PTR Senior Staff Writer
Something must be in the water down in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that makes the actors on USA Network's hit show In Plain Sight a lot like their characters.
We've heard Mary McCormack recite this for us.
Add Frederick Weller to the list, too.
We recently had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with Fred, where I found him to be as smart, quick witted, easy-going and as much a dilettante as his alter-ego, U.S. Marshal Marshall Mann (yes, we have a double Marshal/Marshall thing going on, which seems to just fit right in with the character). The second season of In Plain Sight is currently underway on USA Network Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
On playing a U.S. Marshal, and whether the role has helped him learn anything new in his own life: "It’s really fun to play a law man who, in theory, has jurisdiction anywhere in the country. Also, an undercover law man is, I think, an especially cool thing to play because you’ve got an interesting dynamic that you are [not only] enforcing the law, but at the same time, trying to appear like you’re not. Our technical advisor, who is the head of WitSec in California, is on the set every day now, and one of his favorite reminders is that you’re always scanning the horizon for danger. In fact, we poke fun at him whenever he walks over to the set. We just say, 'ABS, ABS,' which stands for 'always be scanning.' I don’t know if I’ve learned anything I’ve applied to my life. My life is pretty safe. I don’t have too many run-ins with unsavory characters, but when I do I plan to really scan the hell out of them."
On his character's personal life - which hasn't completely been laid out for us on screen as yet: "Well, I’d love to see more on the air. We think about it, and secretly joke on the set about what his apartment must look like with all his myriad interests. We hypothesize about what musical instrument he plays - there must be one, and it must be weird. I’m thinking the bassoon, sometimes a French horn. Does he have a bird? I don’t know. I do conjecture about his family life. All we know about his family life is he is a fifth generation U.S. Marshal. I imagine his father was a hard-ass and his mother was an intellectual, but this is just conjecture. Creator [David Maples] might decide something else, something I think is even better. He never ceases to surprise and amaze with his ideas. He’s a great writer, and I’m sure what we do learn about Marshall’s personal life, it’ll be interesting."
On the challenges of the role: "It’s challenging for the same reason that it’s fun in that it requires comedic and emotional ability. Now, my emotions are not [as] frequently [on display] as are Mary’s. Her character is in emotional turmoil much of the time. But at least a couple times a season - and certainly more times this season than last - Marshall is in some kind of emotional turmoil. And, any time that you’re asked, as an actor, to exhibit some state that is out of control or should appear out of control, it’s a little more challenging. I [also] think comedy is an exacting science. You don’t want to blow the humor if it’s there. If you do it wrong, it’s either funny or it’s not, so the fact [the character] has comedy and emotion is what makes it rich, and it’s also what makes it challenging. You don’t want to disappoint. When you’ve got such great material, it’s important to rise [up] and get it right."
On giving input for his character: "I occasionally will talk to [Creator] David Maples. We’ll joke around. I can’t actually think of something that I said that made it into the script per se, but we’re definitely on the same page about who he is. And, David has said that who Mary and I are has started to influence his vision of the characters - [it's] sort of a symbiotic relationship because playing a character which you love for a length of time starts to affect your own personality, I think. So, the lines tend to blur. I’ve never played a character that I felt was closer to me, [and] there have been ideas of mine that have informed the set dressing - [like] what’s on Marshall’s desk - but I can’t remember saying, 'Oh, I think my dad is such and such,' and then it was in the script. But [Mary and I] do have a good relationship with David, and I think that informs his take on the characters we play."
On his inspirations for portraying Marshall: "Well, not unlike Marshall, I have a variety of interests and a variety of influences, and I mostly draw the information about Marshall from our technical advisor. I talk to him when I can on the set. In terms of his emotional life, it’s pretty much mine. Otherwise, I just try to figure out how to have fun with any given episode. It’s an interesting thing to do television because it’s a work in progress for you - for the actor, that is - as well as for the writer. We’re all discovering it as we go along - different aspects of the character - they clarify themselves along with the story. It’s not like doing a play or film where you have the whole plot and the character arc from the get-go. It’s an exciting process to be discovering it as you go."
On his favorite Marshall trait: "I suppose my favorite would be his medical ability because it’s so far removed from anything I can do. The fact that he can patch up his own bullet wound to his lung, it’s an interest that I think would be useful, and it’s removed from my own fields of interests. I’m a little more of a music and literature person. My big brother is a man of science, an electrical engineer, and I always really admired him growing up. He had this strange capacity that didn’t seem to come from anyone in the family, it was just something that he was born with, and he was always intrigued by how things worked and just had an aptitude for it. And everybody else in the family is basically literature and arts, so that, to me, is fun because I get to pretend that I have that aptitude."
On whether Marshall has developed a Zen-like approach to life: "Yes. I think so. It’s difficult to talk about Zen, isn’t it? Because it just leaves the room as soon as you start talking about it. But I think that he certainly attempts to be in the moment and to let things go. I think it was Isaiah Berlin who wrote a famous essay comparing Dostoevsky with Tolstoy. It was about the fox and the hedgehog. He said that there are two types of people - foxes and hedgehogs. The fox is someone who has myriad interests. He doesn’t believe in any one shaping idea. He simply embraces various and sundry ideas. The hedgehog is someone who sees the universe through one controlling idea. And he said that Tolstoy was a fox who wanted to be a hedgehog, who believed in the principle of being a hedgehog. That is to say he believed in having one controlling idea, but really he was [fundamentally] a fox. I think Marshall is the opposite. I think he’s secretly a hedgehog, but he believes in the principle of being a fox. He embraces the notion of having a wide variety of interests and ideas, but he ultimately filters everything through the one, which is, I think, he believes in love and the transformative power of love. I [also] think Marshall is more flexible, more committed to optimism and to a kind of faith. You see in several episodes that Marshall seems to believe in a moral universe. And so when Mary - who is ever the cynic, which I think is really a kind of armor that she adopts to protect herself - has some kind of crisis, I think that the apostle of faith and wisdom and optimism is going to be useful to her. It’s one of the aspects that I really love about the character - that he’s a believer."
On whether he'd ever allow his young daughter to enter into an acting career - or date: "I’m going to try to keep the secret from her that I’m an actor at all. It’s going to be tough. I’m going to try to persuade her I’m a professor of something - something really nerdy [like in] comparative literature. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’ve got to figure it out before she really masters the alphabet .... I’m hoping to eventually groom her into a very bookish child who doesn’t date boys at all."
Which, I think, is what all fathers always want for their young daughters: stay away from boys.
Fred is a kick, and we do love his Marshall Mann. We extend our great thanks to him for taking the time to chat about all-things Marshal Marshall. We also thank our friends at New Media Strategies. New episodes of In Plain Sight air Sundays at 10 p.m. on USA Network. To catch up on all-things Witness Protection, head on over to the show's official Web site.