Mary McCormack has spent most of the past decade circling stardom and
with the new USA Network series In Plain Sight; she may finally
touch down as a full-blown star. In the new series Ė created by
first-time producer David Maples Ė McCormack plays Mary Shannon, a tough
and competent Federal Marshall in the Witness Protection program. The
series tracks her cases as she helps newly-on-the-lam citizens deal with
their new surroundings Ė all the while Shannon is having trouble keeping
her own life in order.
McCormack first caught our eyes in one of the main characters in the
heavily-hyped, critically-acclaimed but short-lived drama Murder One.
At about the same time, she opened eyes on the big screen as Howard
Sternís patient wife in Private Parts. In the years since, she
has been a regular in such series as The West Wing, K Street and
ER. Her brother, Eric, has also become a TV staple Ė playing
Will on the popular series Will and Grace.
As In Plain Sight is making it onto TV, the actress is on
Broadway in a revival of Boeing-Boeing, which has earned
McCormack a Tony nomination. She has also made her mark in other films
such as Dickie Roberts, Child Star, K-Pax, Mystery Alaska, Gun
Shy, Full Frontal and most recently played John Cusackís
estranged ex in last yearís horror film 1408.
However, now she is looking forward to settling into her new series, and
seeing where it takes her. Recently McCormack sat down with us and a
few other websites in a conference call to discuss her experiences on
In Plain Sight.
What has been the
most challenging part of your role?
Well, the role is such a nice fit for me. Honestly, I think the most
challenging part of this job was just how much Iím in it. Iíve never
really experienced that kind of workload before. You know itís
challenging and fulfilling, itís sort of you know one of those things,
be careful what you wish for. Itís such a great part and itís Ė you
know you see her at work and you see her at home. The sort of challenge
for me was I went to Albuquerque with an eight-week old and was working
sort of 13 to 19-hour days and for me that was the most challenging part
was just staying afloat.
How did you come into
the part? Did you audition like normal? And why did you decide that
you wanted to do this part?
You know I was looking for a show to do and I was reading just lots of
scripts and I just picked it up and it was in a stack of scripts and I
read it. I remember just laughing out loud a bunch of times, which I
rarely do, even with really funny scripts Ė just because I donít know
when Iím reading you know you almost sort of clock a joke in your head
more than you laugh out loud. And this one, I just remember actually
sitting in my living room just laughing. And I just called my agent and
said I really, really want to go in and meet on this one and who are
they after? And do I have a chance? And you know just expressing a
bunch of interest. And so then I went and met with Paul and David and
they didnít ask me to read actually. I was willing to read, but they
didnít ask me to read. We just sat and talked for a long time. And
then, yes, they offered it to me after that.
From the pilot, I
think you mentioned at one point that Mary was from New Jersey. Do you
know much about your character background; how she ended up in New
Mexico or was it basically thatís where the job was at the time?
Yes, thatís what we talked about Ė David and I. The trick of TV, of
course, is that you can make a bunch of that stuff up and you know it
all might change one day when the writer decides to write something
else, you know because with television things get revealed slowly.
Thatís something a lot of actors hate about the medium, but I kind of
like it. But you know we just discussed that, yes, with the Marshal
Service itís usually a matter of placement and that her relationship to
Albuquerque and sort of the southwest is that she went there under
protest. And so her energy is so different than the mellow, you know
sort of relaxed place sheís been put in.
the recent Tony nomination for Boeing-Boeing.
Youíve done a lot of
work in theater, I was just wondering if you could compare and contrast
that experience Ė like the live experience with doing a show like
In Plain Sight.
Well, you know the acting is the same. I mean acting is always sort of
the same Ė like you want to be - you know youíre pretending and you want
to make it as real as you can. Thatís the similarity. The mediums
other than that are completely different. I mean you know with camera
work youíre doing really small detailed work and you know if you do
anything too big youíve sort of failed. And with stage, especially with
the play Iím doing right now, Iím doing a farce, and itís so over the
top that you can't actually be too big. So itís just completely
different. And it was actually challenging for me to do the play
because Iíve spent the last Ė I donít think Iíve done a play in seven or
eight years. So for me to remind myself to be enormous and to be brave
enough to be big, it was actually a real challenge.
Can you talk a little
bit about whatís coming up in the show for your character? I mean all
the episodes of this season are already filmed, correct?
Iíd just love to know
a little bit about whatís coming, what people can expectÖ
Well, you know, her relationship with Raphael gets investigated a little
bit more, you know where they stand and what they have and all that.
And Raphael sort of spends more and more time with my sister, which
complicates things. And letís see what else, you know each week thereís
a different witness story, so you get that every week. In terms of my
sister and my mother, they continue sort of down their road of
destruction. And, yes, I mean I donít know how much I can tell without
giving it away. I donít know what Iím allowed to tell. Brandi has Ė
you know you see her use the drugs, in the pilot you see her sniff some
sort of illicit drug and that storyline also continues. So they wreak
some havoc, as I think everyone can sort of see is coming. Oh, I think
Iím not giving anything away.
mother and your sister - obviously the other women in the family have a
much looser concern about law and order than Mary. How do you think
that she got involved in law enforcement with a background like that?
And what are Lesley Ann and Nikki both like to work with?
Well, I love working with both of them. I mean I think itís so
interesting. I mean to me, you know I had a mother, my mother was
always, and I think I can say this without hurting her feelings, my
mother was always late and is often late, and Iím always fifteen minutes
early to everything. So I think weíve all experienced sort of becoming
who we are as a reaction to what we come from. And I think Mary Shannon
sort of raised herself and had to look after herself from day one and
probably is really, really - I think in my mind this is how I explained
it Ė is really, really frustrated and really, really angry about not
having a mother who was into the law and into structure and rules and
all that. So she went as far as you could go with that and keeps
everybody in line, and keeps a to-do-list on her you know dashboard.
And all of that is sort of a reaction to what she comes from, I think.
As far as working with those two ladies Ė I love it. Theyíre both
great. Lesley Ann is one of my all-time favorite actresses and sheís
never done a television show, so to get her to do this is really a
Your role of Mary is
very witty and smart. Your comedic timing, has it always come natural
to you or is it something that you worked at?
No, I donít know if I have actually good comedic timing. But I donít
think Iíve worked at any timing. I think timing is probably something
you can't work at. Well, I donít know. I definitely didnít work at
We were talking to
your co-star a couple weeks ago Ė Fred Weller Ė and he was saying that
the tech advisors got really weird when you would ask them questions
when you guys were training for the role. Did you find that being the
case Ė how they get a little shady?
No, we only had one guy. We were only allowed to have one guy. The
Marshals Service actually allowed us to have a technical advisor. These
Witness Protection Marshals take an oath, a lifetime oath to never to
talk about their service, ever. So even after they retire, until their
death theyíre not allowed to tell their wives, theyíre not allowed to
talk to anybody about any of it. So itís impossible to get information,
of course. But the Marshals Service did allow us one retired Marshal.
I think probably it was a dual function. Iím not sure it was for us as
much as it was for them to sort of know what we were doing and to know
if we were going to present it properly. And I mean they actually were
excited about the show and read the script and liked it and all that.
But they gave us this man who is lovely, named Charles Almanza, who was
our technical advisor, and there were situations where he wanted us to
tell the story properly and he wanted us to sort of tell the story the
way the Marshals would do it. But once in a while if the details got
too specific, he couldn't get involved. Like weíd say, ďWhat about Ė
Charlie, in this situation where would I take this person? What would
be the name of the place I would take them?Ē Heís like I can't tell you
the name. Iím like okay, is it a house? And heís like, yes. And Iím
like, Charlie, is it like a basement of a school? What is it? Is it
like the back of a warehouse? And heís like maybe. You know so
sometimes it was a little bit of a guessing game, but we were always
happy to have him. I mean I was thrilled to have him just so we donít
look like idiot cops - you know just with all the gun stuff and
arrests. And there are so many people doing that badly on television
that it is nice to have someone around to say youíd never push a guy in
a car like that. Hereís how youíd do it - you know.
Right, this is how
you kill someone.
Yes, that helps.
Whatís your favorite
part about working on the show?
Well, I think my favorite part about working on the show is I love team
sports. I love the crew a lot. I love hanging out with the crew. I
mean I usually stay on set. I love the other actors on this show. Fred
Weller has become one of my best friends. All of them Ė Paul Ben-Victor
Ė and theyíre all great. I just love hanging out with a group of
people. So Iím in the right job for that. In terms of this show versus
all my other television experience or film experience, I love this part
a lot. Like this part to me feels like David wrote it for me. And he
didnít, which is just weird. I mean it honestly feels like if I could
have dreamt up a role that I would be comfortable in and enjoy doing,
this would be it. And itís a nice fit. I think sheís cool. I want to
hang out with her.
In the pilot, I found
the interaction with the Native American community really interesting.
Is that thing pretty much continued throughout most episodes or does it
just come in here and there?
Here and there.
Since youíve acted from the stage and movies and on several television
series, do you prefer any format over the other?
I love them all for different reasons. I know itís a cop-out answer. I
do love them all for different reasons. I think television might be my
favorite, if I had to choose one, because I like the familial aspect of
a big crew. I really like you know Ė I usually play on the softball
team with the crew. And I like people having babies. And I just like
hanging out with the same large group of people for years. Itís a nice
way to go to work.
Youíre joining kind
of what I think is a pretty cool group of strong women Ė female
characters kind of having to do with law and law enforcement and ...
cable TV. Do you have much of an interest or sense of like you know Ė
performers like Kyra Sedgwick in
The Closer, Holly
Hunter in Saving Grace and Glenn Close in Damages. It
seems to be a pretty welcoming territory for female actresses...
Yes, I actually donít watch them, and I should. I just stuck a few of
them on my TiVO and I was like what is all that? Whatís going on here?
But Iím thrilled that at least right now people seem to be willing to
make room for us, too. And I think itís a pretty excellent trend. I
think itís weird that itís such big news because Ė I mean itís not weird
because it is big news. I donít know for such a long time womenís parts
have just not been that cool, you know. And now finally people are
willing to sort of be less likable. You know for a long time women had
to be the moral center and had to know right from wrong and had to sort
of not be sexual creatures and not ever take a shortcut, and you know
all those things and that was sort of like what the guys did. So I
think itís about time and really refreshing and Iím thrilled that weíre
allowed to join it. I mean David wrote this so long ago, it might have
even been written as those were being written or before, but Iím
thrilled that people seem to be willing to have another. I hope they
continue. We enjoy doing it.
I was just wondering
Ė most of the USA shows are like the half season, like a 13-episode
format. Is this what
In Plain Sight
Yes, we shot 13 this season. Itís already shot. And the first two were
combined for the pilot. So we have 11 episodes left to air. And then
if we get invited back, which I hope we do, I donít know how many weíll
do Ė probably the same, or sometimes in the second season of cable shows
they do a few more. I don't know.
So you prefer that Ė
the half season format over the full season?
I do. I do. Iíve got two little kids.
What do you think it
is about this show that will draw in viewers?
Well, I hope itís the writing Ė you know the sense of humor, the fact
that the characters are a little bit off-beat. When I read the script,
I laughed out loud a few times, which is rare. Things that I thought
were going to happen didnít happen. I hope people want to laugh and
sort of follow an interestingÖ I mean also itís interesting that I think
each week you get a little bit of both kind of shows. You know you get
a procedural because each week you get a new story about a witness and
how they ended up hiding in Albuquerque. I think something appealing
about the show is that you know you get both the procedural aspect and
you get a serial aspect. And I think thatís satisfying, at least it is
I know that people on
the Witness Protection Program Ė they donít get to choose where they
relocate. But I was just wondering if you could choose where would you
Golly, Iíd like to live in London.
Why is that?
Well, my husband is from there. I mean you can't go where your family
is, but my husband is English and we spend a lot of time in London, so I
know it and like it.
What has been your
favorite scene to film so far, if you can tell us about it?
Letís see Ė my favorite scene to film maybe was that Ė I donít know if
you guys have seen this episode, but the one with the Trojan horse.
Have you seen that one?
No, Iíve only seen
the pilot and the next two after that.
Oh, okay. Itís an episode that Fred and I sort of get in a standoff.
We end up in an abandoned bar in a sort of gun standoff. And so I shot
the scene with Fred where I think he might die and he thinks I might
die, and I think itís a really beautifully written scene.
It sounds good.
Thereís one thing I
really like about your character is that sheís really very brilliant
professionally and yet her personal life is kind of screwed up, and Iíve
noticed that in some other roles that youíve played in in the past too.
Why is that kind of a dichotomy interesting to you as an actress?
Well, I think itís probably something we see a lot, right. I mean with
successful people they focus their energy on their work and you know
unfortunately some things like marriages or relationships and other
things slide a little bit. Usually itís people hiding themselves,
right? Theyíre hiding from something they donít want to look at and so
they hide in their work. I think that happens a lot. So I love that
David sort of has her hiding as well. Sheís hiding from her own fear of
intimacy and sheís hiding from her own anger at her mother and sheís
hiding from all that stuff, so she just focuses on work you know. I
think itís sort of a beautiful backdrop that she hides people for a
living and sheís sort of hiding as well.
How has the
experience of working on this show been different from that of working
on the other shows that youíve been a regular on?
You know I think this one is so different mainly because of the
workload. For me, I just have never had this big a part. And I said it
before itís a case of be careful what you wish for. You know I was I
just want that role thatís Ė and sort of dreamt up this role, and now I
have this role and sheís cool and itís funny and she gets great lines
and you know I get the gun and the car. Iíve got the best role in the
world. And you know what comes with that is really, really, really long
days and a lot of pressure. So I think thatís been the toughest.
Thatís been the biggest challenge for me. And thatís been the
difference is that I feel a lot more pressure and I care about it a lot
more, too. I care about everything a lot more. I care about the crew a
lot more because I feel responsible now. You know I feel like this is
on me a little bit, so I want it to be a nice experience for everybody.
Okay, first of all,
you said ďI get the car.Ē You drive a Ford Probe Ė hello.
But itís cool. She loves that little car.
I think itís a classic. I love it. I love that sheís just sort of
stuck on it. Sheís a creature of habit.
Well, I was just
going to ask about the whole being a cop thing and if thatís just fun as
an act. I mean obviously many actors on television get to do theÖ
Yes, Iíve never done it before. It is fun. I mean you know sheís kind
of a bad ass. Sheís a bad ass without being a superhero, which I like.
Like I don't think David made herÖ you know like when she has a fight,
youíll see in some episodes when she fights, she actually gets hurt.
You know I mean I think itís not always pretty. But she still can look
after herself and really mess somebody up if she needs to, which I just
love. Of course itís great. I mean Iím built for that as well and I
feel like Iíve never really gotten to do it. I mean I look like Ė you
know my body looks like I might be a Marshal and Iíve never really
played a cop. So itís nice.
A Marshal and a
German stewardess Ė thatÖ
Exactly, I said recently and I feel this is true that for the first time
in my entire career Iím the right size for the role Ė both roles.
What has been your
most memorable moment youíve had from filming this show?
You know when I shot that scene with the Native American in the bathroom
where I throw the soap at his groin? I was so sick when we shot that
scene that I was throwing up between takes in a bucket. Thatís
memorable. So when I see that Ė actually I had some sort of stomach bug
that Iíd gotten from my baby and I was so ill, but we had to shoot it
that night because we were losing that location. And I actually would
just like say a line, throw up, say a line, throw the soap, throw up.
You know it was unbelievable. I was honestly just barely getting
I was wondering if
there are any guest stars we should be looking forward to this season.
Yes, Dave Foley is great in - I donít know what number it is, but itís
called ďA Trojan Horse.Ē I think it might be four. Dave Foley is
excellent in that. And we pick up Sherry Stringfield Ė is really good.
And oh, gosh, Wendell Pierce Ė he is my favorite of the whole season.
He was phenomenal. I mean Wendell Pierce is like a brilliant actor and
it was a huge coup to get him. He had worked with the director of that
episode before. So I think he came really for him and he loved the
writing and the role. But heís amazing in it. I mean heís just really
moving. I donít know what number his is. Itís called ďIris Doesnít
Live Here Anymore.Ē
Do you have any dream
guest star that youíd like to see on the show?
Oh, my gosh. Thatís a big question. Of course there are so many. I
want to drag everyone I love down there. No, Iíd have to think about
that because thatís big. Iíve got to like think, youíve got to call me
back for that.
Would you ever be
interested in writing or directing for the shows if they gave you the
I donít feel like I really want to direct. My husband is a director and
I see what the job Ė I really know that job well. And I certainly love
to watch directors work. I donít feel decisive enough to direct.
Writing interests me more, but neither so much. I really think I have
my hands full with the acting.
The show is filmed in
Albuquerque, which is sort of off of the normal New York, LA, Canada
radar for most shows. Whatís it like working there and how do you feel
that the city sort of contributes to the flavor of the show?
Well, I mean I liked working there. Albuquerque is sort of a great city
actually. I mean itís interesting because when people think of New
Mexico they would always say oh, youíre in New Mexico. Oh, itís
gorgeous and Santa Fe is beautiful. And I was like I know, but weíre
going to Albuquerque. And no one really knows having Ė people certainly
Ė lots of people know Albuquerque, but itís not what they talk about
when they talk about New Mexico. But we actually really enjoyed it. I
mean for me I like it more than this other city. It feels more like a
city actually. I mean it has a university and so therefore itís more Ė
I don't know Ė more interesting. You know itís diverse and thereís a
lot going on culturally. Itís bigger and less touristy and it feels
like a real place Ė like people really live there. And I don't know we
enjoyed a lot. I think in terms of what it contributes to the show Ė
just New Mexico in general really contributes to our show. Thereís
nothing else on TV like that - you know with the big sky and sort of
that landscape, which is really like another planet. Thereís no one
else shooting there right now. So itís really special and it looks like
you could get lost there. You know it looks like a place you might go
to start over.
What would you like
to say to everyone who is a fan and supporter of you and your work?
Thank you, of course. I mean my goodness you know Iím doing this play
right now and after I leave the theater I was saying this to my husband
the other night because there are so many people outside who want
autographs. Theyíve just seen the play and they get to tell you exactly
what they thought and you know theyíre still laughing. And you get this
sort of instant feedback. And itís so much fun for me. Sometimes some
of the other actors think like oh, I have to go out there and do that or
they donít go out between shows. And I always go out because I just
feel like how sweet that people are waiting around to get my autograph.
But also I guess because Iíve done so much film and television, I donít
get to talk to people about the work ever. And itís nice to hear that
people have enjoyed your work you know. So I would say thank you. I
get to do what I love and I get to do it because people you know enjoy
it. And thatís a treat.
I know you said
youíre doing the play, but do you have any other shows or projects that
are coming up soon for us to look forward to?
You know, I donít right now. I have this. I mean this I went from
shooting In Plain Sight in Albuquerque to having Christmas and
then right into rehearsing the play. And now Iíll be doing the play all
summer. So hopefully weíll be going back to Albuquerque right after the
play. I mean thatís my Ė Iím knocking on wood as I say that. There I
It seems that
Marshall ends up being Maryís confidante for the most part since they
can actually talk about whatís going on in her work life at least. Does
Mary have anyone she would actually consider a friend in New Mexico or
mainly if she is too busy with her work and family?
Yes, no, we donít see any evidence of that yet. I mean weíll see what
David does. I don't think sheís a very friendly person. You know, I
don't think thatís a strength. In fact in episode four, thereís a line
between Fredís character and mine where he says, ďYou know youíre my
best friend.Ē And she says ďYouíre my only friend.Ē So, yes, I think
thatís it. I mean I donít think she has really any friends. I had to
say it out loud.
Hello, can you tell
us besides when you were sick another funny moment that happened either
while filming or just hanging out on the set?
Letís see, letís see. Golly, I wish Iíd thought of that ahead of time.
Iím going to waste everybodyís time by sitting here thinking. Oh, I
know I can tell you about Fred. I constantly teased Fred because heís
so vain and he wears Ė between takes he puts in retainers sometimes.
And he says theyíre not retainers, theyíre Invisalign - very defensive
about that. And then he also carries Ė oh, my gosh, heís going to kill
me for this Ė he also carries in his suit pocket Ė he carries Ė
sometimes he carries a little mirror so he can check his hair. So I
give him a lot of heat for that because I always say heís the chick and
Iím the guy.
West Wing fan. I
just wanted to ask what it was like working on that show Ė you
experience there and any storiesÖ
That was a dream job. I mean when I took the West Wing job, sort
of a week later when we were negotiating my deal, I found out I was
pregnant. And I called John Wells to come clean because I just felt
like I couldn't sort of negotiate a deal and you know show up something
that I wasnít when he offered it to me. And of course they were great
and said donít be silly. We donít care and itíll be wonderful and you
know. And I said, ďPlease, please, write it in that Iím pregnant.Ē And
they didnít so my experience was a big, big, huge lesson in humility,
you know because I shot it 100 pounds overweight or whatever. I mean
Iím Irish and I went for it, but I was definitely big - but you know I
said some of the best lines on TV. I mean I had a great role. They
wrote Kate Harper for me and it was one of the best roles Iíve ever
had. I spoke twelve languages. I was ex-CIA. I mean I was like the
Presidentís confidante. I brokered peace in the Mideast. You know, you
could do worse things. But my experience there was also that you know I
worked with some of the best actors I think working in television Ė
Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, Martin Sheen, and Bradley Whitford - I
mean amazing actors. And then I got to that party too late. You know
when that show ended; they were all so tuckered out. They were really
ready to you know - it was bittersweet for them, but they were really
ready to move on. I was sort of like what do you mean guys? Letís do
another year. I was just thrilled to be there. But I feel grateful
that I got two and a half years because I consider it you know wonderful
television and better than a lot of the film Iíve done.
You mentioned the
size thing just briefly. Is it crazy making Ė being a woman in
Hollywood who you know where normal is not normal for folks whoÖ
You know I donít think it is crazy making for me. I think it is for
many. For me itís obviously not because Iíve always sort of stayed the
same Ė normal. I have a normal look and Iím sort of athletic looking
and Iíve always sort of stayed the same within five pounds or
something. I donít really go up and down that much. So obviously I
donít get that swept up in it. Some people do, but Iíve managed to have
a good Ė I like my career and I like the parts Iíve gotten and Iíve
never really been accused of being skinny Ė sort of always been normal.
So I think it can be done. You just have to not lose your way and
people are all different.
When youíre acting,
do you ever get to like offer your input or advice or change things and
how is the director with doing that?
You know I mean I certainly do. David Maples who created the show is
really collaborative, which I love. Iím so grateful for that because
not everyone is that way. And yes, if I find like if I think thereís
something that just feels funny or whatever and I mention it to him,
heíll look at it again and either change it or explain what he was
thinking. And we just sort of Ė you know yes, heís very collaborative.
So I feel grateful for that. In television the directors are pretty
collaborative. Itís really the show creator who is the most protective
generally and theyíre Ė but David is lovely. David has a really
wonderful outlook. Itís the best idea wins you know, which I think it
makes for better product.
You just mentioned in
Wing about how when you got the job you found out you were pregnant.
Now In Plain Sight also has been in work for well over a year.
How gratifying was it for you as an actress to know that they thought
so much about you that they were willing to sort of push things back
while you had your baby?
Oh, amazing. I mean amazing that John Wells did that for me because he
certainly didnít have to. And then yes, that USA network Ė I mean I
shot the pilot and then we were going to go back in the fall and then
they said well, maybe the spring and by then Iíd gotten pregnant. They
waited a whole year Ė over a year to shoot. And I thought you know yes,
a huge compliment. And this time I said, Flip, if Iím going to have any
more babies, Iím calling you first, which my husband you know yelled at
me for. Maybe call me first. And then weíll call USA.
What got you started
I grew up in New Jersey and I saw Broadway plays first. It was like
what we got to go to for my birthday or a class trip. You know so I
think living near the city was probably the biggest influence. Yes,
seeing Broadway plays.
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