Don't let that soft voice fool you. Mary McDonnell is one iron maiden when it comes to leading the survivors of a decimated civilization as President Laura Roslin on Sci Fi Channel's Battlestar Galactica (Sundays at 10 pm/ET). As the season finale nears and Emmy buzz begins building, TV Guide welcomed the opportunity to speak with the accomplished actress. Here, in Part 1 of our Q&A, McDonnell previews the big trial and even bigger tribulations to come.
TV Guide: Is Roslin's motivation for trying Baltar (played by James Callis) vengeance or justice?
Mary McDonnell: Oh, I think it's justice. I think there is a tremendous personal frustration with regard to the man himself because of what she's been through with him. But she really doesn't have a need for vengeance, there's nothing that would further her agenda. I do believe she feels responsible to the people and responsible to have them have the opportunity to try this man who put them through such hell on Caprica. Personally, she's had a suspicion and she's had visions of this man since the very beginning, so she has a deeper need to explore what his participation actually is. But vengeance isn't really part of her nature.
TV Guide: Will Number Six (Tricia Helfer) be put on trial, too?
TV Guide: Why is Zarek (Richard Hatch) so worried about the trial?
McDonnell: Zarek is worried because he, as usual, has his finger on the underbelly of the people, and he understands that there is a great deal of support out there — kind of cult support — for Baltar. He also understands the level of hatred for Baltar. And a trial, in his opinion, creates the opportunity for all this pent-up madness to be unleashed and he's concerned about it, with real reason.
TV Guide: Laura has turned out to be quite a shrewd politician.
McDonnell: She has, and that's what I was interested in in the beginning, when the part was offered to me. I felt interested in the idea that there are a lot of women of my generation who have a great deal of savvy that's untapped because we were right on the cusp of being prepared to do or be whatever we wanted, but we weren't necessarily raised to think we could become president. There's a lot of untapped resource in women of my generation, and I wanted the opportunity to explore it, to find out how savvy she might be, unbeknownst to herself. And that's been a lot of fun.
TV Guide: After Six was in Baltar's brain for so long, now the tables seem to have turned and he's in her head. What is going on?
McDonnell: That's happened several times prior to this moment, that he's entered her consciousness. I think Laura is very clear that Six could be instrumental in their salvation if there is a way to bargain with her and a way to win her confidence. But we wouldn't put Six on trial because she isn't human.
TV Guide: Is Laura's cancer going to return anytime soon?
McDonnell: Well, that's a question mark, isn't it? It's very hard to answer the question because the stem-cell transplant from the embryo of the Cylon hybrid — which is what removed the cancer the first time — is something we don't have any data on, so we really don't know what the future will hold.
TV Guide: Like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, Galactica does a superb job of using the sci-fi medium to dramatize political and social issues like war, prejudice, mass hysteria and religion. What topic would you like to see the show address that it hasn't explored yet?
McDonnell: Well, I think we have to continue to delve deeply into why human beings have to make a warring choice when faced with fear. The idea of extinction needs to really be deeply addressed. What would it mean to be extinct, I think, is at the core of the motivation for all of this. In terms of topical issues, I know something that keeps being asked of Galactica is the sexuality issue. We haven't really gone near that at all, and that would be kind of interesting. There's so much to understand about procreation, sexuality.... I think we skimmed the surface about abortion, but we really haven't gone into it. There are so many social issues that are sort of sitting there that we've touched on briefly, but we keep having to return to our main thrust, which is the survival of the fleet and the definition of enemy. I think that's where the core of the show lies, is continuing to push, push, push at how we perceive the enemy, and what is the root of our perception and how in the world can we redefine what that means, so that we could respond differently? And I think that's what the Cylons represent. They represent the enemy as ourselves. But when are we going to evolve on the planet to the point where we see that we have to bridge the gap between ourselves and our perceived enemies, rather than go to war with them and continue to destroy? I think that's what the show is really about. What does it mean to survive? What if we didn't? A lot of the reason that people really enjoy watching the show is because it's not just dealing with terrorism and war and the idea of being an occupied nation and insurgency, but it constantly elevates those ideas and says, "What if there was another dimension at which we were beginning to perceive it?"
In Part 2 of TV Guide's Q&A with Mary McDonnell, coming March 23, the topics are vipers, U.S. presidents, and whether a show such as BSG can ever convert Emmy buzz into grabbable gold.
Sci-fi fans, for lotsa Heroes scoop, pick up the March 5 issue of TV Guide.