A curious thing happened after Mary McDonnell was added to the cast of TNT's The Closer in 2009. "People started to come up to me," the two-time Oscar nominee says, "and they'd say, 'Oh, I love you. You're such a witch!'" Only they didn't say "witch." They used a rhymes-with word that McDonnell had rarely heard uttered in a complimentary way.
McDonnell's character, Capt. Sharon Raydor of LAPD's internal affairs division, was the antagonist who continuously second-guessed the police work of Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) and her team. She quickly became someone viewers loved to hate. "The response blew my mind," McDonnell says.
Now viewers will be asked to switch allegiances and root for Raydor as she becomes the new boss in the murder room. Sedgwick's farewell episode of The Closer airs at 8 p.m. Monday. It will be followed at 9 by the premiere of Major Crimes, a spinoff that includes most of the Closer team. "Raydor can't be the outsider anymore," McDonnell says. "She must win over the detectives who previously saw her as the enemy."
1 When you signed on with The Closer, did you know a spinoff could happen?
I signed on for three episodes. I thought it would be a lark. I thought it would be fun to work with Kyra and the rest of the cast. There was no agenda beyond that. So this has been an amazing, exciting adventure.
2 In Major Crimes, Raydor negotiates plea arrangements with killers that will save the state money and time by eliminating big murder trials. Are police departments actually doing this? Is this a real issue?
It's a real issue for the state of California. It's almost to the point where California can't afford the justice system as we've known it. Having so many people on Death Row, with them having the right to appeal over and over again, is costing millions and millions of dollars. Our financially strapped state can't afford it. So a serious problem is emerging. Our justice system is being undermined by economics. The challenge is how to honor the Constitution and still be able to afford it.
3 Before this, you were the president on Battlestar Galactica. Do you like playing women with power?
What I find interesting is that, yes, women have been in power/leadership/boss positions for a while now. But can these women behave however they want once they're in charge? Do they have the same freedom in terms of management style that their male counterparts have? I would venture not. I suspect we still have a gender gap in that regard. And I find it interesting to examine the complexity of that.
4 Did you research your role by meeting real-life detectives?
I spent some time with two female detectives at the LAPD. They were very warm and funny, but very focused when they needed to be. These women have had huge careers in the LAPD and have gone after major criminals. They are very impressive. I could never do what they do for a living.
5 What did they think about what you do for a living?
They both commented on how difficult it would be for them to work the schedule I work in Hollywood, with all the crazy floating hours. So I guess we all chose wisely when we picked our careers, didn't we?
-- David Martindale,
Special to the Star-Telegram