Callie Thorne Callie Thorne

Callie Thorne was stuck in New York City gridlock recently with her mom when she spied a familiar face. "I was like, 'Ma, Ma, look!' and I point and there's me on the back of a bus, and we both started shrieking," says the star of USA's new drama Necessary Roughness, laughing. "There was this convertible of guys next to us, and my mother goes, 'That's my daughter!' They were taking pictures and they said, 'Get out of the car!' I was like, 'I will not get out of the car!... OK, I'll get out of the car.' I'm such a loser."

Her admirers beg to differ. When Calliope Thorne was born, her astrologer mother "had a spiritual vision of the word Calliope, the muse of voice, music and poetry," says the actress, who later shortened it to Callie. "Here we are, all these years later, and I'm fulfilling my name."

And how. Thorne has served as a muse to David Simon (who wrote for her in her breakthrough role as a cop on Homicide: Life on the Street and later cast her as McNulty's long-suffering ex-wife on The Wire); Denis Leary and Peter Tolan (who hired her for a brief guest gig on Rescue Me that stretched into a seven-season stint as feisty 9/11 widow Sheila Keefe); and now Necessary Roughness cocreators Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro.

They wrote the role of single-mom celebrity shrink Dr. Dani Santino for Thorne, unaware that she was unavailable at the time because she was shooting Two Chicks, a comedy pilot cowritten by Leary. When FX decided not to move forward with that show, "we scooped her up and, man, were we thrilled," says Shapiro. "She has the whole package the part requires — she's sexy, funny and tough as nails, but she's also very empathetic."

Getting Roughness helped Thorne through a difficult patch. "When I got the phone call that FX was passing, I was in hysterical tears," she recalls. "Within two hours my agents called, and they were like, 'Get it together; we're sending you a script and if you like it, you've got to get on a plane tomorrow.' I knew from the first few scenes how well-written it was. I didn't even finish reading it — I was like, 'Yes, please! When is my flight?'"

Roughness represents Thorne's first leading role after nearly 15 years of supporting parts. "I like that position of being an integral part of the story but not really having to feel the weight of whether something is a failure or a success," she admits. "But it's always in the back of an actor's mind: 'What would it be like if I became that A-story person?' This is all brand-new for me and I'm having a ball. But I'm not going to lie — it's pretty scary."

Thorne has no reason to fear. Roughness debuted with a strong 4.7 million total viewers, and she seems more than ready to take the ball and run with it. (In this week's episode, Dr. Dani counsels a rookie running back who keeps missing practice.) "This is just the beginning of Callie's peak years," says Leary of his 41-year-old costar. "We were lucky she was still available when we went to do Rescue Me.
Every time Peter and I come up with something, there's a part in it for her, but my fear is she's going to get so big we won't be able to afford her anymore."

In the meantime, Thorne can still be seen in Rescue Me's final season, as Sheila deals with the traumatic brain injury suffered by her firefighter son, Damien (Michael Zegen). "The responsibility grounds Sheila," says Tolan. "She has someone to look after and love, someone who isn't going to leave. She finally has her man, which turns out to be her son." Confesses Thorne, "It's not something I saw coming, but I really like it. Sheila is still bananas, but it takes a backseat to her starting to give a lot more than take, and that's different from anything I've done with the character."

Such a busy work schedule doesn't leave Thorne with much time for a personal life — and that's fine with her. "I have nothing to complain about, because my social life is on the Necesssary Roughness set, laughing with the crew and the actors," she says. "I love every second of it."  — Additional reporting by Elizabeth Wagmeister

Necessary Roughness airs Wednesday at 10/9c on USA.

Rescue Me airs Wednesday at 10/9c on FX.

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!