In Part 1 of TV Guide's interview with Mary McDonnell, the accomplished actress teased the shocking wrap-up of Battlestar Galactica's third season (the finale airs Sunday at 10 pm/ET). Here, in Part 2, the topics are vipers, U.S. presidents, and whether a show such as BSG — and herself, in particular — can ever convert Emmy buzz into grabbable gold.
TV Guide: You seem to have a flair for playing women who persevere in the face of extraordinary personal hardships — Passion Fish, Dances with Wolves. Is it a conscious decision on your part to pursue those kinds of roles?
Mary McDonnell: No. The truth is that all of these roles came to me. The roles of that kind of woman seemed to find me. Perhaps it's some kind of agreement you make unconsciously and it goes out into the universe, but I think people see that in you. They see you have an organic potential to be a leader or a fighter or to be a warrior as a woman, or you don't. It's not something you can act. In my DNA I come from a very strong matriarchal family of Irish women — very, very strong. We were all raised to be very strong-willed. It's built into the DNA and people sense that, and so that will be in a role organically.
TV Guide: What do you think happened to your and Kevin Costner's characters after Dances with Wolves ends and you ride off into the sunset together?
McDonnell: It's very hard to say. I remember thinking at the time that perhaps they died. But if they didn't, perhaps they made it to some outpost, perhaps they were able to communicate somewhere to someone, or perhaps they settled on the prairie somewhere. I don't know. I couldn't really see much beyond riding into the snow. I kind of felt it was the end, a sense of closure. I never really imagined anything of great import beyond that.
TV Guide: What American president does Battlestar Galactica's Roslin most remind you of?
McDonnell: She really doesn't remind me of anyone, but I couldn't answer that anyway because I'm playing her. I don't have an exterior view of her. I'm learning about her as we go along. This is not a person who is prepared to be a president. She doesn't carry all that history, so it's very hard to say, "She's like so-and-so." And also because she's been exposed on such a personal level at times, and she's had visions and gone into all kinds of territory that we don't normally see with our presidents. We don't get a view into their psychological or spiritual balance or imbalance. We're seeing a human being in the position of president and we're getting a glimpse into them more personally, I think. Oddly enough, you really don't find much detail about her personal life, but you get an intimate glimpse into the woman herself. She was 43rd in line. It's hilarious. I mean, who would ever think? But all those people down there in line better pay attention. [Laughs] It's hard to compare her because she's not the commander in chief. She doesn't hold that responsibility, which is a huge defining difference between her and our president. She has a partnership with the military — that's a very different dynamic. So we don't get to see some of what she would be if she were commander in chief on the one hand. On the other hand, we get to see a person who has to assert herself into some of those decisions because she doesn't have the power. It's kind of an interesting evolution of a woman in politics.
TV Guide: Galactica is so well written and acted, and yet never seems to attract the kind of acting/writing Emmys that cable shows such as, say, Monk or The Shield do. Do you think there is an unspoken prejudice against sci-fi series?
McDonnell: I don't know if it's a prejudice.... I think Battlestar Galactica is pushing the envelope in bridging our worlds of sci-fi, the metaphysical and concrete reality. Quite often when something is cutting-edge like that in a certain area, or is trying to bridge two ideas, it takes a long time for the popular culture to come out and say, "OK, we support you 100 percent." It's an admirable and worthy position to be in. It's one of the reasons this show is so good. It would be lovely if it would finally break through in terms of viewership and numbers, because this show certainly deserves it.
TV Guide: There is some Emmy buzz surrounding you, specifically. How do you feel about that?
McDonnell: I'm very complimented by it. I feel like the buzz is about Laura Roslin. I think what gets me excited about the buzz is that they're seeing this female president in really dramatic and very difficult circumstances and seeing her get stronger under fire, get tougher, get more savvy and find her way through and stay more committed against all odds. She's almost died twice. She's been thrown in jail. And I think that if people are beginning to hook into her, I get very excited. We need to see those kinds of women out there and in as many people as possible. I get a lot of fan mail from very young people who just love her. She's kind of awesome. Whatever buzz Laura Roslin can create, I'm all for it.
TV Guide: How would you like to see Roslin develop in the future?
McDonnell: I like the way she's headed now. I'm beginning to feel this extraordinarily confident leader in her. I think the woman needs to get these people to safety. I think she will want to find a way to survive. But along with that, the woman has blossomed in an odd kind of way, and it would be interesting to see what happens to her feminine energy as she gains more and more charisma and esteem in the position of being a leader. I'd love to see if she becomes more free, and feels more freedom to be more spontaneous.
TV Guide: Would you like to see her get a chance to fly a viper and zap a few Cylons?
McDonnell: No, not really, because her plate is pretty full. [Laughs] I think that flying the planes doesn't occur to her, so it doesn't occur to me. She has no desire to. She does get in there, in her own way, but the action part of it is not my job. [Laughs]