With ‘The Closer’ coming to an end, Mary McDonnell becomes the new center of attention on the show's spin-off series, ‘Major Crimes.’ The former president on ‘Battlestar Galactica’ talks about the differences between the two police dramas.
With Kyra Sedgwick, and her character, Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, leaving the hit crime drama The Closer, Mary McDonnell (who portrays Captain Sharon Raydor on the series) is stepping forward to head-up Johnson's elite L.A.P.D. squad in Major Crimes -- a spin-off of The Closer. Although fans will still see a lot of familiar faces from The Closer on the new series, McDonnell confesses that, inevitably, Major Crimes (which premieres August 13 on TNT) will be a different series, but fans of The Closer shouldn't be worried.
"I think, inherently, it will change, because Brenda Leigh Johnson (Sedgwick) is gone," explains McDonnell, who spent five seasons portraying President Laura Roslin on the rebooted, phenomenal space opera Battlestar Galactica. "Brenda was the center of the show, and 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. And 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. And, therein, lies the reality of the new show. That's where it begins."
Chief Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) with Captain Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) on 'The Closer'
James Duff, the executive producer and creator of both The Closer and Major Crimes, is ready to take television's favorite squad of detectives into bold new territory with the new series. Two-time Oscar-nominee Mary McDonnell (who was also nominated for an Emmy for her role on The Closer) will be joined on Major Crimes by fellow Closer veterans G.W. Bailey, Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz and Phillip P. Keene. Additionally, Robert Gossett and Jon Tenney will guest-star in several episodes, and Kearran Giovanni joins the cast as Detective Amy Syke -- an ambitious undercover police detective and military veteran who served in Afghanistan -- who quickly becomes Captain Raydor's right-hand-woman.
"I think evolving is the key," admits McDonnell, when asked how the character of Captain Sharon Raydor is will be changing on Major Crimes. "What I'm saying in that is 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. And she was clearly brought in to be the antagonist. As we evolve into Major Crimes, his character is evolved into -- she professionally changes, she shifts. And we begin to view her through a different job, a different set of circumstances, and different things are asked of her. And 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."
As Major Crimes opens, the detectives in the Los Angeles Police Department's Major Crimes division are still reeling from the departure of Brenda Leigh Johnson and the realization that Captain Raydor is now in charge. Unlike their previous chief, Raydor is determined to lead the department with a more team-oriented approach, sharing the credit with the people with whom she works. Raydor's hardest job, however, will be gaining the full trust and confidence of her detectives, who aren't quick to forget her long history of internal investigations targeting them and their previous boss. Especially troublesome is Provenza (G.W. Bailey), who has a difficult time taking orders from someone he doesn’t think knows as much as he does.
Chief Johnson (Sedgwick) and Captain Raydor (Mary McDonnell)
While The Closer's focus has been on the lead character's uncanny ability to secure airtight confessions from suspects, Major Crimes will center on what it takes to secure an airtight conviction. The show will explore how the police and prosecutors work together to build a solid case that will result in a suspect confessing, signing a plea agreement, or being found guilty in a court of law.
While Mary McDonnell (who has starred in the films Dances With Wolves, Independence Day and Donnie Darko) is being called the star of Major Crimes, the veteran actress sees her role a little differently. Will Raydor be the center of Major Crimes or will she blend in with the cast? "I don't think that there is a -- how do I put this?" she asks rhetorically. "It is both an ensemble series and she is both at the center and it is more of an ensemble in that. 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, and there will be a deepening of the engagement between Raydor and the other people."
Mary McDonnell is Captain Sharon Raydor on 'Major Crimes'
MARY McDONNELL on MAJOR CRIMES:Initially, were you approached about doing the Major Crimes spin-off when you started on The Closer?
"No, I wasn't approached at the very beginning. I was asked to come on and do an arc of three episodes. And 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. And I really wanted to work with Kyra and (creator) 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. And, 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?
"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, and she stays incredibly focused, and that can create many responses in many different people. And I think that's a lot of her 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, and I'm looking forward to seeing how she begins to engage when they have common ground."
Raydor (McDonnell) with Provenza (G.W. Bailey) on 'Major Crimes'
Since you mentioned Battlestar Galactica, you were brilliant as President Laura Roslin for so many seasons. How was the transition, initially, coming from playing the president of the galaxy on Battlestar Galactica to The Closer to play Raydor from Internal Affairs?
"The transition? Well, it was kind of interesting because having been, excuse me, the president of the universe on Battlestar Galactica, I did learn a little bit about a sort of solitary woman in power position. So I did a little bit of research about that when I was working on her. Roslin is no longer with us, but she was a great ride, for sure. And when I came into The Closer and I realized that this woman, the character that James (Duff) 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. And it was also kind of interesting to be working in L.A. as opposed to Canada, and there's a lot of differences in the work environment, but in both case it was really strong exciting ensemble and great writing so I just felt kind of lucky."
Will we still see some of the kind of slapstick and buffoonish behavior from Detectives Flynn and Provenza -- that we saw on The Closer -- in some of the Major Crimes episodes?
"Flynn and Provenza, their wonderful natures, those don't go away. Believe me. Oh my goodness, that's like precious gold. You will see plenty of Flynn and Provenza in that way that you described them as wonderful.
Captain Raydor was an antagonist for Brenda, as you had mentioned. Will there be a female antagonist for Raydor at all on Major Crimes?
"I'm not sure? I'm not sure the answer to that question. I do know that what we are slowly and very richly kind of carving out is beginning to understand how -- let's just keep looking at how does the crime get solved in the new dynamic, and what aspects does that bring out in this character that we have not seen in her other job. And how does that interact with these other fabulous actors and characters, and how they feel about things. And 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."
Captain Rador with Det. Flynn (Tony Denison)
How quickly will fans get to learn any of Raydor's back story at all?
"Yes, you will."
Okay, your character in Major Crimes is just going to be, initially, thrown into the fire. You have no allies, because you've basically targeted these people for one reason or another since she was part of IA. Initially, do you have an ally? Are you 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. What I've found out doing it and what we all, we're finding out what James is writing and what everyone is that she has a deep commitment to whatever job she is in. And by necessity in the new show, the job dictates a stronger connection with her engagement, with the other members of the ensemble as it were. And that starts to create stories that take us in new directions. And 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. And out of that comes a new show, a new story."
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 captain in internal affairs for decades. 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. And now she's on their turf, but this is a woman who knows how to be in the position she's in."
Captain Raydor with Detective Amy Syke (Kearran Giovanni)
Captain Raydor seems so focused -- does she have room and time for family? What's her relief when she goes home from being with these guys who don't want here there?
"This is such an interesting question. And it's like 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, you know, the spoiler thing. But I will say this. In a general sense, we're looking at a woman who actually has had a very full life. Whether or not it was perfect, of course not. But she has had a full life. And there are reasons why someone may or may not have chosen to go through the L.A.P.D. as an internal affairs person as opposed to a detective where you are on call 24/7. And there 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? And 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, and a generation ago these same women would have been retiring. So we have an opportunity, I think, to explore something that's happening all around us. And to have some stories evolve out of that. What is 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. And 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. And 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."
The Closer seemed to have kind of 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 still -- 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. And 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."
The Major Crimes Division at a murder scene
What do you find the most challenging -- acting-wise -- on the show?
"What do I find the most challenging? That's a good question. 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 the woman."
I talked to Kyra a couple of weeks ago, so I had the privilege to view the last six episodes, including the finale. Kyra said she might come back, maybe to do some guest spots. How would you feel about her shooing up on Major Crimes?
"Absolutely. Of course, it would be great if Kyra came on. 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."
Have you studied any kind of police work -- hands on research like ride-alongs -- since getting the part?
"I actually have spent some time with some lady female detectives at the L.A.P.D."
FBI Agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) points out imprtant information to Captain Raydor
What was the biggest thing you learned from these female detectives? What was the biggest kernel of wisdom they gave you?
"One of the greatest things I found out about them is that they 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 sort of a routine to them, that they found was easier than what we were explaining to them goes -- and I'm sitting there with these women who have 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, and I found them so wonderful and amusing and human. They were great. They were absolutely awesome. And very practical women, and very cool looking and very wonderful and warm and funny but really like focused when they needed to be. It was just a great wonderful thing to see."
Major Crimes premieres Monday, August 13th at 10pm/9pm (ET/CT) on TNT, immediately following The Closer series finale. Major Crimes will then move to its regular Monday, 9 p.m. (ET/PT) timeslot the following week. (Check local listings)