Katherine McNamara Talks Dream Roles, Going To College, And Falling InLove With Acting
The powerful combination of beauty, brains and kindness makes Katherine McNamara one of Hollywood’s most delightful, young ingénues. In the last decade, this multitalented Midwesterner has won fans over starring in some of TV’s most popular shows.
You might have caught her in Jessie, Happyland, The Fosters, and of course, starring as Clary Fray on Freeform’s Shadowhunters. Fans also know Kat from the dystopian science fiction film series, Maze Runner.
InLove Magazine recently caught up with the actress, singer, songwriter and dancer, to talk about what she’s up to and where she sees herself headed in the future.
Sari: What first made you fall in love with acting?
Katherine McNamara: Part of it surprised me honestly. I initially wanted to be in finance. Growing up, I loved economics and I loved math, that was my dream. I was also a dancer as a hobby but never wanted it as a career. One summer, I ended up doing a community theatre show that a family friend was directing. I just fell in love with it. I will never forget the first moment that I stepped on stage: I walked on stage, I saw the energy in the audience and the lights, and something just clicked. I knew that this was something I was put on this Earth to do and that this was what I had to do for the rest of my life.
Sari: Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on or a character that was the most fun to play?
KM: Every character I play is so different because each project has so many different facets to it. It brings new challenges and new things to learn. On top of that, every character I create I put so much of myself into that it’s sort of like picking a favorite child. It becomes such a part of my life. I feel like I’ve been really lucky and have had a lot of interesting characters to play. Just taking Clary, for example, she’s a character that has grown so much over the time that we’ve seen her on-screen. There have been so many different things and qualities that I’ve had to learn, be it the physical qualities with the martial arts and the fighting, or the different emotional levels that come into play. It’s been really wonderful to get to push myself in so many different directions. That’s sort of been my whole goal with this career, to be a part of different genres and play as many different types of characters as possible. That’s what I love about being an actor; you get to live a million different lives.
Sari: What would be your dream role?
KM: That’s something I can’t really specifically identify. If I had quantified it, my dream role would be something that’s really challenging and something that really pushes me to do something unexpected. My favorite scripts that I read are the ones that scare me a little bit. The ones that I look at and go I’m not actually sure I can pull this off; because I know the day when I get in the room and get on set, I will rise to the challenge.
Sari: I also understand you received your high school diploma at 14 and then you graduated from Drexel. Now you’re studying at Johns Hopkins?
KM: Yeah, I got my bachelor’s degree in Business when I was 17 from Drexel and now I’m currently in a literature program at Johns Hopkins.
Sari: One of the craziest things about the show is that no one is safe. You never know what to expect. Who has been the hardest character for you to lose so far?
MA: Octavia has had to deal with loss since she was a child. The girl under the floor lost her mother, her first love Lincoln, and Ilian in the conclave. Loss is just a reality; in life and in our story.
Sari: Let’s get into some of your other TV work. What’s been your favorite guest appearance to-date?
MA: Supernatural was memorable. My character drowns in a toilet. Death by swirly! I know what toilet water tastes like. Who said show business was always glamorous? [Laughs].
Sari: You’re so good at portraying characters in both the fantasy and drama realm but you also toyed with comedy in I Love You, Beth Cooper. Do you see yourself doing more of that? Dipping into multiple genres?
MA: If the story is good and the character speaks to me, absolutely. Sometimes it’s nice to lighten up and do something that isn’t always covered in blood.
Sari: Tell me about the path you were on before booking your first role and how the journey of success has changed you?
MA: I didn’t exactly always want to be an actress. I went to college for Television Broadcast Journalism. I thought I wanted to tell stories for a living, yes, but I soon realized not those types of stories specifically. The news is important and I respect that, but for me, I found it quite depressing to tell mostly bad news from 9 to 5. I quit my job and backpacked Europe for a few months to get brave enough to move out of my hometown. I was at a gig and got noticed playing the drums by an agent. I started auditioning. I moved to L.A. eventually, slept in my Chrysler Intrepid for a few weeks and auditioned for The 100. The rest is history.
Sari: So, if you weren’t in the entertainment industry, what other careers could you see yourself doing?
KM: I would probably end up in developmental economics because that was my original idea before I discovered what acting was. I just always found it fascinating and it’s something I’ve always been passionate about. As far as my love goes currently, I’m not planning on straying. I am looking to branch out though. I am learning so much on different projects about directing and producing. I’d like to branch out into directing at some point.
Sari: I want to talk more about Shadowhunters and Maze Runner. Tell me a little bit about both of those projects, and how you balanced the two together?
KM: Maze Runner happened first. Right after I finished shooting, Shadowhunters came up and it was very gratuitous. The schedules just ended up working perfectly where I was able to do both projects. I have to credit both productions, because they were very kind in finding creative ways. I went straight from the wrap party of season two of Shadowhunters to South Africa for the third Maze Runner film. There were many instances of that where both productions really made it work, which I am very thankful for because both projects mean a lot to me. It’s interesting, when I did the second Maze Runner, I hadn’t done Shadowhunters yet and they welcomed me into their family immediately, which, coming in halfway through the second film in the series, is not always an easy thing to do. Moving onto Shadowhunters I got to be apart of a family from the beginning. We’ve been through so much together over the course of the last three seasons. Going back to shoot Maze Runner 3, those guys knew me before I was on Shadowhunters. To go back to that family a couple of years later and see that not much has changed, it really made me appreciate that I get to work with people who are genuine and passionate.
Sari: What would you say is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
KM: One of the first projects that I did away from home was a Broadway show called A Little Night Music. I worked with Angela Lansbury. Most of my scenes were with her and her granddaughter. I spent a lot of time in her dressing room hanging out and trying to take as much as knowledge from her as I could because she’s just a legend. One thing she said to me was: never forget what makes you different and never lose that. That is the reason you are who you are and if you lose that, you’ll lose track of everything. If you maintain that, you’ll always have a sense of yourself. That’s something that has stuck with me for years and I think always will.
Sari: What would you consider your three strongest characteristics to be?
KM: The first thing that I think anyone would say about me is that I am an optimist. I always try to look at the bright side. There are times in life when things don’t happen the way you expect and if you let yourself get bogged down in that, then there is no hope. There is no finding a solution because you’re so concerned about what went wrong. For me, that’s the way I try to move forward in life. The second thing is that I’m a perpetual student. I’m always trying to learn something. I’m always trying to grow in different ways, in different aspects of my life, whether it’s in fitness or in learning a new skill, or a new subject or something. I feel like that’s what life is all about. If you’re not learning something, you’re stagnating. I think my third quality is loyalty. I am extremely loyal to my friends and my family, to the people I love, to the projects I work on. I’m loyal and honest. That sometimes is a very good thing and sometimes is a very difficult thing. It’s a quality that will serve me well I hope.
Sari: What do you see for the future?
KM: I have a lot of irons in the fire right now. I’m hoping to go back to music soon. I’m obviously looking to direct. I’m excited to find something else to do in the interim, over the hiatus in-between seasons. We’ll see what comes next. That’s the exciting thing about being an actor and about being the entertainment industry, is that there’s always something new. I never really know what’s on the horizon, but because of that, the possibilities are endless.
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