastic.

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.

*****

Don’t forget to catch Mary McDonnell in the premiere of Major Crimes tonight at 10/9c on TNT — right after the series finale of The Closer!

*images courtesy of TNT

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