Exclusive interview: Katherine McNamara

Our team sat down for a phone interview with the always delightful Kat McNamara. Among other things, we discussed her views on Clary (Shadowhunters) and Maya (Arrow), her development as an actor, and future projects involving her many talents.

Taking you back to the very beginning, how did you getting the role of Clary come about?

So, it was a role as it is with actors. We get auditions and we go out to them: we go about looking for work in that way. Shadowhunters, initially, was just one of those [auditions]. But I knew, from the minute that I read the script, that this one was something special. I was familiar with it as a book series and I certainly knew it was very popular and that people loved the story, but I didn’t know much about it. So, I immediately went and found the books and started reading. As soon as I read the script, I knew this was going to be a really special project.

As things got down to it, there were various different chemistry-reads: I had a chemistry-read with Dom and a chemistry-read with Alberto. It was a very interesting process. You could tell that they were taking their time and really being meticulous about who exactly was going to play these characters. Which makes sense seeing that these characters are so essential to this story in particular.

I always say there is this funny memory that I have because they were very active on Twitter during this casting process and I knew I was one of the few girls left in consideration for Clary and I knew we were probably getting the news that day. Then, the Shadowhunters account tweeted that they were going to announce Clary in two hours. But, I haven’t heard anything so I assumed that it wasn’t me. That really sucked, but then I got a phone call from my manager saying to hang on because they hadn’t told anyone anything yet. “Hang tight.”

So, for the next two hours, I watched Twitter explode and #WhoIsClary trending. I saw all that stuff happening but I didn’t hear anything [from Freeform]. So, I told myself that I had to get this energy out somehow.  Ten minutes before the announcement was due, I got a phone call saying “Congratulations! You’re playing the role of Clary”.

How adorable is mundane Clary?

They hung up the phone and I was speechless. I had seen the activity on Twitter and it was kind of overwhelming but also I had this moment where it hit me: in ten minutes all of these people that are so passionate, that have opinions and care so much about this project are all going to know – all at once – that I’m playing Clary. I just sat there hoping and praying that the fandom approved [of me]. And I have to give credit for the fandom because I was given the warmest welcome. In fact, after the announcement, I couldn’t use my phone for about two or three hours because it was just constantly buzzing with tweets, instagrams, calls, and texts. My phone was just completely incapacitated. So, that’s about how that came to be. Surprise! Ready, set, go!

Clary has evolved a lot since the beginning of Season 1. How have you evolved since starting the show?

I am a completely different person. I always say that I grew up on the Shadowhunters set because I started the show when I was 19 and I’m coming out of it at 23. I was a teenager and now I’m already in my 20s. I’ve lived a lot, learned a lot, and I have done and seen so much. I’ve gotten the chance to travel to so many wonderful places and gained so many amazing friendships. It has brought so many wonderful people into my life.

But also, I have been surrounded by a cast and crew that are amazing artists and beautiful people. It really has allowed me to grow in many ways and have taught me so much. I look back on it and, at that time in a person’s life, it is so influential, so transitional to be surrounded by those people. I count myself incredibly lucky.

Clary was plunged into this whole new world with rules she doesn’t understand and alliances that seem to be always shifting. What’s your opinion on how she’s been handling the Shadow World? What do you think she’s done right and in what aspect do you think she still has a lot to learn?

It’s really interesting when I get these sorts of questions about a character because when you play a character you have to love them. You have to be on their side, and you have to put your own opinions aside in order to do that. The last thing you want to do is comment on your own character as you’re saying your lines.

With Clary, I don’t think she gets enough credit because she always has the best of intentions. She always sets herself forward – well, not always: most of the time – with the intention of doing the right thing, doing something for the greater good or for someone that she loves. That sort of pure hope and good intention is beautiful and it’s something that, in a world were demons and angels are warring constantly, it’s a beautiful source of light.

Also, she is young. She doesn’t understand that sometimes there are greater consequences for the greater good. Sometimes, there are better ways of going about doing things. I feel as though it would be helpful if she stopped and listened to some of the people around her who know a little bit more than she does and who are a little bit more experienced. But I wouldn’t change any of her strong-headed nature for the world.

Now, that’s a Shadowhunter!

Jace’s possession is now over but Clary has a demonic bound of her own. How will that affect their relationship going forward?

Aha! Well, Jace and Clary are in an interesting spot right now. Technically, I’m dead on the show. But also, the last interaction they had was Jace throwing her off the roof. I think that, ultimately, is going to affect Jace more than Clary. Yes, the love of her life said that he didn’t love her and threw her off a roof. But, at that moment, Clary is completely and utterly aware that Jace is possessed, that he is not himself. She doesn’t in any way fault or blame him or put any stoke in that. He was not in control of his own self so she can’t inherently blame Jace for that and neither does she.

I think that is going to weigh heavily on Jace and it’s going to present itself as an obstacle because Jace is the one who, because of Valentine and because of the person that he is, puts so much pressure on himself to be the perfect hero, the perfect soldier. To be that sort of selfless being. And he wasn’t at that moment, clearly.

But, moving forward, there’s only one person that can understand what Clary is going through and that’s Jace. So, as much as Jace and Jonathan are going to be an obstacle, they will also bring Jace and Clary closer together. It will be interesting to see because the things that have happened to Clary, particularly in that last episode, have forever changed her. She will not be the same person that she was ever before and we get to see a really different side of her in the next season.

How do you think Clary and Jonathan’s relationship would have been if they had been raised together?

It’s a very interesting “what if”. Jonathan clearly loves Clary and Clary clearly loves Jonathan. They are alike in so many ways. It would’ve been interesting if he had not had this demonic side to see how it would’ve turned out. But, even though we don’t have that “what if” in particular to explore, we do get to see Clary forced to confront the Morgenstern side of her, particularly in the relationship with her brother throughout the season. It’s very exciting.

I would’ve loved to see that. I think it would’ve been very akin to Alec and Isabelle’s relationship. There is certainly a bond that we see with Shadowhunters siblings. They live together, they work together, they fight together, they train together. They are partners in a lot of ways.

What was it like working with both Will Tudor and Luke Baines, who were essentially playing incarnations of the same person?

It was maybe one of my favorite experiences on Shadowhunters ever. When you’re working so closely with someone on characters that are so close and intertwined, you hope and pray that you can have a friendship with the actor playing the other character. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world because Will Tudor and Luke Baines are not only two of the best actors I know, but also two of my favorite people. Getting to work so closely with both of them on what may be my favorite character on the series was like the perfect dream come true scenario.

I have to give them both massive credit because Will took this character and set it up so beautifully. He created this really amazing, complex character. And then Luke comes in; Jonathan is reincarnated and he’s almost a different character in a sense. Luke was so wonderfully able to take what Will has done and built upon it. He changed it and really kind of morphosized it into something equally valid. It really allowed to glow through both of them. When you have a good villain, you have a great show. That is what both of them brought to this role.

Let’s get sharper!

At first, we thought Clary’s signature weapon was her parents’ daggers, but it turns out her real signature weapon are her especial runes. What would you say is yours?

I would say my signature weapon is my ability to be there as a support system for the people I love. There is nothing I love more than being able to – whether it’s something simple or complex – bake a batch of cookies or bring someone a coffee when they are down or even just be with them. To be there when someone needs to vent to, to answer the phone call and listen. To try to make them smile, make them feel better. Or even just make them feel special even if they are just fine. There’s something that brings me so much joy in finding that specific personal thing that is going to make someone that I love smile.

Congratulations on your Arrow debut! We loved seeing you kick ass in your first episode. What was it about Maya that appealed to you when you first read the script?

There is something that I absolutely love about this character. She is almost the antitheses of Clary. Coming off of a character that I loved playing so much, I wanted to make sure that my next job was something different.

Even though it’s a similar genre and a similar type of show, where Clary was the wide-eyed, hopeful beacon in this tough world, this new character [Maya] has been the product of a dark world and has been raised in it. She had to be a survivor from a very young age. That hope, that sort of glimmer of optimism doesn’t really exist in her. Maya is a “punch first, ask questions later” kind of gal and it’s really interesting. She’s also a little bit older. Whereas Shadowhunters is based in a world of magic and powers, Arrow is definitely based in a world of grit and reality, weapons and skill. It’s a very different role and a challenge. I’m really enjoying every minute of it.

Can you tease anything on your upcoming Arrow journey?

The only thing I can say is that, as the episodes go on, I just had the best time working with everyone. Now that we’ve done a few episodes, all of the relationships have really come to marinate nicely and you start to see different sides of all these people; some of which we know, some of which we don’t know. It’s really exciting to see how it all fits together.

Throughout your career you have played kickass women in Shadowhunters, Arrow and Maze Runner. Are there things you look out for in a character when deciding on what projects to take on?

I’m one of those actors that want to live a million different lives and be a million different people. In every genre, in every archetype, all I want to do it just to experience it, and to challenge myself, to see if I can figure it out. I don’t know why I’ve gotten into this pattern of playing kickass women. I’m not against it, I love it. I think it’s fantastic. I feel very lucky to have been put in this position because we’re in a time now where there are so many really interesting, complex, and different roles for women. It’s becoming a real asset to this industry.

I don’t necessarily look out for it when I’m creating a role. But what I always look out for when I’m auditioning for a role is to try and bring the inner strength, that core that we love seeing in female characters. It’s not always written that way but there is usually a way to manipulate situations that a character makes into highlighting that, into finding that side of a character. We all have that in us, and I find that more interesting for a character to be more complex and to have that strength even if we don’t see it. And that can come in so many different forms and so many different instances, so it’s always an interesting challenge to find what it is or where it is that a character finds her power.

Strength in numbers

Shadowhunters is full of strong women both on and off screen. What would your advice be to young girls trying to find their way in the world?

I would say: find what it is that makes you, you. What makes you happy. Find whatever it is that makes you feel most like yourself. Do that, be that. Each one of us has something that only we can provide to the world. If you look at all these characters, it is through that that these people find their strength.

Even if you look at Isabelle and Clary and Maia, for example. Clary, who finds her strength in doing something for the greater good and in fighting for the people she loves. You see Maia fighting her strength in fighting for justice for her people and for those who had been down previously. Isabelle finds her strength in fighting for her family and for what she thinks is right and good. They all do so in completely different ways and with completely different methods, and they are all completely, undoubtedly, undeniably kickass women. I would just say to young girls just find you. Go in search of that, go seek that. You will never ever regret it.

Jade announced he would be releasing some new music. Is this something we can expect to see from you in the future? We all loved Ember!

Thank you! It’s definitely on the agenda and it’s something I have every intention of pursuing. It’s just a matter of scheduling at this point. There was a point where I was going to release a bunch of songs on Halloween but then paperwork and timing; it didn’t end up working out. But there are things in the work. I was really floored and astonished by the response to Ember and it’s very encouraging moving forward. I just want to do it right and it just has to be put aside because I’m doing so many things.

You’ve also spoken about wanting to be a director. What would be your ideal project to direct?

That’s also in the works, actually. I’m currently looking for a story. I’m looking into either write or adapt or find a script to pursue in that. That is definitely something I want to do. I’ve never thought of it before but when I was working on Shadowhunters, I worked with so many different directors. So many of them mentioned to me that I had that perspective; the questions I asked were very much in the perspective of a director. The more I think about it, the more I pick people’s brains, it’s definitely something I have a perspective on. It’s definitely something that’s coming. I like to keep this close to my chest, but I’m very excited.

And finally, the support for Shadowhunters has been incredible post cancellation announcement. Do you have anything you’d like to say to the fans?

Just the biggest ‘thank you’ in the world. All of us were shocked by the news and taken by surprise. But the biggest comfort, the biggest encouragement, and the biggest gift that we’ve seen is that the Shadowhunters fandom really has rallied and proven itself as a bonified community. One that isn’t going anywhere no matter what happens to the show. Between the Trevor Project donations and many billboards all over the world, and even the support on social media itself, this many people who care so much about something all over the world from all walks of life come together actually make a difference and to make their voices heard it’s really beautiful. It’s something that should not be taken lightly in today’s world.

Something that I would love to say is the biggest thank you for the gift of watching the fandom grow. The sentiment existed before the show was even a glimmer in anyone’s eye. But I’ve had the privilege of having a front row seat at watching the fandom, meeting all of you, and seeing people make friends from all across the world and people find themselves and coming into their own. Seeing these incredible fan artists that have careers because they have been so encouraged and their work have been blasted and broadcasted wide across the Shadowhunters fandom to a place to where they are really able to make a go of it.

It’s the most beautiful thing in a world that is so divided to have a group that is so solidly unified together for something that is ultimately about love and acceptance. I will be here for and with all of you guys, always. No matter what.

Kat will come back for Season 3B (check out the teaser here), which premieres on February, 25th on Freeform in the US and February, 26th on Netflix worldwide.

Images courtesy of Freeform
  1. Morium

    I really loved watching shadowhunters and watch the fandom grow bigger and it was my favourite show to watch i will miss it a lot .

  2. Caterina

    Mi piace molto questa serie tv e voglio che continua e sto aspettando che arriva ultimo serie io o visto tutti i capitoli lo fatto almeno 3 di vederli tutti io ai love

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