LOS ANGELES — Mary McCormack has reached the point in her career that actresses hit — that point where they go from playing young wives and girlfriends to playing the parent to a nearly adult child. The actress, best known for the cable series "In Plain Sight," didn't see that moment coming.
"I was on my last show for so long, I didn't realize I had hit this age," McCormack, 44, says. "Then when this pilot season hit, I noticed that I was being sent a different list of roles. That's OK, because I'm sort of interested in this stage. There's some good parts for moms, grandmoms."
She's landed at least two interesting parts where she's playing the mom of a teenager. In the Lifetime movie "Escape from Polygamy," McCormack portrays a recently widowed woman who, with her 17-year-old daughter, Julina, moves into an isolated polygamous compound. Next month, she stars in the new NBC comedy, "Welcome to the Family," as a mother facing the harsh realities of having a pregnant teen daughter.
The two roles have her playing moms, but the tones and stories couldn't be any different.
In "Escape from Polygamy," her daughter, Julina (Haley Lu Richardson), falls in love with Ryder (Jack Falahee), the son of the religious compound's prophet, Ervil (William Mapother). Threatened by his son's attraction to Julina, Ervil claims God has instructed him to take Julina as his new wife so they can build a new community in Mexico. The young lovers plot their escape, but their efforts are thwarted when Ryder is banished from the sect.
McCormack took the role because she was intrigued by the mother-daughter story.
"This was a small, independent movie that I agreed to do, and we all did the film for little money," McCormack says. "It was a very interesting story about what a mom will do to help her child, even when there's a forbidden love. "
"Welcome to the Family" is a big change for McCormack after her long run on "In Plain Sight." She goes from being the heart of a one-hour drama to being part of a comedy ensemble.
She looked at a lot of scripts before finding the one by "Welcome to the Family" creator Mike Sikowitz.
"I just liked Mike's writing the most. It just felt like the jokes came out of character. It felt intelligent. It felt fresh," McCormack says. "I love doing comedy. I haven't done as much of it, but I love it and was excited about that."
Dealing with daughters is something McCormack understands; she has three of her own. The first was born while she was working on "West Wing" — the pregnancy hidden through camera trickery and set decorations — while the other two were born while she was filming "In Plain Sight."
"When I had my last daughter on 'In Plain Sight,' we just wrote it in," McCormack says. "So I was doing sort of 16-hour days, seven months pregnant, running through the hills of New Mexico. Just craziness."
The sense of humor McCormack will show on her new comedy reflects her real life as a mom. When her first daughter was born, the bottom of the birth announcement had the world "Help" in small print. The second said "Oy vey." The third, "We're (expletive deleted)."
"Escape from Polygamy" 8 p.m. tonight (Saturday, Aug. 24) on Lifetime
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.