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Mary McDonnell Talks 'The Closer,' 'Major Crimes' and the 'Return' of 'Battlestar Galactica'

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jun 9th 2011 12:45PM
Mary McDonnell has a full agenda these days: The actress has been recurring on 'The Closer' for a couple of seasons, and she'll be a series regular when the TNT drama returns July 11. That job will keep her busy well into next year: The network recently announced that, after Kyra Sedgwick ends her run on 'The Closer' in 2012, McDonnell's Sharon Raydar character will be the lead of a spinoff titled 'Major Crimes.'

Though McDonnell was eager to talk about those new developments in a recent interview, it was actually a past project that prompted the conversation in the first place. McDonnell played Laura Roslin on 'Battlestar Galactica' for four seasons, and when she heard that BBC America was going to start re-airing the entire series starting 10PM ET June 11, she was happy to promote the "return" of the groundbreaking drama.

"I think it's perfect timing," McDonnell said. "'Battlestar' is so rich and relevant that one time through is not enough."

Though the Syfy drama, which chronicled the persecution of humanity by the robotic Cylon race, went off the air in 2009, interest in the show has not let up, the actress said.

"The fans are still so engaged. Everywhere I go, people want to talk about it," McDonnell said of the drama, which managed to be a gritty character piece, a realistic war chronicle and a provocative political drama all at once. "Since I stopped doing the show, I've gone to Germany, Italy and Australia to represent 'Battlestar' at conventions, and it's been so stimulating and engaging. People who loved the show were big thinkers."

Perhaps talking about the show helps fans not miss it quite as much. Speaking for myself, it took me about a year of feeling a 'Battlestar'-sized hole in my brain before I began truly accepting that one of my all-time favorite shows was gone. Whatever 'Battlestar's' wobbles -- and, like all great dramas, it wasn't perfect -- when it was firing on all cylinders, few shows before or since have offered the same kind of visceral momentum and emotional impact.

"It doesn't really fade," McDonnell said of missing the show. "I suppose when you lose someone, it's the same way. You always grieve. The person doesn't get replaced but you feel expanded by having known them. But there is a sadness that's left."

When a beloved show ends, part of the grieving process involves missing the particular combination of things that the show did well. And though quality dramas are not scarce on the TV landscape (and there's even another 'Battlestar Galactica' prequel, 'Blood and Chrome,' in the works), few shows on the air right now ask pointed questions about society, government and touchy political issues, as 'Battlestar' often did.

"I absolutely loved the questions that [executive producer and head writer] Ron [Moore] asked on a continual basis," McDonnell said. "These were the big questions, about survival, the environment, humanity's future and past. [The show] was a beautiful way to ask those questions kind of in the middle of all these difficult things that were happening, and I kind of miss the global involvement that 'Battlestar' had. It was a place for us to go and bounce those questions around."

Given all of that, "it will be a very very long time before 'Battestar' is not timely," McDonnell noted. "It's a brilliant time to start airing it again."

Will McDonnell be watching when it returns? That's a tough question. She said she can't bring herself to watch the final season of 'Friday Night Lights,' one of her favorite shows, because she knows she'll miss that show enormously.

"I can't even watch my kids' home movies -- I bawl my eyes out," McDonnell said with a laugh.

So going back to watch 'Battlestar' would be "a really big choice" she'd have to make, and she's not quite sure she's there yet. But she certainly treasures the memories of working with the show's cast, in particular Edward James Olmos, who played William Adama. Adama's ever-evolving relationship with Roslin became one of the touchstones of the show.

"We were absolutely blessed with each other, Eddie and I," McDonnell said. "The writing couldn't have been more organic and we felt like we'd known each other lifetimes, and that was just instant. I think certain projects have a kind of destiny to them, it's almost as if they're pre-written and you're just stepping into them. You almost can't make too big a mistake because the universe is orchestrating it. It's bigger than any individual, and you can feel it when you're involved in one of those big ones."

These days, McDonnell is involved in the transition of another notable cable show. As one of cable's longest-running big hits, 'The Closer' helped put TNT's scripted offerings on the map, but the show is entering its seventh and final season in July. Fifteen episodes will air this year, another six will air in 2012, and the week after 'The Closer's' series finale, 'Major Crimes' will debut.

"It won't be one show one week, and then a completely different show the next week," McDonnell said. "It will allow that world to continue and allow fans to continue on a new course."

Will the show's current cast stick around (sans Sedgwick, of course)? "I absolutely hope so," McDonnell said. "About all I can say is that the show is in the formative stages right now. I hope most or all of us continue." (A TNT spokesperson said that no information is available at this time about what 'Closer' cast members will appear on 'Major Crimes.')

To ease the transition, McDonnell's character, Sharon Raydar will appear in 16 or 17 episodes of the upcoming season, as part of an ongoing story arc about a gang member from Brenda Leigh Johnson's past who sues the police department. 'The Closer' is about a quarter of the way into shooting its final season, McDonnell said, and production on 10 episodes of 'Major Crimes' will begin in 2012. And though McDonnell hasn't yet seen the pilot script for the new show, she said creator James Duff has asked for her input on where to take her character.

"It's not at all scary," she said of not having seen a script yet. "I love his mind. It's a great collaboration. ... And I've been blown away by the affect that [Raydar] is already having. She comes on the show with a specific function and people don't know that much about her, so I didn't think they'd attach to her so quickly. But women love her."

So far, there hasn't been a ton of love between Sharon and Brenda Leigh Johnson, and that's been one of the interesting things about their relationship. The two women have a grudging respect for each other, but they're not exactly pals, and they're both mostly OK with that.

"I think their recognition of each other has deepened," McDonnell said. "I always look at scripts with a very close eye to make sure that conflict between women is not gratuitous. But this is not typical 'women fighting.' These two women affect each other despite themselves. They are both at the top of their games, and they are trying to do their jobs the best they possibly can, and sometimes the other person presents obstacles to that."

One of McDonnell's favorite scenes between the women occurred near the end of the previous season, when they simply admitted that they didn't like each other. "It was so freeing," she said. The feeling was, "'It's OK, we don't have to all love each other.' And it did not turn into a catfight -- it was actually a really lovely ending."

Speaking of endings, she said she knows fans will miss Sedgwick and Brenda Leigh Johnson. "No one is going to try to repeat 'The Closer' -- that is something that Kyra and this team created together," McDonnell said. "How will this creative team evolve this world that people love and not try to repeat the old but bring back what's familiar, and examine the justice system perhaps with a slightly different lens? It's still to be worked out, but it's exciting, because it honors the old and allows it to evolve."

If you watch 'Battlestar Galactica' on BBC America, feel free to check out my obsessive coverage of the show from 2004-'09 and beyond. And here's a preview clip from BBC America's site:

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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So far, Major Crimes has been very decent (and McDonnel, whom I met in Los Angeles two years ago, is a solid winner as a serious dramatic actor), but I can't believe that I've missed MOST of the episodes. And, just tonight, they announced that the series will return next summer. Huh? Something is wrong here.

October 16 2012 at 3:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can't believe The Closer is going off the air. I LOVE that show. Oh well, hopefully Major Crimes will be an able replacement. So NOT looking forward to the BSG prequel. I'm sorry but don't we already know what happened? Wasn't that kind of the problem with Caprica? I didn't love BSG (I was a fan of the old one from the 70s though) but I watched it anyway and it had some good stories (it also had some bad ones...like the ending...that sucked). I don't know if I'm going to watch Blood and Chrome yet. I'll have to see the promos for it.

June 10 2011 at 4:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tina Sena

She's my favorite actress and I cannot wait to have her back on television this summer! FRAK YES!

June 09 2011 at 5:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So glad to hear of the 'BSG' prequel in the works. It certainly left a huge hole on the 'SyFy' net. As far as I am concerned, they can bring on as many prequels/sequels as they want! Too bad about 'Caprica.' The male leads were extremely engaging. Anyway, looking forward to 'Blood & Chrome'. Thx

June 09 2011 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

DVR is set for BSG. I will be a newbie. I did watch most of Caprica and found bits intriguing. I know that can be tantamount to heresy for BSG fans, but I say it in all innocence.

June 09 2011 at 3:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peter Taylor

Hi Mo! It's Peter from Cleveland. We talked via a few comments when you worked with the Chicago Tribune about 2 years ago (around the time I my partner died) - sharing our thoughts on the last of BSG. I just wanted to say, I am tickled pink that you got to interview Mary McDonnell (one of my all time fave actresses, especially due to BSG) but also your words echoed my sentiment regarding the TV show - "Perhaps talking about the show helps fans not miss it quite as much. Speaking for myself, it took me about a year of feeling a 'Battlestar'-sized hole in my brain before I began truly accepting that one of my all-time favorite shows was gone. Whatever 'Battlestar's' wobbles -- and, like all great dramas, it wasn't perfect -- when it was firing on all cylinders, few shows before or since have offered the same kind of visceral momentum and emotional impact." 100% agreed. However, I have the entire series on blu-ray and about every 6 weeks, have a group over (including a new bf) to watch several episodes at a time and introduce them to all to the wonder, awe, relevance and intelligence that BSG brought to the small screen. Thank you for writing this article! Take care and stay cool in this sweltering "SPRING?" weather!


June 09 2011 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Helen Thompson

Great interview. I still love reading her thoughts on Battlestar and still miss Roslin and Adama.

June 09 2011 at 1:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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