In Plain Sight [USA, Wednesdays, 10/9C] is a unique series – even for USA where the motto is Characters welcome. The lead is a strong, cynical woman [Mary Shannon, played by Mary McCormack] who, along with her partner [Marshall Mann, played by Fred Weller], works for the U.S. Marshals in the Witness Protection Program [WITSEC]. It’s a unique job in that Marshals in WITSEC can’t talk about their jobs away from work. People’s lives depend on that.
McCormack and Weller make a very good team on the show – and their chemistry is palpable even off screen – as this teleconference Q&A shows.
I read a little bit about the new season having a lot less focus on the side characters, Mary specifically with your mom. I was wondering if you feel that is a good direction to go into, or do you think fans will miss the relationship?
Mary McCormack: I don’t know how that got out there because it’s actually not true. Lesley Ann is in it quite a bit. I think maybe her contract changed a little, but I think she’s in it the same amount or maybe a teeny bit less. But certainly, Nichole Hiltz is in it just as much and her boyfriend, who’s played by Josh Malina, and my boyfriend is Cristian de la Fuente. It’s definitely, equally, I don’t think the balance of the show has changed. It’s definitely still half and half and half witnesses and my relationship, my friendship with Fred and then half personal life. So I think that balance is the same. I don’t know how that got started, but I don’t think that’s changed very much.
That’s good to hear for anyone watching the show because I love to see the interaction not only with your characters, but, of course, with your family members as well. I think that plays a big part into the show as well.
McCormack: Yes, I think so, too. So I would be disappointed if that changed too much. I think Lesley Ann might be doing a teeny bit less, but Nichole is doing just as much.
Fred Weller: I think I started that rumor.
That’s good to hear. A follow-up question is, both Mary or your character and Fred’s character have this amazing chemistry together. You mentioned you have a boyfriend on the show. You two just have such great chemistry, the fans are still wondering if there’s going to be any kind of romance in the works for the two of you.
McCormack: We never know. That’s a weird part about being on … TV. It’s like you just don’t know what the writers have in store. I guess I could ask our show runner, but I never do because it’s kind of fun not knowing. For me it’s fun not to know what they have in store. It’s a little more like life. But certainly there’s chemistry.
Weller: Is that why you don’t read the script in advance, because you—
McCormack: Yes, that’s why. I don’t know, Fred, what do you think?
Weller: I think that it’s a situation that has been set up considerably and I think there will inevitably be some payoff to it.
McCormack: You do; interesting.
Weller: I think so, yes, but not so far. We’re teasing with it with the fake kiss in season one where you were just trying to smear … my face and I started kissing you. There are a few little hints here and there. I think there’s a lot of setup for it. Certainly, obviously I’m upset when you were engaged to Raph last season. So there’s a fair amount of setup.
How do you prepare for doing these roles when there’s so much that they can’t tell you? How do you know some of that of how to play that?
Weller: We do have a great technical advisor, Charlie Almanza. Of course, it is amusing sometimes his answers are pointedly not very helpful.
McCormack: Vague. But he tells us as much as he can tell us. First of all, he tells us all the general marshal stuff or how to look like a cop, feel like a cop. All that stuff he’s really, really helpful with, how you go into a room if it’s this certain situation or whatever. But in terms of witness protection stuff, the reason the program works, of course, is it’s really, really secretive. When Charlie retired after over 30 years of service, he was the chief of the LA division of WITSEC. His kids found out what he did for a living at his retirement party, so that’s how secretive they are. They never, ever talk about it—they bring it to their grave, all of them, inspectors. And that’s why witnesses stay safe. That’s why WITSEC is so successful.
Charlie does tell us what he can. He’s been given to us approved by WITSEC to be our technical advisor. So we’re never sure how much he’s telling us is right or just misleading. We take it all the same. We figure no one knows.
Weller: As long as we feel like marshals—
McCormack: Yes, it’s unlike ER. With ER, all those poor actors the doctors are always saying, “Well, the thing is,” or NYPD Blue. With us no inspector can approach and tell us we’re doing it wrong. That’s the upside.
Fred, you had talked last time in the one interview about you were doing Sheriff of King’s County, at least I guess you were calling it that then. Have you gotten any further…to you?
Weller: It’s called Streetcar. I think it’s playing right now at the Phoenix Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. It played at the NYC Downtown Film Festival and the Beverly Hills Film Festival and the World of Comedy Festival in Toronto. And it’s doing the rounds and Mary McCormack is in it. Mary McCormack is very funny in it, as is Holland Taylor from Two and a Half Men.
McCormack: As is Fred’s lovely wife, Ali Marsh Weller.
Weller: Ali Marsh Weller, who was on our show the—
McCormack: First and second. She played my therapist.
Weller: Wait a minute, was it the first or second?
McCormack: I thought it was both.
Weller: Yes, second season. She played two episodes in the second season. She was great, Ali Marsh Weller.
Now that you’re in the third season of the series, do you find that playing your characters is still a challenge or still fun for you? If so, in what ways?
McCormack: It’s fun for me. It’s fun for me certainly. I love this character. It’s the best part I’ve ever played. So I’m having a ball. I love playing Mary Shannon. She cracks me up. I love working with Fred and he cracks me up. So, yes, three seasons, we’ve only done, our first season was 13, our second was 16, this one is 15, so it’s never so long that I feel overwhelmed by it. In fact, I miss it. Our hiatuses are so long, I miss doing it when I’m off, so that’s how I feel.
Weller: What makes some actors nervous about doing television is the same aspect of television that makes it kind of exciting, that is when you sign on to do it, you don’t know what’s going to happen. So as long as you are working with writers that you like, it’s exciting because you’re always finding out—
McCormack: And the actors.
Weller: Yes, and the actors. You’re always finding out new things about who you’re playing. And as you give and take and they want to hear your opinions about where you think your character should go. So, yes, I think it’s a lot of fun.
McCormack: Yes, I think that’s fun and also we just have a good time together. Not every show’s cast, I think, works as well as our does together. That’s sort of just dumb luck. It’s like you either have chemistry or you don’t. Fred and I actually love hanging out together. We spend 15 hours a day on set every single day and then we eat dinner, our husbands and wives, we all eat dinner together on Saturday night. We hang out with our kids on Sunday. We enjoy each other, so I think that helps a lot, too.
Weller: Yes, that’s big.
Actually, that’s good to hear. My follow-up question would be either of you, could you describe what a typical day on the set of the show is like?
McCormack: Well, it’s long hours. We work long hours. It depends. Everyday is different. That’s part of the fun of TV. We never know what location we’ll be at. Some days it’s a gun fight and other days it’s sort of WITSEC scene where we’re sitting around our desks trying to make each other laugh. So it’s hard to say a typical day. A typical day is long and fun. We laugh a lot and we work long hours. I’d say that’s the …..
Weller: A pretty good summation.
I’m just curious. What about your roles continue to challenge you?
McCormack: What do you think, Fred?
Weller: You have to keep on exploring it and investigating because the story is not finished.
McCormack: Yes, and also with TV, we don’t really know, we make it up. Sometimes we’ll say what do you think he does do on the weekend? We’ll say you don’t have every single detail worked out because you’re creating it as you go. So Fred and I check with each other a lot. We’ll always say do you think I do this or do you think I drive this or do you think he has this kind of collection or would he collect more of this? You want to keep it specific, so we have fun with that part of it.
Another challenge, physical challenges are just how to stay honest and good and how to make the right choices and be careful and not get lazy while under really long hours. For both of us, Fred has two kids and I have two kids, so the struggle is how to come to work fresh and ready to actually do the best work you can do and not get lazy. ….
Weller: It’s not like we’re doing the same play that’s been running for two years. It’s still being written as we do it, so I think we’re comfortable with the characters. But we’re still coming up with stuff.
As a fan of the show, I think the comedy and wit in the show is so impressive. How important do you guys feel it is to break up the tension and keep that wit and comedy as a part of the series?
Weller: I think it’s very important.
McCormack: Yes, me, too, otherwise we’re doing Law & Order.
Weller: Yes, exactly.
McCormack: No, I love it. I love the sense of humor. It’s a little bit off and a little bit dark and it’s what cable allows. I think to me it’s way more interesting than even funny shows on network and stuff because it doesn’t have to reach gazillions and gazillions and gazillions. We want to reach just a gazillion. So the humor is, I don’t know, a little more offbeat and it’s allowed to be, and I love that.
Weller: Also because it’s ultimately a drama, we can’t get too wacky like you might see on a half-hour comedy. We have to have a little more let’s stick to reality a bit more, I think.
McCormack: Yes, our humor has to come out of a place that it feels more like M.A.S.H., where the jokes came out of brute reality.
McCormack: When we do it right, hopefully, our humor comes out of the craziness of the situation or in my grumpiness clashing with Fred’s personality. I think that’s exactly right, Fred. If we get it just right, our jokes aren’t just for jokes. It comes out of hopefully the reality of the drama.
Weller: I hope you think of me more as McIntyre than as BJ.
McCormack: I do for sure.
McCormack: For sure, yes, he’s way hotter.
Weller: Okay, cool, thanks.
This week’s episode includes flashbacks to the first time Mary and Marshall meet when Mary joined WITSEC. I’m extremely excited about that. Can you talk about your characters and their relationship then compared to how well the characters work together now?
Weller: It’s a great episode and it’s coming up this week [April 7]. We didn’t get along at all when we first met, did we?
McCormack: No, not one bit, no. I called you a girl, I think.
Weller: All the kind of latent abuse that we have in our current relationship is just out in the open, totally….. Mary is on the fugitive task force, kicking down doors and thinks if I’m in with witness protection I might as well be playing hopscotch.
McCormack: Yes… babysitter.
Weller: And the course of the episode is how she winds up changing her mind about that. I think it’s a great episode.
McCormack: And how you fall madly in love with me.
Weller: That’s true.
Is Mary’s shooting going to have any long lasting effects on her character or even Marshall or her family?
McCormack: I do think that there’s some, yes, there’s some tides that change. Marshall, the first episode becomes about his drive to make good on that, the guilt he feels. And my tides turn at home with my family and my mom comes after me for not quitting my job and there are some changes with that. I don’t know how much I can give away, but there are some changes with my living arrangements and there’s also some big changes with relationships I have.
Weller: That’s already aired.
McCormack: No. Not that.
Weller: No? I got you, I got you.
McCormack: There is some lasting, there’s some ripple, there’s some ripples that happen from the shooting, but it’s Mary, so she wants to get right back to work and hide and work, which is where she’s happiest. But I think there are some changes she makes in her personal life because she realizes life is short.
Now this question is from both of you there’s an episode coming up entitled when Mary met Marshall. Can you tell us what it was like when Mary met Fred in real life?
McCormack: I was talking about this the other day. I can’t remember when we actually met. We’ve known each other a really long time, just not very well. We have many mutual friends. My husband directed Ali, Fred’s wife, in a play back in, golly, when, Fred, 2000 or something?
F. Weller: Yes. Mary and I did an indie film together in ’97 in which we had a scene. We had no scenes together, but we hung out a little bit watching dailies. We were both friends of Slatter.
McCormack: Oh, yes, yes, yes.
Weller: And then I met you once I was doing Richard Greenburg play down in …Orange County with Eileen Getz.
McCormack: Eileen, yes. And then I saw you do Take Me Out in London and I came backstage and I said hello. Fred and I have had a lot of friends, we have many, many mutual friends from the theatre community in New York and so we’ve known each other for probably since the mid ‘90s maybe, but not well at all. So then when we got to work together, when they said they’ve cast you, Fred, I was so excited. Then we got to working together and I’d say we were fast friends right away.
Weller: Yes, pretty quick.
Fred, how much do you really know about Danish’s?
McCormack: How much research did you do, Fred?
Weller: Well, I asked the technical advisor about it.
McCormack: You did not. Don’t be an ass.
Weller: I guess it’s not my favorite subject, not my best. Can I take history for $500?
I know that both of you have done a lot of work on Broadway. Mary, you started you career in a musical, Gian Carlo’s Christmas opera, Amah! and Night Visitors. Can you tell how does acting in the television genre differ from being on Broadway and which one do you prefer?
McCormack: I like both for different reasons. It’s such a boring answer, because I wish I could choose one, but I really do like both for different reasons. There’s nothing more fun than acting on stage, I think, with a live audience and that immediate feedback. But also, the thrill is different because there’s no turning back. There’s no take two, if you forget a prop, you forgot the prop and you’re still on stage. It’s much more alive and connected and all that. But I think I really love the challenges of television acting or film acting. The challenge is there’s 100 people on top of you. Sometimes there’s a million people all around and you still have to try to just connect with that one other person and not think about what all the crew is doing and what we need. And you have to just to push everyone out and just be there with the other person and make it great and make it real in really unreal circumstances, so I like that, too.
I would think that’s very difficult to do.
McCormack: It is. That’s one of the big challenges. Another challenge is it’s different everyday. You don’t really know where the story is going, so it’s hard to gauge. With a play you read the entire play. You’re really familiar with it by the end of the rehearsal. You know exactly where you want each scene to be. Even if it changes over the course of a run, you have a general idea of the whole story. With television we really don’t know and we shoot out of sequence. The challenge is to make it real and connected in circumstances that aren’t at all. Fred?
Weller: I’ve made the observation previously that for a theatre actor, this is a really good show to be on because as in theatre, you’re dealing with a drama with humor, which is usually what you’re dealing with in theatre. It has to be funny, but it’s usually drama; whereas in television, it’s usually a rather humorless drama or a wacky, wacky comedy.
McCormack: That’s true. Also another challenge I like is the difference in size and stuff. Obviously, you want to be detailed in both. But certainly if you’re on stage, you’re playing to a big thousand seat house or something, it’s different than when you want to bring the entire thing—
Weller: Last season just continuing the similarities between this show and theatre. Mary got to scratch her musical itch. We actually sang a little bit of Gilbert and Sullivan, Modern Major General, which is just a kind of theatrical flourish that you don’t usually see on television. The show gets good and weird.
My follow-up question is for you, actually. You worked on several crime dramas, such as the Law & Order Criminal Intent and Special Victims Unit. You had a large role in Missing Persons in 1993 and ’94. How does playing a U.S. marshal in WITSEC different from other types of the law enforcement roles that you’re played, especially as it concerns your preparation for embodying the character of Marshall Mann?
Weller: I think it’s more exciting because it’s so secretive. It’s just fun to play a character who had this—it’s always fun to play a character with a secret. And when your whole career to which you’re really devoted is a secret, that’s a very interesting character. The whole undercover aspect of it, the fact that nobody knows really what we do, some people around us know we’re U.S. marshals, but the fact that we’re in WITSEC is something that we try to keep even from certain other members of law enforcement.
McCormack: I’m back, Fred.
McCormack: I have a new phone and I can’t work it.
Okay, so Fred was telling me about his preparation for embodying the character of Marshall Mann.
Weller: I was just getting into my animal work. Obviously this season, it’s more chimpanzee. Last season it was penguin, but I think the audience picks up that.
So what would be your ultimate dream role or is there maybe somebody specific that you’d love to with in the future?
McCormack: I would say Jeff Bridges, but I was lucky enough to work with Jeff Bridges, although I’d love to work with him again. Those are two goodies. Top that and don’t come out with that old Meryl Streep trip because everyone has heard it.
Weller: Oh, that’s right, I worked with Meryl Streep.
McCormack: Don’t say Meryl like an ass.
Weller: I almost forgot that Meryl and I ….. I’d like to work with Al Pacino. I love scenery chewing actors in a good way.
McCormack: Yes, you’re on your way to work with him I’m sure now.
Weller: No, you think?
McCormack: That will take care of it.
McCormack: Darn is right.
Weller: No, I like theatrical.
McCormack: Too late.
Weller: Gosh, Al, you know it’s love.
McCormack: You call Pacino scenery chewing. I’m just saying.
Weller: No, I’d really love to work with, of course, now any actor is going to be insulted, but I’d love to work with another person that Mary has worked with, Mark Rilens. He won the Tony for that play for which you were nominated.
McCormack: I was nominated, but did not win. But have you been nominated, because I always forget?
Weller: What’s that?
McCormack: Have you been nominated because I just always forget?
Weller: Yes, you forget, don’t you? Not for a Tony, no, but—
McCormack: Okay, that’s cool.
Weller: Thanks for making me remind you.
My follow-up is for Mary.
Weller: It’s a little frustrating that I try to do a play every off season and Mary wings in after a few years out in New York and just gets nominated for a Tony.
McCormack: Sorry, Freddie.
McCormick: We give each other a hard time about it. It’s an ongoing riff we have.
Weller: It’s funny to us.
Mary, this question is for you. I know that you’ve been on a lot of different late shows and interviews and that. Could you talk a little bit about that because it must be a lot of fun?
McCormack: I don’t mind it. I enjoyed it. I’m going to do Ellen today, actually, after I hang up with you guys. I enjoy it. I don’t mind it. I like Craig Ferguson a lot. I did a movie with him years ago and I enjoy him a lot and Ellen. I’m doing Leno this week, so it will be fun. Anything to get the word out, we all work really hard on In Plain Sight, so it’s nice to get the word out.
I know that, Mary, you’re on Twitter now and Josh is on Twitter.
McCormack: …is on Twitter now. Josh gets all the west wingers.
I was wondering how much that plays a part in connecting with the fans and, of course, keeping the word out there about the show.
McCormack: That’s why I like it. I signed up as a joke and my husband teases me. He’s like you’re so pathetically trying to stay young. We have a big tease about it, but Josh Malina said it’s a nice way for your fans to be able to ask you questions about the show or for you to say this person is guesting this week or what have you. Also in something that started, a conversation that started as a joke made a lot of sense. I thought how nice to be able to hear from fans or hear what they like or don’t like and to be able to say Allison Janney is this week, tune in and have them tell friends. To me it feels like a nice way to connect with people who care about the show. Even though I take a lot of heckling from both my husband and from Fred Weller for being too old to Tweet, they say, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m standing up to them for my fans.
It certainly looks like in the short amount of time, that you’ve gotten a lot of followers, so they can’t heckle you too much.
McCormack: I know. They will anyway, trust me.
You mentioned some of the people that you’d like to work with. I was wondering how much input into the guest starring roles do you have, obviously Donnie Walberg, and Allison Janney.
McCormack: Yes, we have a lot. We have a pretty collaborative group. So anyone who suggest someone who’s good, both our casting people and our producers are ready to listen. Any actor who has a friendship that they can take advantage of, we will listen.
Brandi has been getting mysterious phone calls. She got them throughout the first episode. I’m assuming that most of us are guessing it has something to do with the whole bad half sister from the end of last season. When will we learn more about those phone calls and when will Mary learn more about all of that situation?
McCormack: I think episode eight is when you find out who was on the other end of that phone call.
So not until then.
McCormack: Not until then, but there are some other clues along the way, but I think eight is when you actually meet the person.
Mary, I actually had a question for you. I’m wondering if you’re still watching realty TV.
McCormack: Oh, my God, I am.
And if you’re still using your laser pointer.
McCormack: I used my laser pointer two nights ago, but it was on a YouTube video, but it was brilliant. We have Apple TV, so we put the YouTube video from the TV and I was laser pointing all over the place. But my two new favorite shows are Locked Up Abroad and then my other one is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which is just amazing.
Weller: What is Locked Up Abroad?
McCormack: Locked Up Abroad is based on an English show that was called Banged Up Abroad. And it’s all about people who go abroad and then make one or two bad decisions and end up locked up abroad. Pretty good, you cannot believe how good. It’s National Geographic and for some reason, they must have saved up all their money for years. They shoot it like a feature. It’s gorgeous. It’s well acted. Their reenactments are amazing. It’s gorgeous, Fred. It’s so compelling. I can’t say enough about it, the best show on TV except for In Plain Sight. And Survivor is better than ever.