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Mary McCormack and Fred Weller – Back in Witness Protection

IN PLAIN SIGHT -- Season: 5 - Pictured: -- Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA Network

IN PLAIN SIGHT — Season: 5 – Pictured: — Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA Network

Mary McCormack and Fred Weller

Back in Witness Protection

by Jay S. Jacobs

The popular series In Plain Sight returns to the USA Network tonight with lots of changes and some question marks, but it also has a solid core and a reinvigorated cast.

Stars Mary McCormack and Fred Weller – who play WITSEC (Witness Protection Service) Marshalls Mary Shannon and Marshall Mann – have grown and changed into their characters.

And change is in the air, both on screen and behind the scenes.

Season three was cut a little short due to a medical problem with then-show runner John McNamara, so with a whole new production staff the series is focusing even more on the guest roles and background stories of the witnesses who find themselves ripped out of their daily lives and plopped down in Albuquerque, NM, with a new name, a new career and no access to their old world.

Soon after the season’s filming started, star McCormack received some happy news – but potentially complicated as far as storyline – that she was pregnant with her third child.  The series’ writers has decided to write the pregnancy into the storyline, making one of the least maternal female characters on television suddenly have to contemplate having a family.

We were recently lucky enough to be one of the websites invited to chat with McCormack and Weller to discuss the upcoming fourth season of In Plain Sight. Speaking with them together, you quickly realize the loving-but-prickly relationship between their characters is real. They joke and spar and tease and interrupt each other’s answers and laugh together almost constantly.

First let me say, congratulations to you, Mary.

Mary McCormack: Thank you.

Best to you and your family.

Mary McCormack: Thank you very much.

IN PLAIN SIGHT -- Season: 5 - Pictured: -- Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA Network

IN PLAIN SIGHT — Season: 5 – Pictured: — Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA Network

Fred, I was wondering how you maintain your awesome aplomb despite Mary’s rattlesnake test nest?

Mary McCormack: She saw that one on Twitter.

Fred Weller: Well what an interesting question.

Mary McCormack: Be careful.

Fred Weller: You know, I just try to roll with it and…

Mary McCormack: Atta boy.

Fred Weller: …forgive, as Marshall would. But that’s a very interesting question. I applaud your ingenuity with that question.

You’re welcome. I thought it up all by myself. And Mary, what do you continue to enjoy most about playing your character?

Mary McCormack: What do I enjoy most? I don’t know, I just love the character. David Maples, who created the show, just wrote a really great part. Fred’s part is great too, and so is Paul Ben-Victor’s. He just really wrote some three-dimensional characters. I love them. I love that Mary Shannon’s really good at her job and not so good at her personal life. I like that she’s cynical and sarcastic. It’s just fun to play someone so grouchy. It’s sort of refreshing. I can be a little bit grouchy myself so it’s a comfortable fit.

Can you tell us how your pregnancy will be worked into the storyline?

Mary McCormack: Well, we’re writing it in. I mean we’re writing it in and I’m playing pregnant. I did what I had to do to get pregnant first. And now we’re dealing with it. Mary Shannon, you don’t think of her as necessarily maternal so it’s making for some interesting story and character stuff, which is really fun to play. To me it’s really interesting to see someone play pregnant who is pregnant. Because it’s not altogether as pretty as when someone all chiseled up does it. It’s refreshing, at least as a woman I find it refreshing to see someone who’s passionate about their career and then having to try to come to terms with this new area in her life, which all women deal with.

Fred Weller: You’re every bit as pretty as any fake-o pregnant lady.

Mary McCormack: Thanks kiddo.

And how is Marshall going to deal with the pregnancy?

Fred Weller: I think Marshall has a pregnancy fetish, but they haven’t written that in yet, that I know of.

Mary McCormack: I love it. You better tell the writers if you want that written.

Fred Weller: I tried. I told Cockrell. He says he put it in the file.

Mary McCormack: No but, you’ve got to tell more writers.

Fred Weller: All right.

IN PLAIN SIGHT -- Season: 5 - Pictured: -- Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA Network

IN PLAIN SIGHT — Season: 5 – Pictured: — Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA Network

Because one isn’t going to pay off, you need to work the crowd.

Mary McCormack: Yes, work that in because that’s hilarious if that’s the case.

Fred Weller: I’ll work it. I’ll look into that.

How are they going to work the baby development into the show?

Mary McCormack: Well, we’ve just started working it in so we’ll see. I’m not sure where it ends up yet. It was a lot of news for the writers and they’ve had to act fast. They’ve been really sweet about it and really adaptable. When I discussed it with them and we discussed it with the network too – I think the thought was it might actually provide for… as opposed to just being sort of a wrench, it might actually provide for really an interesting development in season four. Thematically, if the theme of the season is change, it falls right into that. If Mary’s whole life is changing, her mom is sober, her sister’s engaged and getting married and Marshall is in this relationship which seems to be working and is sort of meaningful. Then what’s she left with? All of a sudden she has this enormous change in her own life too. So I think it’s going to actually be really rich for stories.

Are you excited about this season?

Mary McCormack: I’m excited about it. Fred, are you?

Fred Weller: I’m extremely excited about it. And…

Mary McCormack: Oh yes.

Fred Weller: Yes, the impromptu nature of some of the shifts just makes it more interesting, I think.

Mary McCormack: Yes, we’re excited. It starts soon – it starts [May] 1st. And we’ve been working really hard so we’re about halfway through shooting them. So we’re excited. It’s more fun when it’s airing, you know?

And so Fred, it must have been very uncomfortable in your partner’s car, how’s your neck?

Fred Weller: (laughs) Yes. Yes, it was extremely uncomfortable. I’m glad that they’ve changed that. You know, I’ve got this freakish neck length and it’s weird when…

Mary McCormack: He’s a tall guy.

Fred Weller: …50% of my height is in my neck. So it was nice that they changed that car.

For this season, it must be hard working with Mary. And now that she’s pregnant, you should find it much easier to work with her.

Fred Weller: It’s funny but I haven’t noticed any substantial change. I don’t know if that says  more about her when she’s not pregnant than it does in how she’s able to handle the hormonal shift. But no apparent shift so far.

Mary McCormack: (laughs) I started out pretty cranky.

Fred Weller: Yes, she might have been maxed out on crankiness already.

IN PLAIN SIGHT -- Season: 5 - Pictured: -- Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA Network

IN PLAIN SIGHT — Season: 5 – Pictured: — Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA Network

Fred, like Mary stated earlier, you do get a love story this season. How does that change the dynamic between Marshall and Mary?

Fred Weller: Well, Marshall’s feelings are now inevitably more submerged – his feelings for Mary. They’re more submerged, like underground lava or tunneling Vietcong. They are more dangerous.

Mary McCormack: Oh my God, I want to throw up.

Fred Weller: They’re more dangerous there. I mean, I didn’t have anything prepared, but that’s what I would say.

Mary, like you said, “This is a season of change,” but your character doesn’t really seem to be a fan of change.

Mary McCormack: No, she hates that.

So what can we expect from her emotionally through the season?

Mary McCormack: Well I think she’s confused. Like in the first episode you see her expecting her sister to fall right into old patterns and it turns out she really hasn’t. So that kicks off the theme. She just doesn’t – it’s one of those things, If your whole life is spent taking care of other people, and then those other people randomly either get sober or learn how to take care of themselves, I think her identity’s in question. A big part of her is sort around feeling smug and proud of herself for being the only adult in the room and now she’s not the only adult in the room. It’s interesting. I mean for her it’s a big shift. Now on top of it she’s becoming the one thing she never wanted to be, which is a mother. So we’ll see. I don’t know what they have in store. I’m halfway through the season. And these poor writers, I only told them I was pregnant a few episodes in, so they’re scrambling. But it should be exciting.

This is the fourth season, that’s no small feat. What do you think it is about the show that keeps viewers coming back?

Mary McCormack: Do you want to go Fred?

Fred Weller: Boy, well I think it’s a great drama with a sense of humor. And I don’t think that’s a very common combination on television.

Mary McCormack: Yes, also to me, something USA does really well is character stuff. Our show, even if you weren’t interested in the procedural side of it, or the witness protection side of it, the character relationships are really rich and fresh and funny. I love reading the scenes between me and Fred or I love Paul Ben-Victor’s character so much. So I think that’s a big part of it. But I also do think witness protection just makes for exciting stories. It’s a really rich place to grab stories from. People starting over completely, saying goodbye to their lives before – it never ends in terms of story opportunities.

I have a a two-part question; but the first part is there are a couple of things I really enjoyed last season which included the incredibly or increasingly introspective monologue, making Stan stronger, stabilizing Mary’s family, showing even more of Marshall’s ability to read Mary, while also showing both of them working apart. Are any of those items going to be carried over to the new season, or are there going to be any new changes overall to the format?

Mary McCormack: No, I think those are all changes that are continuing. I mean the first one you mentioned was the monologues. Are you referring to the voice-overs?

Yes, yes.

Mary McCormack: Yes, those will continue and be written in the same way. One of my favorite things about – and then I’ll let Fred address the rest – one of my favorite things about the voice-overs at least from my perspective, is that Mary Shannon is a person who doesn’t let people in. She barely lets Marshall in and he’s the closest person in her life to her. So to me it’s opportunity for the audience to just know the real her. What’s nice is the audience has a really intimate relationship with her, even though she doesn’t really allow anyone else to. I love those and I think they’re beautifully written. And so, yes I know that is continuing. What were the other things? The stabilization of the family is continuing obviously, along with our theme of this year – Brandi is engaged and getting married. So far her relationship seems to be going great. My mother is still sober and doing great. So that’s all confusing for Mary Shannon, but I think in an interesting way. And then Marshall’s – what was the thing about you?

IN PLAIN SIGHT -- "The Art of the Steal" Episode 401 -- Pictured: (l-r) Frederick Weller as Marshall Mann, Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon -- Photo by: Cathy Kanavy/USA Network

IN PLAIN SIGHT — “The Art of the Steal” Episode 401 — Pictured: (l-r) Frederick Weller as Marshall Mann, Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon — Photo by: Cathy Kanavy/USA Network

Fred Weller: Marshall’s insight into [Mary]. There are fewer bits about Marshall’s ability to read Mary, but it’s very much part of their everyday relationship.

Mary McCormack: Yes.

Fred Weller: It’s interesting. I mean the pregnancy obviously is the huge shift around which all other shifts are defined. It’s interesting how that forms your relationship with your mother and sister of course.

Mary McCormack: And you.

Fred Weller: And your relationship with Marshall. Yes.

Mary McCormack: Yes.

Fred Weller: It’s a definitely a huge twist. I don’t think they could have planned a better one.

Mary McCormack: I’m always thinking of the work Fred, even when I’m family planning. When I family plan I try to put the show first.

Fred Weller: (laughs) Well done.

Mary McCormack: Yes. That’s the way I work. Total pro.

In Plain Sight was cut short last season, are there any unfinished story lines that you might incorporate for this season, such as Allison Janney’s character, the return of Mary’s brother or even –  although Marshall does have his girlfriend – his former feelings for Mary?

Mary McCormack: That is a really good question. We have new show runners this year, so it’s a bit confusing. I haven’t heard any mention of the brother coming back this season. Although everyone was a big fan of that actor’s work, I thought he was sensational. We do mention him this season. I don’t know if there’s a plan to have him back later in the season. I’m not 100%. But hopefully we’ll have him back eventually if not this season, next season, because he was sensational. Allison Janney is busy unfortunately on another TV show right now [Mr. Sunshine with Matthew Perry]. But she’s one of my best girlfriends in the world, so I will call her once a week to harass her. See what we can do, and then…

Fred Weller: We do have some other West Wing alum.

Mary McCormack: Oh, yeah. This year we have…

Fred Weller: Well, at least one.

IN PLAIN SIGHT -- "Crazy Like a Witness" -- Pictured: (l-r) Frederick Weller as Marshall Mann, Bradley Whitford as Adam WIlson -- Photo by: Cathy Kanavy/USA Network

IN PLAIN SIGHT — “Crazy Like a Witness” — Pictured: (l-r) Frederick Weller as Marshall Mann, Bradley Whitford as Adam WIlson — Photo by: Cathy Kanavy/USA Network

Mary McCormack: Bradley Whitford shows up this year. And we might have Richard Schiff back, I don’t know because we still have a lot of season to write…

Fred Weller: That would be great.

Mary McCormack: But Richard Schiff was in an earlier one in season… I think he was Season… golly, I don’t know, one or two. Or two or three. [Ed. note: It was a season two episode called “Aguna Matatala.”] Anyway, but Bradley Whitford does episode two this season. So it was wonderful to get him down.

Will we ever return to Marshall’s former feelings for Mary? Although…

Mary McCormack: Good question.

…someone already asked that question.

Mary McCormack: Yes.

Fred Weller: (dramatically) We’ll never leave them.

Mary McCormack: We’ll never leave them.

Fred Weller: The lover deprived.

Mary McCormack: It’s always there, and this season it is interesting because all the sudden I’m pregnant which is confusing in terms of our feelings for each other. Then there’s also his new relationship which throws a wrench in it. You see all the stuff percolating along the way. We never leave that story all together, because it’s just there. It’s in their friendship and their friendship is so close that it’s obviously somehow more than that, all the time.

Although the writers said that they – are there – they’re write – working on your pregnancy, is it possible that you would serve as a surrogate mother for a witness? This is something that was brought up by one of the other writers for my site.

Mary McCormack: Would I serve as surrogate mother for a witness?


Mary McCormack: No, no.

Fred Weller: Oh wow, that’s complicated.

Mary McCormack: No. You mean if like a witness came to me and said, “I’m going to implant you with my egg and some fellow’s sperm, and will you be a gestational surrogate?”

Fred Weller: Or do you mean, would she give up the baby… would she allow a witness to adopt the baby that she’s carrying?

No more just serving as the surrogate mother for a witness…

Mary McCormack: Definitely not. Mary Shannon is not really keen on – I guess anyone who watches the show can guess this and it’s not like we’re taking a unexpected stance – she’s not really into pregnancy.(chuckles) She didn’t even want to do it for herself and she definitely wouldn’t do it for someone else for sport or money. No way. She’d be like, good luck… She’s not built that way. No. I’m not a surrogate. I made it myself the old fashioned way.

IN PLAIN SIGHT -- "The Art of the Steal" Episode 401 -- Pictured: (l-r) Joshua Molina as Peter Alpert, Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon -- Photo by: Cathy Kanavy/USA Network

IN PLAIN SIGHT — “The Art of the Steal” Episode 401 — Pictured: (l-r) Joshua Molina as Peter Alpert, Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon — Photo by: Cathy Kanavy/USA Network

You mentioned Bradley Whitford; what was it like having him on the set? And I hope Josh Malina has some scenes with him.

Mary McCormack: (laughs) It was great having him on the set. I mean he’s a complete clown. I’ll just tell this really quick anecdote about Brad. A lot of people know this already, but Bradley and Josh Malina have a really long history of pulling pranks on each other and teasing each other. When we were doing The West Wing, Brad Whitford wrote a script and he made Josh Malina’s character, Will Bailey, say maybe five different times during the script, “I’m a terrible actor, I can’t act.” So in this episode that Brad Whitford came down to shoot, Josh called me and said, “Please, please talk to the writers and have them write a scene where Bradley says he can’t act and he’s a terrible actor.” Whatever. So we did it, and unfortunately it’s not in the episode – we ended up not shooting the scene. We were late one night and we didn’t really need the scene. Like it was kind of shoe-horned in there. (laughs again) It was a great little monologue. We had him say “I can’t act. I’m a terrible actor. I’m the worst actor on the planet, don’t make me lie.” It was wonderful. I was so proud of myself. And I would have scored big points with Malina forever. But in the end we didn’t shoot it and Bradley won the day, so he was thrilled.

Now, what is it about Mary and Marshall that you can relate to the most and why?

Mary McCormack: That’s for you Fred.