Posted: 04/24/2009


Interview With Mary MacCormack, Star of In Plain Sight

by Laura Tucker

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Recently Mary McCormack, star of In Plain Sight, on USA participated in a conference call discussing the second season of the show that just started up again on Sunday nights. I couldn’t be happier to have it on the air again, as I really enjoy the back story to the show and find that it has equally good characters.

Separating In Plain Sight out from other police dramas, she know the issue of witness protection makes it different, but also thinks that tonally the show is unusual, as it’s not strictly a drama. Because of the humor involved as well, she feels they’re alway finding the right balance, which is sometimes tricky. They aren’t very procedural like a CSI, and the mystery isn’t always sovled at the end of the hour, because of her ongoing life as the backdrop.

McCormack also enjoys that we get to see more of what witness protection is really like, as all she knew before this was from Goodfellas. She finds it crazy that these people don’t even get to tell their families, where they’re going, or say good-bye. She heard that sometimes if it’s going to be particularly tough, the people get to have staged goodbyes, and would like to see that played out on the show. If the families don’t get to say goodbye, they’re told by someone else that the person isn’t coming back, but is safe, and she’s glad they don’t have to go through life thinking they’re dead. She figures, though, when you’re faced with dying or starting over, “the will to live rises up.”

Asked what continues to challenge her in the role as Mary Shannon on the series, McCormack went back to something “weird” she’s always found about TV, that some actors dislike, but she “kind of digs.” She never knows where she’s headed and what what the writer, David Maples, might think next. In a film you know the entire story at the beginning, yet in In Plain Sight, she never knows what the writers are cooking up. She also enjoys the story behind the characters, particularly with Mary’s intimacy issues with Rafael and the history with her father. This season is ending up completely different than the first, and there will be more on where her father is and what happened to him.

McCormack is also challenged trying to make Mary vulnerable, as she doesn’t want her to ever be “two-dimensional.” Even though she has some “bad-ass qualities” and is a tomboy, she doesn’t want this character to “take a lot of garbage.” She has to see why she ended up the way she did, and balances out the vulnerability by finding out where she’s weak, frail, and girly. It’s the work she does keeping her three-dimensional and complex that keeps her challenged.

It helps this character work that McCormack gets along with Cristian de la Fuente, the actor who plays Rafael, so well. They enjoy each other and she’s crazy about him. She jokes no one that pretty should be “that nice as well as funny and smart,” and that “God went to town when he made him.” She and her husband get along really well with de la Fuente and his wife, enough so that his wife will be guest starring on the show soon, and her husband is also directing one of the episodes. She even finds herself sometimes calling her husband when she’s on the set and in bed with de la Fuente.

Meeting Lesley Ann Warren initially was “fantastic” for McCormack. She was a big fan to begin with, so found it daunting, yet thrilling. They had both worked with Steven Soderbergh, so their first conversation was about their mutual love for him, and because of that, they knew they would have a similar working style and get along great. She and Warren also enjoy each other’s husbands and live down the street from each other.

McCormack hopes that people tune in for the show for the very reasons I do and the very reasons she does. She’s honestly excited to read the script each week when she gets it and finds Maples to be a great writer with interesting stories. She meets a new witness each week and finds that alone to be an interesting story, along with the ongoing storyline of her character’s family and personal life. There’s a nice combination of drama and action, as well as a few mystery elements and humor. When she first read the pilot, she was attracted to it because of the number of times she chuckled out loud.

McCormack just loves the way Maples writes and finds it a really comfortable fit for her. In one episode, she sees a little baby and other of the blue asks, “What’s with babies? I don’t get them.” She likes her written dialogue, as it’s not something you’d normally hear out of a woman on TV. Mary is complex and allowed to be grouchy and angry.

Maples is continuing that cliffhanger we had at the end of last season, and McCormack loves him for that, that he’s not just ignoring that it happened and starting over. The season started last weekend, and took place the next day after where the first season ended with Mary being shot. She started out being rather unaffected by the shooting and just sort of “whistling [my] way through the day,” and then everything started to crumble as post-traumatic stress began. McCormack likes the adult sensibility and that the storyline continues to be “tethered to reality.”

In the beginning of the season, her mother (Lesley Ann Warren) will hit a new low in her drinking which McCormack finds extraordinary to watch, as you think it’s going to be funny, but it’s really not. Her mother tries to stop, then finds herself in rehab. Mary hasn’t ever known her mother without alcohol being involved, so it changes the entire family dynamic, as her sister (Nichole Hiltz) goes back to school and also tries to turn over a new leaf.

One character who has remained somewhat one-dimensional so far is Mary’s partner Marshall (Fred Weller). She feels their relationships has been that way for awhile, so it would seem unrealistic to have changes happen too quickly. They seem like they’ve grown around each other through their time working together. We’ll learn a little more about their relationship, and as Mary’s relationship with Rafael progresses, she’ll take more chances than she has before, and it will be fun to watch Marshall’s reactions to all that.

McCormack’s favorite scene this season comes after Mary ends up telling Rafael what she really does for a living, and Marshall gets angry about it not just because someone else has found out what they do, but also because she has shared his secret with another man. In the last scene of that episode, Marshall is drunk and playing chess online with an 11-year-old Pakistani girl. When Mary discovers him, it becomes a sweet scene between the two.

One caller points out that the character of Mary has three different families of sort on In Plain Sight, between her dysfunctional family with her sister and mother, her work family with Stan (Paul Ben-Victor) and Marshall, and her most normal family dynamic with Rafael. McCormack never really thought of it in those terms, but agrees that a family life with Rafael would probably be the most normal, as he knows her, yet forgives all the rough edges. She sees her home life with her mom and sister more like being with “the crazy cousins,” and thinks her work family is probably her primary one, as Stan becomes a father figure to her, and Marshall like her brother.

When it’s noted that that Mary seems to be the caretaker in all the families, McCormack disagrees some, as she doesn’t think she looks after Marshall. He looks after himself, and she figures that’s one reason why they’re best friends. She finds Rafael is beginning to lead into that as well, and with her mom and sister cleaning up their acts, she does less caretaking of them as well. They even touch on that within one of the episodes, as Marshall says to her, “Your whole identity has been about this. You’ve sort of defined yourself by their inability to look after themselves and now they’re doing it and you don’t really know who you are anymore.”

The character of Mary doesn’t really like change too much, and even Marshall points that out to her in the show. McCormack thinks anyone new is “sort of a bummer to her.” She figures out how things work, even if it’s bad, and gets used to it. With her family, it was of course very dysfunctional, but she knew how to work with it and was used to it. Now, with the changes in her mom and sister, and even Rafael having a big career change, and with the new character of Eleanor (Holly Maples) coming in, it causes her to have to shift focus a little.

With plotlines already spoiled by de la Fuente in a prior interview, McCormack admits they will become engaged during the season. She doesn’t know what will come after that, yet there are still two more episodes they have yet to film. It’s kind of fun for her not knowing, making it seem like real life. She sees their relationship as a train wreck waiting to happen, though, as they’re different at the core.

As they’re working on the season finale, a two-parter, which seems odd being that we’re just starting the season as viewers, she talks about the her post traumatic stress showing up again. There’s yet another big event that will happen in this season finale that will then continue and resolve in the beginning of the third season.

Filming the show has taught McCormack about her own life some. She has two children under four, and dealing with the stresses of that and filming 15 to 20 hours a day has taught her about her own stamina and balance, and where she finds she is falling short in her own life. She finds she has some similarities to character, and while her father didn’t leave her, it opens her up to learning more about loss.

There are also a lot of similarities between herself and her character in that while the show was originally written before she was cast, they share the same first name, are both from New Jersey, and the character calls her sister Squish, while she calls her oldest daughter Squish. She’s just always felt like the part was written specifically for her.

Laura Tucker  is the webmaster of Reality Shack and its accompanying Reality Shack Blog, provides reviews at Viewpoints, and provides entertainment news pieces at Gather. She is also an Associate Instructor and 2nd dan black belt in tae kwon do with South Elgin Martial Arts. Laura can be reached at

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