Playboy.com: On your new TV series Awake, the main character Michael (Jason Isaacs) and his family get into a car crash. After the crash he can’t tell if he’s awake or dreaming. In one ‘world’ his wife survives the crash, and his son in the other. You play Michael’s son’s coach, tell us about her.
McManus: It’s probably the closest character I’ve played to myself, she’s sensitive and caring. But she’s also seeing what Rex (Michael’s son) is going through, the tragedy with the accident and losing his mom. Tara really gets a sense of the pain that he’s feeling; her role in his life is to help him, to lend a shoulder, and maybe help mend this broken family without stepping on any toes.
Playboy.com: It’s evident in the pilot that there’s definitely some sexual tension between you and Michael (Jason Isaacs). What’s going on there?
McManus: That’s the question. It’s going to be interesting to see where the writers take it. But it’s definitely tricky as his wife is very much alive in one world.
Playboy.com: It’s an interesting scenario because the audience really doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not at this point. It remains to be seen if Michael stays faithful to his wife in one world and not the other.
Playboy.com: Does the cast know which world is real yet? Or do you have a guess?
McManus: No, no. To be honest with you when I first read the premise of the show, before I even read the pilot, I was really gunning to know what is real and what is a dream. But now, I’m so invested in all of the characters that I don’t really care to know.
Playboy.com: Tara’s a complete reversal of the character you played on Law & Order SVU…
McManus: Oh wow, yes! It’s a very, very, different role.
Playboy.com: First, CSI: NY, then you played an Assistant DA in Law & Order SVU; DA in Hawaii Five-O; and now the crime thriller Awake. What keeps pulling you back to these crime shows? Are you sure you weren’t meant to be a cop?
McManus: That’s a good question! I’m just drawn to complex characters where there’s a lot for me to play with. I think all of the roles have been different, but equally challenging.
Playboy.com: You don’t prefer being the hard-ass versus the sweet girl?
McManus: No! [Laughs] But it’s refreshing playing Tara because I feel like I can relate to her a lot more.
Playboy.com: No yelling, crazy crime drama…
McManus: No, I’m not really a cold bitch in real life. At least I hope not!
Playboy.com: What do you have coming up? You’re in your brothers’ film Funeral Kings, which is premiering at South by Southwest.
McManus: Yes! I have a small part in that. So I’m going to go to the festival next weekend and check it out with my brothers and parents. I’m excited because I’ve never been to Austin. Then it’s back to LA to see what’s next!
Playboy.com: Do you have a dream role?
McManus: Yes I do. It would be to play Maggie in House with the Fallen Roof. One day, I’d like to get back on stage – that’s my dream role.
Playboy.com: When was your first time reading Playboy?
McManus: I don’t know if you’ll hate me for saying this but I’ve never read it! Growing up in such a Catholic home the closest thing to Playboy I saw was my brother tearing out the lingerie ads in the Sunday newspaper!
AWAKE airs on NBC Thursdays 10/9c. Follow her on Twitter: @MichaelaMcManus