Mary McCormack and Frederick Weller Dish on In Plain Sight
The two leads in the new USA Network series talk about their new series.
Mary McCormack and Frederick Weller are delving into the world of the U.S. Marshalls in the new series In Plain Sight, which premieres on June 1 at 10 PM ET on the USA Network. I was recently in on a conference call with the two stars of the show and here's what they had to say about this brand new series.
Can you give us some insight as to your character, Marshall Mann, and who he is in relation to Mary Shannon? And what your character is up to in this new series?
Frederick Weller: My character is a bit of an oddball, multi-faceted, complicated fellow. He's a trained killer who wears pajamas with little planes on them. He speaks a variety of languages, can repair his own chest wound from a gunshot using a plastic bottle and a straw. And he takes mambo lessons and plays Faro and Whist instead of poker. He's in love with Mary, secretly for the most part and unrequitedly for the most part, although I think that Mary - there are times when it seems like Mary also - Mary reciprocates his affections. But Mary might argue otherwise. He is a vital source of information for Mary frequently, but sometimes he has the same flaws that that famous Spock displayed in that his intellectualism is sometimes deficient for the situation. Sometimes you need a passionate, slightly irrational go-getter like Mary so in ways, it resembles the Spock/Kirk dynamic except if Spock were madly in love with Captain Kirk.
You and Mary are really quite wonderful in it. Do you guys - you and Mary, the actress have a similar kind of joking, punching relationship that the characters do?
Frederick Weller: There's a fine line between us and the characters at this point. Mary is a really funny woman and can be acerbic and teasing. And I try to give it right back to her in a lighthearted way. And I think we're very good friends. And she's about to be godmother to my daughter. So I think there are a lot of similarities in our closeness and also in our kind of joking dynamic.
Given how secretive the Witness Protection Program is, how much -- if at all -- did you get to shadow a real life counterpart in advance of playing your character?
Frederick Weller: Well fortunately we had an incredible technical advisor who was actually the head of the program and he was there on the set. And we were able to pick his brains a lot. So I think that that was very informative and will reflect in the show and its authenticity. It was very difficult to research because of how secretive it is. And when I was told that we would have this guy, though, I was much relieved. But basically all of my more accurate information comes from him.
What did you learn about WITSEC that surprised you? Did you go in with any biases of what you thought it was?
Frederick Weller: Wow, good question. I learned that the percentage of people who go into it - go into the program who are actually innocent of any crime is much larger than I thought. I had assumed that WITSEC was basically turned mobsters. But it's actually very close to - I think our guy said 40% are completely innocent people who just need protection for organized criminals. So that's - that was an eye opener for me. Also, the extent to which the US Marshals in the WITSEC program are very - well, physically dangerous. They're supposedly the best in the world at kicking down doors and are frequently borrowed by the other branches of the US Marshal Service just for that purpose, just for kind of, you know, SWAT type situations. That is not featured in our first season, but probably will be if the show stays on the air. I mean - I don't mean to say that action and the use of force, and gunplay isn't featured. I mean, we're never borrowed by other branches of the US Marshal Service but there's a lot of action.
Could you talk about how important guest stars are to this show?
Mary McCormack: Well pretty important on any show. I mean, I think, you know, when we were - when I started doing this show - Tony Shalhoub is a friend we had - Tony Shalhoub is a friend of mine and he said just be careful who your guest stars - make sure you cast the guest stars really well. And that was one of his pieces of advice, and I think it's true. I mean, I think you can sort of make or break a show depending on how good your guest stars are, you know, how - what kind of talent you get in. And we were lucky. We got, you know, Sherry Stringfield who is great and Jane Adams who is really talented, John Hickey - we've got some really good - Dave Foley who is really talented. We were lucky to grab him.
Frederick Weller: Wendell Pierce from The Wire.
Mary McCormack: Yeah, we got what's his name from The Wire? Wendell Pierce. So brilliant. I think he's in maybe one of the best episodes of the season.
And you all filmed in New Mexico. Is that correct?
Frederick Weller: Yes.
Mary McCormack: That's right, Albuquerque.
Okay. Now how - what was that like and how did that kind of contribute to the dynamic of the show?
Mary McCormack: Fred?
Frederick Weller: Well I thought it was really cool - spunky little town and being in the town where the show was actually set, I think, gives it an authenticity.
Mary McCormack: Yeah, apparently there's a lot - I mean, there's - we know from the - from our technical advisor that - well this is obviously in every single city and all over America. But apparently there - because Albuquerque was sort of a New Mexican town that wasn't the most desirable place in New Mexico, there was a lot of witnesses placed there. That there's quite a few witnesses hiding there.
Mary, what was it about the show and the character that blew your skirt up initially and made you want to do this?
Mary McCormack: Well I mean, you know, as I was reading and I laughed out loud a few times which is really rare when I'm reading scripts - just to read scripts and so that's definitely - I mean, David Maples, just his sort off center sensibility. You know, when I thought I knew what the line was going to be, what I thought the character description was going to be and it would always sort of be a little bit different. That's refreshing and catches your attention right away. And then, you know, selfishly as a part it's har - you can't beat it. As a girl, you just can't beat a part like that. I mean, to me the whole way through it felt like a part that was written for a boy. So, you know, more complex, more edgy, funny, grumpy - you rarely see girls like that. They usually have to be sort of the moral center of the show and know right from wrong. And so I think David had a sort of fresh approach to writing a girl which I appreciated.
I'm totally curious about your love interests and how they've got sort of like a triangulation with Fred's character, with Cristian, and even Todd who I - we spoke with last week. So does Mary have a favorite?
Mary McCormack: No. I mean, you know, I think she gets different things from each of them, right. I mean, Cristian is sort of, you know, one thing and then Fred is a best - you know, Fred's character is my best friend and sort of probably more of a soul mate and - but, you know, he also - I also have this sort of deep business, you know, relationship with him. So I don't know. I'm not sure. We'll have to see what David Maples cooks up. I'm not sure where he has that going. That's sort of one of the fun things about TV, or at least it's fun for me. Some actors hate it. I like sort of not knowing what's going to happen next.
I was just wanting to ask you a little bit about how doing this series was different from other series you've done, particularly thinking about - starting with this one from the beginning. What's different for you as you approached this role?
Mary McCormack: Well one is, you know, most of the series I've done have been really big ensemble shows and this is quite a bit ensemble show, but I'm in most of it, you know. So it was a different - I - you know, a different level of work, you know, just in terms of man hours and then therefore, I cared about it in a different way, too. I mean, I wanted it to be as good as it could be and I wanted to protect it, and, you know, I don't know. I guess it's been a different experience because of that - just so there's - right from start to finish, I cared about every single detail, you know.
And how does she differ from some of the other characters you've played? And do you notice some similarities to some of the other more familiar characters or is she really a different character for you as you approach her?
Mary McCormack: You know, this character is more like me actually. And, you know, one of the things I thought about a lot when I chose it - I was thinking if I have to live in something, really I - you know, when you choose a TV show it'll go a number of years. That's the plan. And so you try to pick things that are comfortable to sit in for awhile. And when I read this script, when they picked it up, I thought gees Louise, that's like she knows me. I mean, it's just very familiar to me in many, many ways. And I thought that would be a comfortable fit for a long time and David and I, since then have gotten to know each other really well. And now it feels like he's writing for me even more, and Fred. I mean, that's one of - and Fred and Paul and all the actors. I mean, that's one of David's really big strengths is that he's - you know, now he's writing for us as well which makes it even better.
Mary, I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on the similarities between you and your character on this show? I know you said that there's many, but could you just tell me a little bit about what those similarities are?
Mary McCormack: Well I mean, you know, she's a little bit grumpy. I mean, Freddy can probably do this better than I can. I can be a little bit grumpy.
Frederick Weller: Yes.
Mary McCormack: I can be a little bit judgmental, maybe...
Frederick Weller: Call it acerbic, acerbic.
Mary McCormack: I can be a little acerbic. I can be fast to judge, quick to judge and so is Mary Shannon. And the - those aren't strengths, but I'm coming clean. And then, you know, I'm - I don't know, my relationship with Fred is very similar to my - our relationship on the show. We love each other, but we hate each other sort of mercilessly. You know, we - I think that's a big similarity for me is just how comfortable I am with Fred and, you know, how we know - you know, we know our teasing is all sort of in love and jest. And my relationship with my family - my mom is not Jinx but I do have a sort of kooky mom in other ways. Golly, I mean, there's a bunch. I mean, you know, Mary Shannon doesn't believe in anything sort of mystical or magical and nor do I.
And Fred, what about your character? I mean, is there a lot of similarities for you as well?
Frederick Weller: Well, I guess I have - yeah, I mean, I could probably kill a man. I mean, I'm like a trained killer. I think the similarity stops there, though. I don't think there's any dorkiness to me whatsoever.
Mary McCormack: Really?
So all of the good stuff, but none of the bad?
Frederick Weller: Yes, there are a lot of similarities.
Mary McCormack: There's so many similarities.
Frederick Weller: Really? I really don't know where to begin. I mean, I - they're very - we're quite similar.
I've got to ask this - are either of you fans of Dancing with the Stars?
Mary McCormack: Fred is.
Frederick Weller: Damn you. Damn you. I am certainly not a frequent viewer, but my mother does call me every time Cristian comes on. And I did tune in once, and I thought he was excellent.
So you're not like following it closely tonight?
Frederick Weller: No.
Mary McCormack: Oh, is it tonight? I'll watch tonight.
Frederick Weller: Is he still on?
Oh yeah, he's one of the final three.
Mary McCormack: He's still on.
Frederick Weller: He's in the final three? Oh gosh.
Mary McCormack: Yeah, that guy can dance.
Mary, we asked this question of Fred earlier and I just thought we'd ask you, too. It was a little bit about any kind of research you did to play this role. And, you know, what you've kind of learned about the Witness Protection Program that you maybe didn't know going in - that, you know, surprised you or just been new to you?
Mary McCormack: You know, I learned a lot about it. And we did - you know, we did as much we could - the trick with this program is - the reason it works and the reason people stay is that there's not a lot known about it. That people who are - and Marshals take oaths - lifetime oaths to never speak about it even after they retire. And they're all really, obviously, really serious how, you know, witnesses stay alive. So we read that book - the book called Witness, which all of us read and then there's - we had a technical advisor who was government sanctioned and he was a retired Marshal. And he worked with us. But it was unusual because we'd ask him things like, you know, what might happen in this scenario, whatever and sometimes - I mean, his job was to sort of make sure we were on the right path and not sort of doing anything wrong. But his job was also not too tell us too much. So it's sort of an unusual job description. Usually the technical advisors can tell you every single detail, you know. But ours would sort of say things like well, what do you think you might do in this situation? And we'd be like I guess I'd go in the house and arrest that guy, and push that guy up against the wall. And he'd be like yeah, that'll work. You know, so it was a little vague but we did the best we could and it fascinates - it's kind of a fascinating system and it's actually a system that works very well. They've never lost a witness. They've never had anyone die who hasn't broken the rules.
And so did you find yourself having to do a little bit of that - more filling in the gaps of kind of what a character in your position would do because they couldn't tell you so much?
Mary McCormack: Yeah, but he was always there and watching us. So I know we didn't do anything too silly. He would stop us if we were doing something ridiculous. He was there because the service wanted him to be there to make sure we got it right and make sure we, you know, didn't sort of do anything silly or misrepresent them, you know.
I think the music is very effective in helping establish this show's tone. But I was wondering how you see it? It seems much more comical to me than a lot of hour shows.
Mary McCormack: Yeah. I think it's true. It's - tonally, it's an unusual show but - except it's a little bit of both. So I mean, that's what appealed to me about it actually. I mean, I think, you know, I think that's one of its most appealing features. I'd hope everyone else agrees. I think it is unusual though because it's sort of halvsies, isn't it?
Frederick Weller: It's a good USA show and that's that.
Mary McCormack: Yeah, I think too.
Frederick Weller: And so I think it gets heavier than some of their other so-called dramedies. But it is a comedic one-hour, essentially.
Mary McCormack: As an actor, selfishly it's wonderful because we get to do both things, you know.
In Plain Sight premieres on Sunday, June 1 at 10 PM ET on the USA Network.