More: You are starring in Major Crimes, TNT’s new spinoff series from The Closer.
Mary McDonnell: It is so exciting and truly gratifying.
More: When you look at the history of spinoffs, some fail, like Joey (spinoff of Friends), while others succeed, like The Jeffersons (spinoff of All in the Family) and Frasier (spinoff of Cheers). Are you at all concerned that your fans might not stick around?
MMD: It is a beautiful and unusual journey because it is a continuing story. Sometimes in a spinoff the characters fans have come to know go to a new and very different environment. In this show we continue what fans have already come to love. We are in the same murder room, we have the same major crimes division, we still work with the same police department and we have the same fabulous cast.
More: Sounds like nothing has changed.
MMD: The big change here is shifting Sharon Raydor [played by McDonnell] to a new position where she is the one in charge. What is nice about this character is women of all ages really respond to her.
More: I get the impression Mary and Sharon can really relate to one another?
MMD: I can totally relate to her. The more I got to know her the more she revealed to me. In the beginning I just came to know her as an antagonist. Now I have had the opportunity to see so many aspects of her that I never knew existed. There is the mother in her, and I myself am a mother. We didn’t know she was into the ballet, and is a natural leader.
More: Speaking of being in charge, you headline this show. Does that carry a lot more pressure in terms of making it a hit with audiences?
MMD: What was given to me was so organically connected to what I had been doing that when they were creating the show it did not feel like you had that added theoretical pressure at all. I felt responsible and excited to continue to tell this story and to begin to explore these new relationships in an even deeper way.
More: The first episode attracted 7.2 million viewers. Are you satisfied with that number?
MMD: It was pretty exciting and moving. I was getting texts and emails from people watching on the East Coast, where it first aired, that blew me away. I started to feel a real allegiance going on.
More: Are you the type whp flips to the last page of the script to see who did it?
MMD: Never. I like to be in the mystery. It is such an exciting thing for me as an actress.
More: Any chance your former co-star Kyra Sedgwick will be making a guest appearance?
MMD: I hope so. I truly love her. It would be awesome!
More: People think Hollywood is for the 20-year-olds, yet you are 60 and starring in a brand-new TV show. How does that make you feel?
MMD: It feels great. I really think that women have the keys to having a long career and being exactly where they want to be. I like being inspired by the champion stories and women of power.
More: At what point in your career did you say to yourself, “I made it!”
MMD: Maybe yesterday! (laughs) There have been moments of peace during my career where I said, “Look, I gave it my best shot, and if the stars align along this path then I will continue.”
More: So you got that feeling?
MMD: Yes. I got that feeling after Major Crimes premiered.
More: Have you gotten better with age?
MMD: Maybe. I know I have gotten luckier! I think it gets more and more interesting as I get older—the work is so much more interesting now than it ever was before. I mean, my audience is fully engaged in the issues that we focus on. For me, that is very liberating.
More: Have you ever had to reinvent yourself?
MMD: I think I have had to do it internally. There have been a couple of times along the way where I had to go inside myself to find a revitalization of what my passions are. I have had to rethink, knowing I have decades in front of me, What is important to me? What do I want to get done before I can’t do it anymore?
More: Let me guess—your passion is acting?
MMD: I take pride knowing that I have been working this long and in a profession I love.
More: You have over 20 years of experience performing on the live stage. Was it always your dream to appear on the big screen or the small screen or both?
MMD: No. I did not have the ability to see clearly the big goal. That is not one of my talents. If anything, my talents lie in being in the moment and then generating something out of that. In a way, that is how my career has evolved. There were many funny things that happened during my transition from the stage to TV/the movies.
More: Was there ever a part you really wanted but didn’t get?
MMD: Yes, but I have blocked them because I think Meryl Streep got them! (laughs) It’s a funny thing to say when you lose a part, because Meryl is just so incredible, both as an actress and as a person.
More: What’s an example of a disappointment?
MMD: There have been some, but I am not joking—I really blocked them. Of course, you work really hard for something, aim for it, and when it doesn't work out you’re sad. Or, there was an idea you had, but it didn’t fly with the right people. There are always disappointments and frustrations when you have a career as long as mine.
More: Positive thinking!
MMD: However, the beauty of being disappointed is that when the timing is right, like with playing the part of Sharon Raydor, you take a big sigh of relief. When you think about it, it is like a balancing act. You have to develop the ability to balance the highs and the lows, especially if you want to work in this business.
Major Crimes airs on Monday nights at 9 p.m. on TNT.
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