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Mary McDonnell Caprica City interview
Written by Marcel Damen   
Wednesday, 23 April 2008

On April 19, 2008 at Fedcon in Germany, our colleagues of the German Battlestar Galactica site Caprica City, met up with Mary McDonnell, better known for her part as President Laura Roslin in Battlestar Galactica 2003.  They asked her about how having an Oscar winning performance early on shaped her future career. They also delved into how her character handles the responsibilities of being president, and would it be better instead to wield power behind the scenes as either a First Lady or Vice President.

Hello Mrs. McDonnell. First of all, let me thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions.

You're welcome.

Let's start with one of your first big roles as "Stands With A Fist" in Dances with Wolves. In what way did that role influence your career? Can you still feel it today?

Dances with Wolves... Not only did it elevate my career, frankly, and gave me a career in film, but I understood in a different way the power of good cinematic storytelling. Also, the event of the film, the experience of the film was a new experience for me. It was a complete environment in which you can totally indulge your creativity inside the ideas. I got to live with Native American people and really understand more specifically, more emotionally, what's going on in a Native American community in America, even now. So, the experience of making that film brought me closer to a kind of political and social awareness of the actual tragedy that they were still living with, and some [people] kind of pretend that it never happened. It was genocide basically, that occurred in America, and I don't feel that we have ever acknowledged it as such as a country. So it's a very wonderful thing to be able to go and tell a beautiful story about the people that had their civilization destroyed. It was great to be a part of that.

 

Mary McDonnell as Stands with a Fist in Dances with Wolves

Mary McDonnell as "Stands With A Fist" in Dances with Wolves

 

Is there any special part, a role that you really wanted but didn't get in your career?

No. No, I did not get every role, but those that I really wanted I got. So I've been very, very, very lucky with that.

As you started with Battlestar Galactica, it was just a miniseries and later evolved into a four year show. At this point of your career, could you imagine playing in another four year show or even a longer running one?

Yes, I would do another contract like that for sure. I love the ongoing process of evolving a character and a story with the writers' constantly [injecting] new ideas and trying to maintain the truth. And I love even the little tiny moments, you know. There's another little color, another little commitment that you can make. So for me it's really exciting to keep going back in there and trying to deepen the experiences of a human being. I love it. So yes, I would. As long as it is at home and good money. (giggles)

Which of the issues that Battlestar Galactica deals with make you really think or even make you question your convictions?

Some of the issues that I have to come up against inside myself regarding the choices that Laura Roslin had to make, to be responsible for killing beings and to sort of be responsible for survival on that level forced me to shift a little bit inside my own liberal self in terms of what my ideas are about the way people should behave. It helped to expand my at least imaginary experience in terms of human beings who live at a survival level and what is necessary to keep life alive. I have a better understanding of what humanity historically has gone through and why we aren't further along in our evolution than I wish we were.

It's kind of an interesting irony that it is a scifi show that has so many ideas that are beyond us. So many ideas that involve the experience of my character in total survival commitment, to make sure that the human civilization continues, that an entire race of people continues. You go into a survival mode that almost feels regressive because you don't have the luxury or liberty to wonder if what you're doing is morally right or wrong and how you feel about it later. It has no longer anything to do with one's personal wishes. It has to do with numbers and facts.

That is an interesting experience.

Is there any specific moment that defines Battlestar Galactica for you? A scene of why you love that show?

Actually, I love the lighter moments of the show when you get to see the character's personal life. The little things that go on between Starbuck and Apollo, the things that happen with Grace [Park], and Helo, Athena and Hera. I like that, because I know these actors and I see their gentler, kinder sides emerge. I love the whole thing, but those moments are very gratifying.

 

Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin in Battlestar Galactica 2003

Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin in Battlestar Galactica 2003

 

You've done a lot of conventions. Were there any experiences with fans that you really enjoyed?

Oh, I haven't done a lot of conventions, I don't have a lot of experience. But I do think that there's something quite remarkable about the questions that emerge from the fans in the Q&As and it's also quite remarkable about the commitment to the stories, to all the shows. And the amount of fun that the fans are having I find quite moving.

You played the First Lady in the movie Independence Day and the President in Battlestar Galactica. If you could choose, what would you prefer? Being the strong woman behind a President or to be the President yourself?

Ah, that's a very good question and most people would simply say "President". (giggles) However, I see the Vice Presidency or the position as First Lady, or First Gentlemen if and when it ever occurs, as something that is kind of an interesting position because you can do a great deal for the world. It's a little more tender, a little more potentially, humane.

And you're held responsible for decisions like who to kill. There isn't a world leader alive, [except] perhaps the Dalai Lama, who hasn't been in some way responsible for some kind of killing. The First Lady and to a certain extent the Vice President, are not Commander in Chief. So, I don't know. I'd love to continue to play president but I wouldn't want to be one. I think the position of presidency is a very tough spot for a human being and I would never have my heart function well in that capacity.

And here's our last question: Is there anything we could ask you that would get us airlocked?

(laughs)

You don't have to give me the answer, just the question.

Who am I going to vote for in the US election (giggles).

Okay, I'll skip that question until the next time. Thanks a lot for taking the time, Mrs. McDonnell.

Thank you, that was very nice.

 

 

The English version of this interview was exclusively made available to GALACTICA.TV by my colleague and friend Rene Kissien from Caprica City (thanks!), who also conducted this interview. You can read the German version on their website here: FedCon XVII: Unser exklusives Interview mit Mary McDonnell.

 
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