I am starting a new series that will basically focus on modern American actors whom I think are great but for whatever reason typically aren't getting the kind of parts their talents deserve. These actors, I guess, can be considered just slightly under the radar and this series will be my little way of paying tribute to them.
New Jersey native Mary McCormack was born in February of 1969, in her early teens she began appearing in school stage productions and after studying at New York's William Esper Studio she made her New York stage debut in her early twenties. She has since gone on to appear in several Broadway and off-Broadway productions including most recently a revival of CABARET.
The IMDB lists her first screen credit as a small role in a 1994 episode of LAW AND ORDER. After that she would quickly make the leap to the big screen with a small but noticeable role in the well meaning MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET remake. She would then appear in a couple of straight to video offerings before landing the part of Howard Stern's wife in PRIVATE PARTS. This was the first time I saw Mary and she stood out to me immediately as someone who radiated a real warmth and intelligence in her acting style. PRIVATE PARTS remains one of her most well known roles and she is indeed extremely memorable in the film and helps give it an emotional center that wouldn't have been there otherwise.
Several more straight to video features as well as some tv work followed Betty Thomas' PRIVATE PARTS before Mary would appear in a another female director's film, this time the Mimi Leder helmed 1998 film DEEP IMPACT. Mary would again prove unforgettable in a small role that would find her outshining most of the bigger names in the cast.
1999 would prove to be a very big year for Mary with three very good roles in higher profile films. First up was Clint Eastwood's underrated TRUE CRIME. Mary has just one scene in this film but it is a great one and it just happens to be shared with Eastwood himself. Watching Mary work with someone of Eastwood's stature is fascinating as she not only holds her own with the great man but actually seems to bring something special out in him. Mary's second film of 1999, MYSTERY ALASKA, offered a much larger role and the opportunity to work with two great icons, Burt Reynolds and Russell Crowe. I like this little film a lot and Mary plays off wonderfully well with both of the awesomely talented leading men. She would close out the year with a leading role in the very entertaining and well receive comedy, THE BIG TEASE.
Mary would appear in a whopping ten films in the next two years, including the delightful HIGH HEELS AND LOW LIFES opposite her friend Minnie Driver, before landing one of her best roles in Steven Soderbergh's flawed but interesting FULL FRONTAL.
FULL FRONTAL is perhaps a perfect encapsulation of Mary's career so far. Here she is in a film surrounded by big name Hollywood stars, such as Julia Roberts, and yet she is still the warmest, most captivating and real person in it. Comparing her to the mannered, and pretty dull, Roberts in this film is fascinating when you stop to think how huge Roberts is and how most people will even barely know the name Mary McCormack. I'm not trying to wage an attack on Julia Roberts, I am just trying to point out that there is an ease and naturalness to McCormack that most major 'stars' in modern cinema do not posses. Mary is the best part of FULL FRONTAL and I think it is still one of the great performances of this now not so young decade.
Soderbergh would recognize how incredible talented Mary was and would cast her in one of the leading roles in his short lived but ambitiously alive tv series, the searing K STREET. As the greedy and selfish Maggie Morris, McCormack created one of the great characters in television from this decade. The show would come under a lot of criticism but I find it, and specifically Mary McCormack's work, to be among the most memorable of the last few years.
After K STREET'S quick cancellation, Mary would find her greatest role yet in the intense and extremely undervalued miniseries TRAFFIC. I thought this version of TRAFFIC was the equal to the British original and actually topped Soderbergh's Oscar winning film. Mary's work as the morally fragmenting Carole is the work of a real master and I thought the Emmy and Golden Globe snub was shameful. TRAFFIC is one of the great modern mini series and Mary McCormack's work in it is truly revelatory, and of the quality rare seen in television productions.
TRAFFIC should have opened the door wide for Mary McCormack but things have been on the quiet side since. Some solid tv work in E.R. and THE WEST WING followed the great mini series but for the most part Mary has concentrated on her family, which probably shows that the warmth and compassion she generates in many of her roles strongly reflects who the real Mary McCormack is.
Mary can currently be seen in 1408, which is a surprisingly strong thriller. Like most of her other projects, her part is small but she still manages to steal every scene she is in. It is a continuing reminder of how incredibly talented this woman is, even though it is a talent that continues to be overlooked by many.
Mary McCormack is one of my favorite actresses in modern American cinema. I would also argue that she is one of the best and if she hasn't yet had a role that really captured the American public's eye, give her time. I think a lot of great things are in store for this wonderful and winning young woman.
I'm not the only one who recoginizes how great Mary is. Here are links to two very good fan sites.