In Plain Sight stars Mary McCormack and Fred Weller as covert Federal Marshalls in the Witness Protection program. It’s an under cover job kept secret from family and friends – both in real life and on the show – but not here. Fancast spoke to the TV partners in a press call about the upcoming second season which kicks off on the USA Network April 19th. When their alter egos Mary (coincidentally, not written for her) and Marshall (coincidentally, an ironic career path) return, they’re dealing with some serious fallout from the first season and they’re letting you in on what you can expect as their characters pick up the pieces and what’s to come from the always dramatic Shannon family. Like, rehab, post-traumatic stress, and even some unrequited love. Because what good cop can operate without some serious emotional baggage? Not one you’ll find on TV anyway! Which is just the way we like it.
How important do you think it is that we see Mary dealing with the fallout of being kidnapped in the first couple of new episodes?
Mary McCormack: I love that David Maples [executive producer] didn’t do what TV shows still do that, like season to season , it’s like the last season never happened. I saw evidence of that even in the first season when Fred’s character got shot. The next episode I was so relieved to see him show up in the sling because even though it was a small thing, and I think he only wore it for one or two episodes, I just thought oh good we’re going to do an adult show; that’s so great, so refreshing. So for Mary Shannon to shoot somebody , or for any cop to kill somebody for the first time in their lives, is an enormous event, and only on TV do you pretend that’s not big. She thinks initially that she’s doing really, really well and then it turns out she’s more human than she hoped.
One of the nice things about David Maples is that he just refused to write things sort of two-dimensional. I mean, there’s a lot of talk about Mary Shannon being a bad ass and all that. And I of course love that part of her; I love that I get to sort of kick ass sometimes and carry a gun and stuff. But I love that David refuses not to look at the flip side of what carrying a gun means and being a bad ass means. And, you know, it’s not bad ass to kill somebody, it sucks. And then it’s horrible for you for probably for the rest of your life. And I just think it’s wonderful that he makes the show sort of adult enough to acknowledge that, you know? I just like that there’s consequence and cause to everything and, that because we’re the leads of the show, we’re not some crazy two-dimensional superheroes. As an actor selfishly I love that and hope the audience agrees.
Do either of you find it difficult to play Federal Marshalls given that a lot is unknown about the job since real life Marshalls can‘t talk about it?
FW: There was an interesting moment on the set a couple months ago when there was a scene in which the phone rings in the office. And, you know, we have been sort of answering the phone saying our names. The fact that my first name is Marshall sort of complicates that a little bit. And so I asked our technical advisors what should I say? What would you say when you answer the phone? I mean obviously you’re not going to say WITSEC. Is there something you’d say? And, Charlie, our advisor said, you’d say hello. He said well there is actually something that we would say but I can’t tell you what it is. And so this sort of began a riff between Mary and me that Charlie is just there trying to obfuscate matters and keep us from doing whatever the real thing is. But actually he is an invaluable resource and he does help us out, especially with physicality and how you break into a room, you know, what you do after you’re in there in dangerous situations. So, yeah, there’s a lot that he won’t tell us but then there’s a lot that he will tell us.
MM: Oftentimes we say like, what would we do in this situation, and he’d go well what do you think you might do? And that’s not the answer. Our technical advisor was approved by WITSEC and approved by the witness protection program to advise us. So he makes sure that we’re doing it right. And at certain times I bet he makes sure we’re doing it wrong to keep all their witnesses alive. They take these oaths of secrecy their whole life. In fact Charlie says that when his kids came to his retirement party and he’d been an inspector for, I don’t know, a million years, they had no idea that he worked for witness protection.
What was it about the show that appealed to you?
MM: I just picked up the script and read it just out of the blue. What appealed to me were a few things. I thought it was really funny; I laughed out loud which I rarely do reading things. And I remember doing it two or three times and actually checking the moments and thinking wow that’s unusual. And then I wanted to know how it ended. I was really engaged; it was sort of a page turner. And I thought the part was sensational and all the parts were sort of unexpectedly complex. Just when I thought I knew who Marshall was going to be, or who Stan was going to be, neither have turned out to be those things. And so I just love David Maples’ writing really. I just think he’s an exceptional writer. And so it was really the writing that appealed to me. And plus this world of witness protection has never been done and it’s a really dramatic world to look at and really engaging.
Mary, how close do you feel to your character?
MM: Well no. I mean, I don’t think I’d be good at shooting anyone. I don’t think I could do any of that but, just in her tone and her sensibility, her sense of humor is very similar I think to me. And also I think even just crazy little ways like the character being named Mary; it wasn’t written for me at all, he just wrote it as a Mary. And she’s from New Jersey and I’m from New Jersey and there’s a million little things that just – I’m a tomboy so it’s just a very comfortable fit.
Do you think the shows like The Closer and Saving Grace and even Law and Order SVU have opened the doors to female protagonists like this?
MM: Yeah, for David Maples’ sake I’ll set the record straight because I know he would do it because he’s a score keeper – he wrote the show long before either of those shows were written. So he sort of proudly goes ‘I wrote it a long time ago.’ But, I think absolutely those shows are excellent and very successful. And, audiences have responded to those female characters being strong and complex and not always girly and not always what is seen as traditionally feminine. So I think for us we’ve benefited from that certainly and I’m grateful to both those ladies for that.
How will the dynamic in the Shannon family grow in this second season? Will tensions from last season between Mary and her mother and Mary, Raph and her sister carry over?
MM: Yeah, some of that carries over. My mother hits a pretty new low early on in the season and ends up getting in a physical fight with a cop and she’s loaded obviously when it happens. And she decides that that’s just as low as she can go and she goes to rehab. So that changes – obviously I’ve only ever known her drunk my whole life. So for this family dynamic ,that creates something new all together. She’s all 12 steppy and using slogans. And then my sister goes back to school; she also decides to try to turn over a new leaf and goes back to school and gets in sort of what seems like a healthier relationship with someone else. And so I don’t know where that’ll end up. David never tells us so that’s part of the fun of TV, we don’t really know. But that’s some stuff that happens. And then with Raphael, I seem to, through my recovery after this incident and post traumatic stress, I sort of lean on him more, need him more and we get closer and closer as the season progresses.
Fred, last year you said that Marshall’s affections for Mary might be secretly requited, but that Mary McCormack didn’t think so. Do you still feel that way and what are your thoughts on that Mary?
FW: Mary led me to believe at some point last year that her character looked at Marshall as a brother. I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think that it’s like a cold war love triangle the way I looked at it. Marshall obviously – his feelings are the clearest; I think he’s completely in love with Mary. I don’t think Raph has any notion of that. I think Mary certainly knows that Marshall has feelings for her. And I’d like to think based on a couple of episodes in which she seemed to get jealous that she does requite those feelings to some extent.
MM: That was a good answer. You know, we always try to get the answer out of David Maples and he won’t tell us so we’re sort of flying blind on that. But, yeah, I think she probably has some feelings. I mean, you know, how much of it is that she’s into him and how much of it, you know, is that she’s into him being into her. And when he’s into someone else how hurtful is that, I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what David writes. But I feel like the clues we’re getting is that there’s definitely a deep, deep intimacy, between them and it’s mutual and it’s an affection which is mutual and respect which is mutual. And that’s a lot of things to make a relationship. So it’s just sort of like they missed that moment, or it didn’t seem like the right type for each other, and so now it’s become this other thing which is taboo; you never – you never sleep – or kiss your partner. I mean, you just don’t even think about them that way, you don’t allow it – or you try not to allow it. But it’s definitely still a storyline this season that you see played with a lot. And you see Fred’s reaction to my relationship with Raphael developing and that becomes really fun to watch I think.
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Are we going to learn more about Marshall’s back-story this season?
FW: Well Marshall is a bit of a man of mystery. I mean, you’ll learn different languages he speaks; you’ll learn different dorky sports he plays. But as to whether you’ll learn about his family or where he lives that’s something I’m going to have to leave open. It’s things like that are going to hint to that.
There’s so much humor in the show but there’s also a very dark side. How do you balance that out from an actor’s point of view?
MM: I think it’s tricky actually. Fred and I discuss stuff like all the time ,about do you think I can make this a light moment, or do you think that’s badly judged? And we’re sort of shifting gears rather quickly often, like in the middle of sort of a heavy duty scene, there’s a little detour of a light bit of banter and then you sort of head back into a moment that’s really dark. And I hope we succeed at it but it is definitely for me at least one of the challenges of working on this show. But I also think it’s what makes the show kind of special.
FW: You’ve got to keep the humor in mind but then you sometimes have to stop yourself and say you know what, this needs to be serious. And you’ve always got to try to be truthful. So it is an interesting challenge to keep it balanced.