As seen on TV

Mary McDonnell steps up in ‘Major’ role

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Mary McDonnell is really in her element. She loves being the head of the pack in TNT’s L.A. police drama Major Crimes, now in its second season. In the spinoff to The Closer, which airs at 9 p.m. Mondays, Captain Sharon Raydor has great storylines (letting a teen murder witness stay at her house comes to mind) — and even better hair.

We talked to the Upstate, N.Y., native, 61, who became instantly unforgettable after playing Kevin Costner’s love in 1990’s Oscar winning epic Dancing with Wolves.

How is it playing Sharon Raydor since 2009? Still fresh?

I am living, breathing her. There isn’t that searching for identity and wondering how it’s going to fall together. We’re done. Hello! It’s now, ‘Where do we want to take her?’ We are truly in some wonderful storytelling mode right now. There are some dangerous moments, for sure. I think fans are going to have a ball.

How is season two going?

I’ve been so happy with it so far; the dilemmas and interesting texture and new characters and all kind of things. A new district attorney [ My Name is Earl’s Nadine Velazquez] has come to visit the squad. On one hand, it’s extraordinary to have young female talent to come and help with a major case. On the other hand, she is presenting problems. It’s very exciting the way she interacts with the whole group and what she stimulates.

Any love interests for Sharon?

Oh, this [plotline] has been very fun: The introduction of Sharon’s estranged, but not divorced, husband in the form of Tom Berenger. He’s an amazing actor, actually. It’s a delight to work with him. Tom just jumped on board and dove right in. There wasn’t one bit of hesitation. We have some history, so we have wonderful chemistry. He and I did a play together with Kevin Spacey in London [2005’s National Anthems] when we were husband and wife. We were trying to do a movie together in the ’90s, Last of the Dogmen, but I had to back out of the idea because I was pregnant and couldn’t risk it as we were going to be shooting in the jungle. Barbara Hershey ended up in the role.

You tackle some serious subject matter on this show. What is the on-set chemistry like?

I’m telling you, it’s not a reach. OK, you gotta do your job, whatever it is. But boy, when a lot of the history is out of the way and you immediately trust each other enough to risk and it really clicks, it’s so much different than when it doesn’t! It’s a ridiculously funny cast. Doing table reads is like being with your siblings at Thanksgiving dinner. If we could, there would be a food fight every week, and people would be laughing. We just don’t have time. That’s the level at which there is the potential at any moment for high hilarity to break out.

You look beyond amazing. What are you doing? Or not doing?

Well, if I could give you my trade secrets, I would. But I don’t have any big ones. Genes, maybe. I feel very fortunate. I swim almost every day. I was an athlete as a child. I also have to honor the fact that the people in the crew honor me in what they do with me. I don’t want that to go unacknowledged. I mean, they help a woman, they help female characters look good.

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