I won’t say that I ever disliked Paula Malcomson’s work, per se. She suddenly turned up all over the place, wielding different accents and playing roles representing different social strata across several time periods. I cannot go so far as to say that she is chameleonic – she does not completely disappear into all her roles (notably, her role as Abby Donovan in the recent Ray Donovan, is a bit too over-the-top with the put-upon Boston accent that it stretches believability). That said, she almost disappears into all her roles and imbues each role, even the villainous and suspicious ones, with a vulnerability and humanity that is unusual.
Why I thought of her suddenly, I am not sure. I suppose it’s because I was talking to someone about Battlestar Galactica – laying on thick praise – but cautioning them against its prequel, Caprica, in which Paula Malcomson plays a pivotal role. It is not that her portrayal of Amanda Graystone was anything less than great – she fully embodied and embraced the role and gave it the complexity it needed. It is more that the show never came together. The cast was never the problem.
I guess then that I did not change my mind about Malcomson so much as I decided to afford her work a more serious look. It would almost be easy to overlook her presence because she does slide into all kinds of different roles with such apparent ease. She would be easy to ignore – except that when you are really watching her, you can’t ignore her. In particular, her very human and heartbreaking role as Trixie in the late, great HBO series Deadwood was riveting. But in a show packed with a great cast and often overshadowed by the show’s main character – excessive profanity – it was easy to watch Malcomson be absorbed by Trixie, transfixed, but easily move on to the next thing, the next Al Swearengen tirade for example.
Malcomson may not stick around on some shows for long but her roles – and what she brings to them – create repercussions in the twists and turns of a story. A case in point – Sons of Anarchy, in which her character, Maureen Ashby, delivered information that infused the story with new life. Her portrayal of Ashby was not only sympathetic but helped to shed light on a character whose specter has hung over the show’s entire run – John Teller – a character who has never actually existed on-screen (alive) in the show but whose history, legacy and legend informed the story and motivations of the characters (particularly John Teller’s widow, son and former best friend). Malcomson was able to subtly bring John Teller – and another aspect of his personality and aims – to life.
Considered, reconsidered – for now, we can enjoy Malcomson’s presence in Ray Donovan – hoping she tones it down just a little bit, becomes slightly less shrill (although she does have her searing moments) – and her return to the Hunger Games film series to reprise her role as Katniss Everdeen’s mother.