Interview: Fred Weller from In Plain Sight

by Emma Loggins

In Plain Sight follows the story of a Federal Marshall with the Witness Protection program who must hide her high-risk, high-impact job from her family. To those that know her, Mary Shannon is a glorified meter maid, but her real job is much more dangerous. She must oversee federal witnesses who have been relocated through the Witness Protection program and make sure that they stay safe. We had the honor of sitting down with one of the stars from the series, Fred Weller. Here’s what he had to say:

Can you tell me how much, I know it’s a pretty serious drama, but how much is comedy going to be a part of the show? And I know just your character’s name for example, Marshal Marshall Mann.

F. Weller: Yes, that sets you up for some comedy right there; it puts a lot of pressure on a guy to be funny. I think it’s an extremely funny show. It’s created by David Maples, who use to be one of the head writers on Home Improvement. And he’s just a very clever and very funny guy and I think that he is able to find humor in every situation. There are some episodes that are a little bit more funny than others, or rather a little more light-hearted in tone in general, the plot and so forth, but overall I think you’d call it a dramity in the USA vein. That’s USA network, not the country.

I was watching some of your interviews on USA network and you mentioned that there is a lot of sexual tension between Mary and Marshall and I’d like to ask how that plays into both your character and your work relationship with Mary?

F. Weller: Well, it’s critical to the character. For me the romantic tension between them is one of the escape from Gilligan’s Island elements to the show. That’s not to say that there won’t be any payoff on it, I feel there actually is some payoff here and there in the first season. Mary McCormack doesn’t acknowledge the extent to which her character reciprocates those feelings. There’s definitely at least one episode in which her character gets a little jealous of one of Marshall’s love interests, which to me is pretty telling.

In terms of our relationship, I think our relationship off screen is informative of our relationship on screen in that we get along very well in a kind of brother/sister trash talk way. And I think she’s an extremely attractive woman, obviously, so it’s easier to imagine being in love with her because her character is very desirable, as is the actress. I think she’s a very attractive, very intelligent person.

Also, how does this play into your relationship with Raphael, if you interact with him much?

F. Weller: Well, any interaction between Marshall and Raphael would certainly be fraught with tension. There isn’t really any interaction between us during the first season. There are some references to him in scenes that I’m in. I notice that he’s been called up to the majors at one point when I’m reading the sport pages and I’m with Mary, and I think my feelings toward Mary inform my attitude towards him. So yes, there would definitely be kind of a love triangle vibe there if we ever do cross paths.

What attracted you to the project initially?

F. Weller: Well, I think it’s a very original project. You don’t often get to do drama on television that has this level of humor. In that, it’s similar to theatre, which I have spent most of my career doing. In the theatre most of the time what you’re doing is drama with humor. In television usually you’re doing broad comedy like a sitcom or even a single camera or you’re doing one hour drama, which can be kind of humorless at times, but this is really closer to a theatrical tone, I think. And the character is not the cookie cutter television cop character. I mean he’s extremely original, to the point of being kind of weird, which I really enjoy.

What’s your favorite episode this season then?

F. Weller: Well, there’s one episode with Dave Foley, and I enjoyed doing that episode because it really explored my relationship with Mary and the tension between us, and Dave Foley was brilliantly funny. And Mary and I got to shoot our guns.

What do you like best about being on the show?

F. Weller: Well, I like the mind of David Maples. He stays close to the show and keeps it with the original tone and keeps the unique flavor with his sense of humor. And another element that makes the show original is that there’s no real formula from week-to-week because it’s not a cop show. It’s very different from the usual procedural, in that you can’t begin each episode with somebody getting killed because then it would be kind of a lame protection program. And so David and the writers have to reinvent the wheel every week, which I think makes their job very challenging, but also makes the show very fun to the viewers. One week it’s a family drama, the next week it’s a who done it, and the next week it’s an action adventure. I mean it really does vary from week-to-week.

Who’s your favorite person to act with?

F. Weller: That would be Mary. She’s great.

Can you tell us how you got involved in the project and what initially attracted you to it?

F. Weller: Well, I auditioned for the show and it really jumped out, the script. It was during pilot season a couple of years ago and during pilot season an actor auditions for several TV shows per day. It’s really kind of a frenzied month. And this script just immediately popped because of the originality of the tone and the humor. It’s very rare, to say the least, to get to play a character on television who’s as complicated as Marshall, who gets to be a bad ass and a dork at the same time.

How did you actually prepared for the role? I know for like some movies if people are in the army or something they actually go to basic training and that sort of thing, but how do you prepare to be an agent in the witness protection program?

F. Weller: Well, I had read a couple of books prior to shooting, but they really weren’t nearly as helpful as talking to our technical advisor, who actually was the head of the witness protection program. And he also took me out to shoot guns and just was there on the set available all the time and so Mary and I picked his brains.

And at one point another marshal was helicoptered in, someone who’s not retired, who’s still active. And it was interesting, she actually didn’t know where she was going when she was helicoptered in to talk to us because their job is that secret, it’s on a need to know basis, so she didn’t know until she arrived what her mission would be, which would be to talk to a bunch of actors. I hope she wasn’t disappointed. But I really had no idea just how bad ass the US marshals are until I talked to these people. They do a lot of undercover work. They are the best in the world at protecting people, at kicking down doors. They’re frequently borrowed by other branches of the U.S. Marshal Service just to do SWAT-related work. It’s a really cool job.

You’ve been on shows like Law and Order and Missing Persons, were you able to use your experiences from those shows when you were doing In Plain Sight?

F. Weller: Well, it always helps to have experience with a camera, but the tone of this show, I think, is unlike any other procedural. It’s more serialized than most procedurals. There’s more of a through story and it’s funnier, and it’s, I don’t mean to say that other shows are formulaic, but this show really has to reinvent itself every week. So I think it’s a really special experience.

The show is based in the Santa Fe and Albuquerque area, but if for some reason you had to go into witness protection program or go hide and you could choose where you could do that, where would you choose?

F. Weller: Well, let’s see. The trouble with that is you have to go someplace where you’ve never been before. So all of my favorite places, New Orleans, where I’m from, or Charleston, I would not be allowed to go to. So just picking someplace where I’ve never been that I’m intrigued by in the United States, I guess Seattle, I’ve never been there. I hear it’s fun.

There’s actually one episode in which we interview these witnesses and we try to get them to divulge where they’ve been and where they have connections by offering to send them someplace that they might like to go, and so they disclose well, we’ve got some cousins in San Francisco, that would be nice. Chicago, I spent some time there, I thought it was great. I spent a few months there. And so we write down all these places they’ve been and then we rule them out, and they don’t realize that that is what is happening, and that’s apparently a common practice in the witness protection program.

Can you talk a little bit about how it was to film in Albuquerque as opposed to Los Angeles or Vancouver or some of the places that do more of that?

F. Weller: Well, Albuquerque is a very up and coming place to shoot. It was interesting to see the progress of the crew from the pilot, which was shot two years ago, to the later episodes of the show. It was really an extremely professional crew towards the latter half of the first season. There were a few people on the crew who did not have as much experience, who were very good, but it was interesting to see how the crew became a better and better oiled machine as the show went on, and now I think production crews are moving to Albuquerque in droves because it is so professional and yet so affordable. The town is obviously much smaller then Los Angeles or even Vancouver. I think it’s a very fun place to be. It has got like four great restaurants and about three great bars, which I liked. I don’t usually wind up going to more than a handful of restaurants or bars anyway even though I live in New York, so it was kind of fun to get into the small town experience.

When did you actually film the later episodes, what season were they filmed during? Or what months were you actually filming?

F. Weller: We just finished last December, so we shot from August to December.

I know you’ve done a lot of stage work. How do you find the weekly TV series format as an actor compared to doing stage work?

F. Weller: Well, I have to say it’s easier. You have plenty of time to learn, to really perfect your dialogue while the crew is setting up. You don’t have to master the whole thing and then go on stage and do it. It does take getting used to. I first started working with a camera over ten years ago and it’s a big adjustment. There are a lot of technical demands working with a camera. You have to understand how the camera works and you have to try to kind of think like an editor would think and it’s just a different mindset. It’s like acting with an audience that’s just a couple feet away basically.

With your technical advisors I know there’s a lot they weren’t able to tell you so what kind of questions did you ask that they weren’t able to answer?

F. Weller: Well, we would say for example, let’s see, like we’d ask them questions have you ever had to play someone in such and such a location or, let me think. It was such a frequent occurrence that they would sort of be cagey about how to reply. Because for a while they would be able to tell you things and you’d think their guard was down and then suddenly the wall would go up. Let me think. That’s a good question.

Just running through the episodes, well, for example, if you asked where a good place to put someone would be, if you asked like if you’re choosing a location within a city what sort of neighborhoods are you looking for? Something like that that might reveal any decisions that they’ve made regarding the witnesses, they would simply say, “Well what do you think?” That’s a good question. I should try to remember various times. I should ask Mary what one she can recall various specifics about that. Of course I don’t want to piss them off. Well, I suppose they can’t get mad about my telling what the questions were when they got cagey when they didn’t disclose anything at all. That would be it, anything that might let on something about their procedures with witnesses.

They would also be forthcoming regarding any kind of SWAT type situation, like how you approach with a gun, how you kick down the door, what you do to the perp. Anything like that they were very straightforward with, but anything that was more sophisticated regarding the witnesses, handling even how the witnesses were given money, like the procedures through which they were provided their weekly funds. I remember the marshal I was talking to suddenly got a little hitch in his conversational get along and he started to be a little cagey about just how the process, I don’t know why, but I remember that was something I was curious about, that he didn’t quite want to be straightforward about the money process, about when they’re given the money, where they’re given the money. I don’t know he just suddenly got a little, wait a minute, on his guard.

In Plain Sight