Having appeared in shows like L.A. LAW, MURDER ONE, THE PRACTICE, THE X-FILES, SONS OF ANARCHY, SCANDAL, TEEN WOLF, and now SECRETS AND LIES,has enjoyed a long career as a working actor. From such a variety of roles, McNally has perfected the art of portraying both strength and humanity in her performances. She brings that rich layer that makes her characters vital and believable. In an exclusive interview, McNally shares what role her character May plays in the SECRETS AND LIES entangled mystery and the joys of her unexpected career.
What drew you to the role of May Stone and the show SECRETS AND LIES?
MCNALLY: I had worked with co executive producer, Adam Arkin, on SONS OF ANARCHY and really enjoyed the process with him. As you know, he is a great actor himself and that truly informs his directing. I had seen some of Season 1 of SECRETS AND LIES and loved it. Juliette Lewis is phenomenal!
How do you describe who May Stone is and what do you most admire about her?
MCNALLY: May Stone is a career executive assistant who after years of working for Eric (played by Michael Ealy) and John (played by Terry O’Quinn) has become like family. She’s warm, efficient, take-charge, a real rock in a time of crisis…Also, because she has worked so closely for the family all this time…she may out of loyalty, keep their secrets safe.
As Eric Warner’s assistant, what is the working relationship like between Eric and May? Does she think it is possible Eric killed his wife? Where is her head at after that shocking event?
MCNALLY: May and Eric have a deep and abiding love for each other…she would take a bullet for him if she had to. She has worked closely with the Warner Family for 25 years. She believes that he did not kill his wife, and will do anything she can to help him find out who did do it.
What is it like working with Michael Ealy? Were you familiar with his work before meeting him on SECRETS AND LIES?
MCNALLY: Michael is very warm and generous, which makes it easy to play out our affection for one another. He is shatteringly handsome! He did, however, prank me pretty badly one day. We were shooting a scene where we had to move quickly down a hallway together giving lots of information. He told me that it was very important to stay right on his shoulder during the long tracking two shot. And then the director said, “Yes, do not leave his shoulder as you come down the hall.” The cameraman stressed it as well. Well, when the director called “Action”, Michael started down the hall, kind of swiftly, then sped up and finally sprinted down the hall, with me struggling like mad to keep up with him. I ran like a maniac holding all these files, and in my high heels, shouting the information as I ran. When the director called “Cut!” The whole set burst into laughter and I was just glad that I hadn’t splatted on the linoleum! You have to be able to laugh at yourself, don’t you?
With such a large ensemble cast, it must have been a cool experience working on the show with them. Were there any standout moments or scenes that you recall that made the experience fun or interesting for you?
MCNALLY: None of us knew what was going to happen in the upcoming episodes, we did not know who committed the crime…and each and every one of us was a suspect at one time or another. It was fun to come to work and wonder what crazy thing was going to happen next.
Was there anything you took away from the show as a learning experience?
MCNALLY: It was a pleasure to watch Michael’s huge professionalism every day. He was in practically every single scene, working huge long days and nights. He worked so very hard…and then put a lot of energy into making the set a great place to come to work. I admire him.
What were some of the rewards and challenges of working on SECRETS AND LIES?
MCNALLY: I knew that I was going to be in 7 out of 10 episodes for the season, and so it felt like a break from the constant auditioning and looking for work…I was happy to have just one character and one show to concentrate on for a while.
As a working actor, what would you say is a highlight of where you are in your career right now?
MCNALLY: One of the highlights of my life is the pride I have in my children. I feel so fortunate that I have been able to work at a job I love and also have the privilege of raising three wonderful individuals to almost adulthood! It was not always easy, and there were a few important events that I had to miss because of work…but I feel that I showed my kids that when you do what you love it never quite feels like work!
What has been some of the best advice given to you as an actor?
MCNALLY: I read Michael Caine’s book, ACTING IN FILM. There is a chapter about actors having to do stunts. He said if you are ever asked to do a stunt on a set and you think it might be dangerous to say the following: “That looks like it will be an amazing stunt. I love it. I want to do my best…so, I would like to watch someone else do it first.” There is a lot of time pressure on sets, and actors want to please everyone and be game and try their best…but you might be putting yourself in extreme danger. So, I was working on THE X –FILES, and was asked to drive this crazy old truck towards a cliff, up and down sand dunes and stuff….it did not look safe at all…It was nearing dark and the director and everyone was not happy when I said the line about how I would like to watch someone else do it first. Well, they got a stunt driver to come to set, and she took one look at the requested stunt…and refused to do it out of safety concerns! They had to re-rig the truck with more safety restraints and changed the course to a safer distance from the edge of the cliff. I have 3 kids…Thank you Michael Caine!
What advice can you share for other up and coming actors?
MCNALLY: My advice for up and coming actors is…. always be early, always be prepared, always be courteous, and always try to help the group you are working with do the best work possible. It is amazing what a truly small world it is…and the longer you work the more likely it is that you will see the same people over and over and you sure want them to be happy to see you again!
Looking back, what have been some of your favorite kinds of roles and why?
MCNALLY: I tend to play pretty serious roles…super capable and smart women. Four star generals….the president!! But I really enjoy goofy and comedic roles the best. I was a member of the Groundlings Sunday Show for a few years and did the sketch comedy thing…I thought that it was going to be comedy all the way! I wrote a 2-person sketch show that brought me to NYC to screen test for Saturday Night Live. I think things kind of go in waves….I would like the pendulum to swing again towards comedy for me…it is a different kind of fun to do drama.
What would you love to do moving forward?
MCNALLY: I have been playing a lot of dramatic characters…and I started out doing much more comedy…I would really like to have a regular role on a comedy series…like VEEP!
Do you find it helpful to have a sibling in the same career field? Are there perks that come from that?
MCNALLY: I have 3 sister-in-law actresses, and one actor brother-in-law! My husband is the only non-actor sibling in the Sagal family. Makes for pretty lively family gatherings! The perks are that we all know the challenges of acting as career choice and we are very supportive of each other. Katey’s husband, Kurt Sutter, cast me in SONS OF ANARCHY for 5 seasons…so that was a perk! And Katey and I had some fun scenes to do together. Her character, Gemma, threw me against a vending machine and strangled me while screaming in my face….after the director called cut she turned to me in front of everyone and said…”Don’t forget to bring 6 pumpkin pies and see you at Thanksgiving.”
There was such a vibrant fan base from SONS OF ANARCHY, were you ever surprised by the passion the show invoked?
MCNALLY: One of the most fun things about doing the show was the kind of fans I encountered in my every day life. It was really fun to be out with my family…and I would see these HUGE tattooed bearded men approaching me, and my kids and husband would be a little alarmed. I would say, “Hang on, no worries, just a few of my fans!”
What do you hope to be your legacy as you look back on your career one day?
MCNALLY: I hope that my legacy will be that I just put one foot in front of the other when faced with challenges of career and regular life and kept on going! Because you never know what is going to be around the corner. I have loved the journey!
Finally, what teasers can you offer about what is upcoming this season on SECRETS AND LIES?
MCNALLY: I am not at liberty to offer teasers…you are just going to have to watch…Sunday nights at 9pm on ABC! Thanks!
To see who could have possibly murdered Eric’s wife and what happened to the missing girl and what secrets May is protecting for Eric, be sure to tune in for new episodes of SECRETS AND LIES on Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. on ABC.