We had the pleasure of talking with Mary McCormack from USA Network’s hit series In Plain Sight. Check out our interview below!
What about your role continues to challenge you?
M. McCormack: Well, a number of things. I mean one of the weird things about TV and one of the things that some actors don’t like but I kind of dig is that you never know where you’re headed, I mean you never know what the writer might think of next. So, unlike a film or a play where you know the entire story and you know where you have to end up, with In Plain Sight and with “Mary Shannon” I never really know what he’s cooking up. For example, my relationship with “Rafael” and my intimacy issues and all the push and pull of that; this season is completely different than it was last season. Then, there’s more development with me and with the mystery of where is my father and what happened to him. I mean there’s just so many kinds of question marks with “Mary Shannon” that that’s always a challenge, just sort of trying to figure that out.
But I’m trying to think of what else in the role is challenging. I mean trying to make her vulnerable, trying to balance the vulnerability because I don’t want it ever to be two dimensional and I don’t want her to seem, I mean even though she has sort of bad ass qualities and she’s a tomboy and all that, she doesn’t really take a lot of garbage, you have to sort of see how she ended up that way and why she ended up that way and where she’s weak and where she’s frail and where she’s girly. So, trying to make her three dimensional and complex, that’s always challenging.
There’s great chemistry between you and “Rafael” who is played by Cristian de la Fuente. How do the two of you continue to maintain such great chemistry between each other and how will you continue in season two?
M. McCormack: We really enjoy each other. I’m crazy about him. I’m really just crazy about him. He’s a great guy. I mean no one that pretty should be that nice as well and funny and smart. God went to town when he made him. He’s just fantastic. I get along well with his wife and my husband gets along well with both of them. Actually, his wife is guest starring in this episode now that we’re shooting right now and my husband is directing it.
Sometimes I call my husband and I’m in bed with Cristian. So, it’s all very odd. It’s a really odd relationship. But his lovely wife, Angelica, who’s a beautiful actress, is guest starring on this episode and my husband, Michael Morris, who directs many, many Brothers and Sisters and the producer of that show, is directing this episode of In Plain Sight. So, it’s all in the family with us.
Why do you think people continue to tune in to see the show? What is it about the program that continues to draw the viewer in?
M. McCormack: Well, I don’t know. I mean I hope it’s the same thing that draws me in. Every week I get the script and I’m excited to read it. It’s great writing. David Maples is a great writer and he writes interesting stories. Every week, you sort of meet a new witness and I always think there’s an interesting story there, but you also have this ongoing storyline of “Mary Shannon’s” family and her personal life. I don’t know, I think both things are sort of appealing.
It’s also a nice combination of really dramatic and action-y and sort of some mystery elements and then it’s really funny. I mean David is a funny writer. I mean I remember when I read the pilot; part of the thing that attracted me was I laughed out loud three or four times, and I never do that reading a script, even when I know the scene is funny. I rarely sort of chuckle out loud when I’m sitting reading a script alone, and I always do with David’s writing. I don’t know, hopefully, it’s just a fun show to watch. I hope we keep doing it.
We had kind of had a cliff hanger at the end of the last season. I was wondering if the show is going to kind of pick up where that left off and show them kind of getting out of the trouble.
M. McCormack: No, it does. I love David Maples for this, who writes the show. He didn’t at all do that terrible TV thing of just pretending none of that happened and starting over. No, you take off the next day. In fact, he picks up right after I shot this guy. So, you meet me sort of post-stress event and you think, “Well, how’s she going to respond?” At first, I’m very, very sort of unaffected by the whole shooting and I’m just sort of like whistling my way through the day, and then as it wears on you start to see it crumble apart and all the post-traumatic stress begins.
That’s one of the things that I love about the show is that while it’s funny and it can be light at times, it definitely still has a really adult sensibility and it’s sort of tethered to reality. Even though she’s a bad ass and even though she’s tough, they didn’t make her like a superhero. They didn’t make it like there’s no repercussion from killing a man. So, I really appreciate that as an actress and I think I appreciate it as a viewer as well.
With her, she has obviously issues with her family relations. Are we going to see sort of a change in dynamic with that … things are kind of out on the table.
M. McCormack: Yes, quite a bit. I mean actually in the beginning of the season – honestly, I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say or not, so I’ll just say everything. In the beginning of the season, my mother – I forget which episode, but very near the beginning of the season she hits sort of a new low in her drinking, which is extraordinary to watch and you think it’s going to be funny and it’s not at all funny. And then, she decides to try to stop drinking and she goes to rehab.
“Mary Shannon’s” never known her mother without alcohol involved, so it changes the entire family dynamic, and my sister goes back to school and she decides to try to turn over a new leaf. Because it’s television, I don’t know how long these things will last or if they’ll make it or not, but the dynamic completely changes, and then the mystery of “Mary’s” father is still floating and looming and you get some more clues as to what happened to him.
Her partner Marshall is a very interesting dynamic as well. Are we going to see kind of a development in that more?
M. McCormack: Yes, it develops somewhat. I mean I think it’s probably a relationship that’s been that way for a long time. So, for it to develop too quickly or change too quickly would be sort of unrealistic because it seems like, at least when we meet them, even in the pilot you feel like they’ve been together for quite a long time and comfortable in their roles. They’ve sort of grown around each other. They sort of work as two parts of a whole. But you learn a little bit more about their feelings and my relationship with “Rafael” progresses more and sort of “Mary” decides to try to take some big chances that she’s never taken before. It is interesting and fun to watch Fred Weller’s reactions to all of that.
What’s your favorite scene you’ve filmed this season, if you can tell us about it?
M. McCormack: … the other night where Fred Weller was playing drunken chess on his computer screen because in the episode I tell “Rafael” what I do for a living and it gets Fred Weller, “Marshall Mann” gets so angry about it and I think not just because someone knows what we do, but maybe even more because I’ve been intimate and shared this secret with another man. And so it’s like involving another man as closely as he’s involved maybe and I think that’s definitely a big part of it.
Well, life or death kind of situation.
M. McCormack: Yes.
Maybe along those lines, in playing “Mary,” have you learned anything new about yourself over the course of doing this show, portraying her either personally or just in sort of the technical of working on a show like this?
M. McCormack: I’ve learned a lot. On that side of it, I’ve learned an enormous amount. I mean I’ve worked a lot over the years and I’ve done even a lot of TV, but I’ve never been in every scene almost. I have two kids under the age of four, so that and 15 to 20 hour days of work everyday, I certainly have learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about stamina and rest and balance and forgiveness in terms of my own guilt about where I’m falling short in my life. Certainly, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I could learn about that stuff.
I guess I learn from the character too. I mean I have some similarities to “Mary Shannon” and so as I investigate things like codependence or what her abandonment issues are and her father leaving, and my father didn’t leave, but I mean just in terms of any kind of loss, how that affects how readily available you are for intimacy and stuff. I mean I definitely learn about myself through some of the storylines she’s dealing with.
Yes, there are parts of you in her and parts of her in you kind of a thing.
M. McCormack: Oh, for sure and some of them are just little things, like little, little details that are just coincidences, but are spooky. I mean David Maples wrote it without me. In fact, he didn’t even know who I was, but her name is “Mary” and she’s from New Jersey, and I’m from New Jersey. There are so many little things. She calls her sister “Squish” and I called my oldest daughter “Squish” when she was little.
M. McCormack: I know and they’re just obviously tiny little coincidences, but the first time I picked up the script, I was like, “This is odd.” It feels like it was actually written for me.
How much will post-traumatic stress affect “Mary’s” job performance when the show returns on Sunday?
M. McCormack: I’m trying to think about– it’s interesting. I wonder how much of her job is affected by it. Certainly it is for a few episodes, which is spread over weeks and weeks. I wonder how much of that continues. I’m trying to think. I guess there’s a whole thing that happens in the end. We’re shooting the two-part season finale now. The first half is being directed by my husband and the second half is being directed by our show creator, David Maples. So, we’re in the thick of it right now. I know there’s a big even that happens that will be questioned and brought back to the finale of last year. I mean they’ll be linked to that meaning did that affect this kind of thing. It will be back. It will rear its ugly head again, whether I’ve put this thing behind me or not, this near death thing and the fact that I killed somebody for the first time.
How much would you like to see your character’s relationship with your mother and sister evolve? Is there a certain way that you’d like to see it go?
M. McCormack: I don’t know. I mean I think about that a lot actually because this year, my mother is sober. My sister is still drinking, but my mother has gone to rehab and it’s sort of 12-steppy. That’s interesting because there are all kinds of different tensions, but I liked it the other way too because there was a lot to play with that.
I can’t imagine that she doesn’t slip at some point. I think just in terms of being realistic and knowing “Jinx” at all, I can’t imagine that she doesn’t return to the dark side soon. But, we’ll see. I could be wrong. David Maples surprises me all the time.
How do you see the show as compared to other police dramas?
M. McCormack: I don’t know. I mean I think our show is pretty special for a number of reasons. One, I just think witness protection is pretty interesting and you don’t see it in many other police dramas. I mean it’s definitely a singular backdrop. But also tonally, I think our show is unusual. I mean it’s not strictly a drama. It’s also really funny and finding the balance is sometimes tricky for us. We have to really think about like when the scene changes. Sometimes it changes within the scene and sometimes it changes scene-to-scene, but I don’t know. It’s an odd tone, our show. And so, I think it’s different for that.
Also, a lot of cop shows are just procedurals. I mean we’re not CSI. We’re not what’s the Katherine Morrison show. There are procedural shows where every week you have a mystery and then by the end of the hour; all the Dick Wolf shows, in the end of the hour, the mystery is solved and next week you have another mystery. Ours has that, but we also have the ongoing story of my life and my relationships and my work relationships, my boyfriend relationship, my family relationship. So, I think our show is pretty special for doing all that within the hour and hopefully doing it well. I mean that challenge is making sure we do all of it well.
How did that theater experience train you for working in both television and film so effortlessly?
M. McCormack: I came into Trinity College singing a lot. In high school, I sang a lot and I sort of classically trained. And so I sang at Trinity a lot. So, I did more musical theater than any other kind and a lot of voice and stuff and music classes and stuff. I don’t know. It just continued my love of it. I think more than anything, I just thought, “Well, that’s where I had the most fun is in the arts building.” When I graduated, I thought, “I guess your goal in life is if you can make a living at something you actually enjoy that’s probably the most ideal thing.” So, I moved to New York and started studying acting a little more seriously and just continued doing off, off, off, off Broadway plays and working my way.
Probably just being in the arts building and having it be a small enough college that I could actually find my way to the stage and find professors who cared and all that. Trinity was actually lovely for that because it’s not a school that’s famous, famous, famous for performing arts, it was actually a nice place to sort of get a chance– if you really wanted to do it, there was room for you to do it, which was nice.
The name Jerry Mochelle pops in my head for some reason.
M. McCormack: Jerry Mochelle comes to see everything I do still.
M. McCormack: No. I was doing Boeing Boeing this summer on Broadway and I did Cabaret some years ago. He still comes to everything. I’m still in touch with Jerry.
He played at my wedding. He played piano at my wedding. Ron Rifkin sang “Married” from Cabaret because I did “Cabaret” on Broadway with Ron, and Jerry accompanied Ron.
Oh, my God. What a moment.
M. McCormack: I know. How funny.
I know you worked on the movie Full Frontal. What was it like to work with David Duchovny?
M. McCormack: Oh, I loved working with David Duchovny and I had a pretty crazy scene with David Duchovny. It was like a full body massage and there were dildos involved and it was insane. It was an insane scene, but he has a great sense of humor and my kind of sense of humor. I’ve always been a big fan of his work and he’s a terrific guy too. So, I loved it.
Interview By: Emma Loggins