Slow and steady does it. Not just for Captain Sharon Raydor, the
former Internal Affairs officer in the popular TNT series The Closer
who has just taken over the squad in the spin-off series Major
Crimes, but also for Mary McDonnell, the actress who plays her.
The actress has been coming into our homes for over 30 years
now, first capturing our eyes on the soap opera As the World Turns.
Soon she'd graduated to films, receiving two Oscar nominations in the
early 90s for Dances With Wolves and Passion Fish.
She has followed with a quirky resume of arty films (Donnie
Darko, Grand Canyon, Matewan), blockbusters (Sneakers,
Independence Day) and genre films (Scream 4).
However, no matter how recognizable she was, McDonnell truly became a
star when she took on a role on the reboot of the sci-fi classic
Battlestar Galactica, spending five years playing the
President of the galaxy on the very popular show.
Soon after Galactica blasted off TV, McDonnell was brought in for
a high profile guest appearance on The Closer as Captain Sharon
Raydor, an Internal Affairs Captain brought in investigate unorthodox
Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) and her squad.
What started off as a short story arc was extended to nearly three
seasons of her character growing more and more important to the series.
When Sedgwick announced her retirement from the series at the end of the
current, seventh season of the show, it was not a huge shock that Raydor
was slotted in to take Chief Johnson's role, both in the police
department and the new spin-off series.
A few weeks before the final episode of The Closer and the debut
of Major Crimes, we were lucky enough to be one of a few sites to
talk with McDonnell about her latest chapter.
Now obviously you've been a part of this group for a while, and
Major Crimes has a built-in audience. But Kyra was such a huge part
of The Closer. How will the new show differentiate itself from
the old show, and in what ways will it try to stay similar for the fans?
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 seven
years. 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. Therein lies the reality of the new show. That's
where it begins.
I've heard some of the cast members who are coming back but not all. Who
will be and won't be coming back? For example, I haven't heard anything
about J.K. Simmons, whether he's coming back as Pope.
I can't really talk about the cast members yet because that has to
evolve as you see the plot.
Could you talk about how the character is going to be evolving and has
changed since she first appeared on
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.
She was clearly brought in to be the antagonist. As we evolve into
Major Crimes this character professionally changes, she shifts. We
begin to view her through a different job, a different set of
circumstances, and different things are asked of her. 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.
Can you talk about how the show started? I mean, were you approached for
this spin-off at the very beginning?
No, I wasn't approached for a spin-off at the very beginning. I was
asked to come on and do an arc of three episodes. 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. 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. (laughs) Also I will say one of
the reasons James wanted to talk to me about this is because he was a
Battlestar Galactica fan.
What is the secret to Captain Raydor's success, do you think?
The secret to her success? As a character? I think its 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. She stays incredibly
focused, and that can create many responses in many different people. I
think that's a lot of fun.
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. I'm looking forward to seeing how she begins to engage when
they have common ground.
Since you mentioned Battlestar Galactica, 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 buffoonish,
Detective Flynn (G.W. Bailey) and Provenza (Tony Dennison) episodes still?
Well, I'll start with the second one first. Flynn and Provenza - their
wonderful natures - those don't go away. (Laughs) Believe me. Oh
my goodness, are you kidding? That's like precious gold. You will see
plenty of Flynn and Provenza in that way that you described them. It's
wonderful. The first part of your question - 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 solitary woman in power
position. So I did a little bit of research about that when I was
working on her. 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.
That was kind of interesting. It was also kind of interesting to be
working in LA as opposed to Canada. There's a lot of differences in the
work environment, but in both cases it was really strong exciting
ensemble and great writing so I just felt lucky.
I am a major fan of Ms. President.
Well, I guess, former president.
Former president - oh dear, yes. She is no longer with us, but she was a
great ride, for sure.
Raydor was an antagonist for Brenda as you had mentioned. Will there be
a female antagonist for Raydor at all on
I'm not sure. I'm not sure the answer to that question. I do know that
what we are slowly and very richly carving out is beginning to
understand how - let's just keep looking at how does the crime get
solved in the new dynamic. What aspects does that bring out in this
character that we have not seen in her other job? How does that interact
with these other fabulous actors and characters? How they feel about
things. 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 - how do I put this? It is an ensemble and she is both at the
center and part of the ensemble. 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. There will
be a deepening of the engagement between Raydor and the other people.
Do you exec produce at all on the show?
No I do not. No.
Will we get to learn any of Raydor's back story at all?
Yes you will. (laughs)
Your character in this new show is just going to be thrown into the fire
basically. You have no allies because you've basically targeted these
people for a reason, and not for a reason previously. Do you have an
ally? Are you totally - 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?
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. Yet -
what I've found out doing it and what we all, we're finding out what
James is writing and what everyone is - is that she has a deep
commitment to whatever job she is in. By necessity in the new show, the
job dictates a stronger connection, an engagement with the other members
of the ensemble as it were. That starts to create stories that take us
in new directions. 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. Out of that comes
a new show, a new story.
But 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 department,
being a Captain in internal affairs for over a decade. 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. Now she's on their turf, but this is a woman who knows how
to be in the position she's in.
Does she have family?
Yes she does.
And that family would be? Can you tell us?
I can't tell you yet.
I also wondered, she is so focused that does she have room and time for
family, or what's her relief, when she goes home from these guys who
don't want here there?
This is such an interesting question. It's 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 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. 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
24/7. There is 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? 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. A generation ago these same women would have
been retiring. So we have an opportunity to explore something that's
happening all around us. And to have some stories evolve out of that.
Also 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. 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. 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 a balance between humor and drama: some of
the gritty elements were relieved by a joke from someone. What kind of
tone will we see from Major Crimes?
Well, what I can tell you is that 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. 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.
Is there something in particular that you would like to see happen to
your character, you know, if it was up to you and you could write
Is there something in particular that I would like to see happen to her?
You know what I am so busy playing what has been written and really
exploring it and trying to understand it and be alive in it, you know
what I mean? So I haven't really projected outside of that yet, but I
think that as soon as we finish the first season I will have all kinds
of ideas. (laughs hard) So far it's been pretty fascinating.
What do you find the most challenging acting-wise on the show?
That's a good question. I think that the biggest challenge for me at the
moment or for the character or for myself, 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
I thought that Raydor had evolved (in the final episodes of
The Closer) and become Brenda's ally towards the end there. Kyra said
she might come back, maybe to do some spots and how would you feel about
that in Major Crimes? And have you done any kind of police work
ride-alongs, anything like that since you've played the part?
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 back - 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 these female detectives.
What were the biggest kernels of wisdom they gave you?
One of the greatest things I found out about them is that I 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 a routine to them, that they
found was easier than what we were explaining to them goes. 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. I found them
so wonderful and amusing and human.
They were great. They were absolutely awesome. And very, very practical
women. Very cool looking and very wonderful and warm and funny, but
really, really focused when they needed to be. It was just a great
wonderful thing to see.