Built for it

‘I love Los Angeles,” actress Mary McCormack said recently over a tuna salad in a canyon delicatessen. “I love when people make fun of it. I think, ‘Good, don’t come.’ All the jokes about it feel out of date.”

She hasn’t spent much time here lately, however. McCormack has just returned from eight months in Albuquerque, filming the second season of USA’s “In Plain Sight,” the witness-protection series in which she plays federal Marshal Mary Shannon; before that she was in New York, earning a Tony nomination as a German stewardess in a revival of the 1960s French farce “Boeing Boeing.” Before that there was the first season of “In Plain Sight.”

Although McCormack is called upon to run and shoot for the role, the show, which creator David Maples calls a “fauxcedural,” is also about relationships. At home, Mary cleans up after her hapless mother (Lesley Ann Warren) and sister (Nichole Hiltz); at work, she banters with her partner (Fred Weller), “except I get the Bruce Willis part, which is way better.”

She has also notably played Deputy National Security Advisor Kate Harper on “The West Wing” and Howard Stern’s wife, Alison, in the movie “Private Parts.” Next for her is indie film “Walk Away Joe,” with Woody Harrelson and David Strathairn. “It’s not a big role, but it’s a good part, real different from Mary Shannon -- Texan and poor and a single mom.” At 40, she has what feels like the career of a younger actress, always seeming to arrive fresh from an unexpected angle.


On playing Mary Shannon: I’m big and I’m broad, and I’m rough, and I bite my nails. I mean, I’m a disaster. I was just cleaning out a shed barefoot; I’m filthy. So for the first time in my life it feels like putting on comfortable jeans. That’s not to say that I don’t like doing something completely different, it’s just that because of the hours I work on this show I’m grateful that I get to sort of sit in an old chair. I’m two days out of working 17-hour days almost every day. I’m built for work, I’m like a peasant. But it almost got me,

Besides tough, which I love, because I’m more of a tomboy physically, David has written some moments that really take my breath away in her not being traditionally feminine. He made her cheap. And there was one episode where I’m looking at a baby and for no reason I just go, “What’s with babies? I don’t get it,” and move on to the next beat. I’m glad it’s being done; I’m glad I get to do it. But sometimes it’ll literally knock the wind out of me.

On her career: I did “Private Parts” between the two seasons of “Murder One.” I had never done a big movie, and they wanted to fly me to New York to meet Howard and test. Stanley Tucci was on “Murder One” then, and I remember saying to him, “I don’t want to be Howard Stern’s wife; I want to be like you (he’d just finished ‘Big Night’). I want to have an elegant, crafted career.” And he was, like, “Do you have a movie career? Why don’t you just go get one and worry about crafting it later?” It turned out that it was not just a great role to play but one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. So since then, I just work. Probably I could be more careful, but I’m not.

On her job: I don’t know what else I would do. People hire me for it, and I love doing it. I’ve always loved team sports. I like rehearsal, I like problem-solving with a group. I like TV even more than film because I like seeing people have two and three kids over the years. I’m always on the softball team. I like the pace of TV: When you look at the day’s work, you think there’s no way, but that’s sort of part of the thrill. I don’t like to go back to my trailer. I’m a kid who likes to stay on set and heckle or learn. Smart, funny people all working together to make something. There are worse ways to make a living.