Major Crimes star Mary McDonnell still isn't exactly sure how she ended up as the star of TNT's newest cop drama.
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The Battlestar Galactica alum first stepped into Capt. Sharon Raydor's shoes during The Closer's fifth season, when her Internal Affairs investigation put her at odds with Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) and her team. Three years later, Brenda is gone and Raydor is now leading the squad on the spin-off Major Crimes.
"I've never had something grow this way," McDonnell tells TVGuide.com. "This was just a delightful three-episode romp, and I was very excited to be able to fully embrace the antagonist. Then it just grew and grew. And I was standing by going, 'Well, this is interesting. Let's take another step.' I don't think it was really until we [premiered] a few of weeks ago that it truly occurred to me what had happened."
And what has happened is a bit unusual. Raydor, once the thorn in everybody's side, is now the series' protagonist. "It was tremendously challenging," she says. "We figured out how to expose all the aspects of her without basically changing who she is — without pretending she's someone other than who we've already known. ... We knew that we couldn't make a false move... because it was too much to ask of the audience. They absolutely loved the problems that Capt. Raydor presented, so we didn't want to rob them completely."
TNT says goodbye to The Closer, hello to Major Crimes
And so, Raydor still is a bit of tough pill for her detectives to swallow, especially Lt. Provenza (G.W. Bailey), who was passed over for the job of leading the unit. "His dilemma is very interesting to Raydor, because on the one hand, she has to deal with it, but on the other hand, she understands it," McDonnell says. "She can see his position and because she is a pragmatist, she's not going to back down, but she doesn't want to lose him. These guys are great detectives, and one of her gifts is that she actually really does understand how to be a good boss."
Being the boss comes with its share of headaches and a much heavier responsibility. On Monday's episode, a gang war leads Raydor to take a huge risk that threatens both her future and the life of Det. Sykes (Kearran Giovanni). "In Internal Affairs, she sent her team out to the crime scene being taped. The crime was over with," McDonnell says. "The new experience of sending a team that you love into harm's way has been one of the most primal things I've touched upon. That risking of your team's lives in the moment a crime is being committed — that's a very different place in one's heart and soul that is tasked."
But Raydor's heart is also being tested at home, thanks to Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin), the abandoned teenager she's taken in. Although that relationship at times has been strained, Rusty seems to be settling in. In fact, on Monday's episode, Rusty makes it clear that he has no interest in meeting his biological father.
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"These two people just had to begin together, because there was nothing else to be done," McDonnell says of the relationship. "What starts to happen, though, is that they actually have quite a wonderful, personal connection that they discover in very subtle ways and in very surprising moments. And it opens all of us up to the idea that we really don't know in life where our relationships come from until they're in front of us."
And might the same be said of Raydor's uneasy relationship with Provenza? Can the pair actually work together? "I think [they're] going through different dilemmas simultaneously," McDonnell says. "Sometimes, we're not conscious of how we're helping each other, particularly when we're in our conflicts. But quite often, it is those conflicting relationships that move people forward."
Major Crimes airs Mondays at 9/8c on TNT.