Katherine McNamara has been acting professionally in television, film, and on stage for over five years. Her credits include Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails and The Fosters. She currently stars as the fiery redhead Clary in Freeform’s new hit TV series Shadowhunters, based off the New York Times best-selling series The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare. All this while graduating high school at age 14, earning a college degree with honors at age 17, and working on her masters in applied economics.
Novel2Screen is as excited as Simon when Luke dropped the Clary/Jace bomb on him in the last episode to provide fans this exclusive interview with Katherine. Read below to find out more about Tuesday night’s season finale, secrets of Season 2, and why Clary and the Shadowhunter world is safe in Katherine McNamara’s hands – and how she’s working to save our world too.
CHRIS: Shadowhunters has kept fans on their toes by changing up some of the storylines. Are there any twists that will surprise viewers next week?
KATHERINE: There are so many twists coming in the finale. The rest of the season we had a lot of surprises. We’re off the book, and audiences really responded to that in a great way because it keeps everyone interested. Whether they’re new fans or whether they’re fans of the book who know every line, we like to keep it interesting for everyone because part of the thrill of the story is that there are twists. So our finale is no different. We like to say we have some Game of Thrones level shocks and twists and definitely a lot of intensity in this episode.
CHRIS: Was there a scene or image in the book that you pictured in your head one way, but when you went to shoot, it was realized on set differently and actually turned out better than how you imagined?
KATHERINE: Actually, yeah, there were a couple. One of which was the memory demon because it went through so many incarnations of what the memory demon was actually going to look like on set, simply because they were trying to figure it out and we were trying it one way on set and another way when we were in the table read and it kept changing. When I read the book it was almost, I don’t know, [laughing] maybe it’s because I watched too much Scooby-Doo as a kid, but I envisioned almost this Scooby-Doo-style ghoul, but with the way they created it on screen in Shadowhunters, it became so much more.* It was a force of nature in and of itself. And it really added to the intensity and shock of it all.
CHRIS: One thing I love about Shadowhunters is how diverse the cast is. Isaiah Mustafa is a wonderful Luke, who wasn’t written African-American in the books. Emeraude [Toubia] is half Mexican/half Lebanese. And there’s Alberto [Rosende] and David [Castro]. With all the #OscarsSoWhite buzz this year, do you feel like there is more diversity on TV than in features at the moment?
KATHERINE: I think that diversity is such an important thing. I feel so fortunate to be on a show that understands that importance. I do think it is something that needs to be discussed, but I don’t think it has ever been an intentional exclusion. As this new generation coming to Hollywood and in television, I’m overjoyed to be part of a show that’s aware of what it can add to the story and the different elements and different perspectives that it can give, just like casting someone with a different ethnicity. Yes, Alberto and Emeraude weren’t written as ethnic, but in casting diverse actors in these roles, it brings interest and more relatability to the show. Honestly, it is a more accurate portrayal of reality as we know it. Ideally, I hope in the future this trend will continue and diversity will no longer be a point of contention but just something normal that almost isn’t discussed anymore because it’s become the norm.
CHRIS: After reading the novel during the audition process, was there a scene from City of Bones you were really looking forward to shooting?
KATHERINE: All of them. There were a few in particular. The City of Bones I was looking forward to because it is such a turning point for Clary and such a moment that changes everything. She really has to make a choice whether or not to put herself on the line. As we said in the show and is portrayed in the books, she has a 50/50 percent chance she’s going to die simply by undergoing the interrogation by the Silent Brothers. Another part I was very excited to shoot was Renwick – the whole battle at Renwick between the werewolves and the Shadowhunters and the Circle members and Valentine, the whole sibling reveal. Again it is another turning point and another moment where the rug is pulled out from underneath all the characters. Something that I love so much about Shadowhunters is the growth of each of the characters, and that’s why this story is so relatable because each of the characters has such a journey to go on. Everyone loves these characters for who they become in the six books – for the strong Clary, the warrior that she becomes, and Isabelle with heart, and the vampire mojo Simon, and Alec who has accepted who he is, and Jace who’s accepted his vulnerability, and Magnus showing his cracks. What fans of the books don’t always realize is that we have to set up these characters at the beginning of their journey when they’re still making mistakes and when they’re not fully developed into these characters that we love.
Starting off the series it was a little nerve-wracking for all of us, especially for me because Clary starts right off the bat cut down to nothing and is pretty weak. But the reason we did that is because you have to have that weakness and vulnerability so there’s room for growth, room to build, and for her to go on this journey to become the Clary that everyone loves. I feel like we’ve started to see that and scratched the tip of the iceberg in the first season, especially in these last couple episodes because she’s really leaned on Jace and he’s been the strong one. He’s been the one who’s confident in who he is throughout the entire season. Now that’s he’s found out that Valentine is his father he’s sort of beginning to doubt everything he’s known his whole life and even his own self and where his loyalties lie. Whereas Clary is finally coming into her own and really finding her place in the world and establishing better relationships with Isabelle and with Alec and with Luke and Magnus and all these people that surround her in this new world. The role reversal there is very interesting, where Clary becomes the one who’s confident in who she is and Jace is starting to question things and falter a little bit.
CHRIS: I loved that last scene between you and Dominic Sherwood [Jace] when you presented him with Jocelyn’s box.
KATHERINE: That scene actually continues into the next episode. Where that scene ends is where the next episode picks up.
CHRIS: I don’t know if you’ll be able to answer this question, but what was more exciting: landing the role of Clary and finding out you got picked up for Season 2?
KATHERINE: Honestly, I think finding out about Season 2. I found out I was cast as Clary 10 minutes before the announcement on Twitter, and those 10 minutes were probably the scariest 10 minutes of my life because I was so excited, so speechless, and so honored to have this opportunity and yet then it hit me that the entirety of this fandom was about to find out that I’m playing Clary Fray. I’ve seen how fierce this fandom was and how passionate they were about this show. I was just hoping against hope that they would accept me taking on this role, and thankfully they were. But those 10 minutes were almost more scary than exciting.
Finding out we were getting picked up for Season 2 was probably the best news I’ve ever had simply because we had so much fun pouring our hearts and our souls into creating this show and bringing these characters and the story to life. We really gave ourselves over to it, and we care so much about it. To be part of a show with a group of talented, passionate, dedicated individuals who come together and elevate each other’s work and make a project that we’re all really proud of and we all really care about – it’s a real gift in this industry because that’s something that’s so rare and special. Getting to dive back in and continue that journey and continue the story with these people who have become family to me is just priceless.
CHRIS: Do you have an idea where Clary’s story and emotional arc will go in Season 2? And do you think we’re going to see any Simon and Clary shipping now that Jace is out of the picture?
KATHERINE: I had a few preliminary conversations with Ed [Decter], our showrunner and director, the amazing captain of our ship, and we’ve been bouncing ideas around. It will be interesting to see, because, like you said, now that Jace is somewhat out of the picture she has to find someone to turn to – and I can’t say anything more! But it will be very interesting to see who that is.
CHRIS: Is there anything you are most excited for with Season 2?
KATHERINE: I’m really excited to continue this journey because Clary really comes into her own in the last few episodes of this season. Once you see how the season ends it sets up perfectly for a season two and sets up many things we can play upon as the story continues. It’s going to be so exciting. I can’t wait to dive back in and see what the writers come up with because they are so great at adapting these stories and they’re so wonderful at adding new elements while allowing for our own unique expressions while staying true to the tonalities and themes and character traits that people love from the books.
CHRIS: When you met Cassandra [Clare], did she give you any insider tips that helped you develop your version of Clary?
KATHERINE: That’s something that I loved about this project, more so than a lot of others that I’ve done, because there is such a rich base coming from the books and then getting to ask Cassandra the questions that no one else had the answers to. It is so interesting to get to speak with her about her version of the story, what her intentions were, and in her mind who these people are and then taking that and applying it to my own interpretation.
CHRIS: Can you talk about your involvement with the charity GirlUp and how fans can take action?
KATHERINE: Absolutely! GirlUp is the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girls/women development organization. Their main goal is setting up platforms and opportunities for girls in developed countries to help out girls in developing countries. What I think makes GirlUp so special is that their programs look at the big picture of changing how girls are treated and the opportunities girls have all over the world, but the way in which they are doing it is that they are taking these small steps and setting up these programs that are simple and yet they make a direct difference in these girls’ lives and change things completely.
For example the first program I started working with was called SchoolCycle. You can go online to GirlUp.org and purchase a bicycle that is given to a girl. They pick a different country every year. Most girls from these countries have to stop going to school around age 15 because they can’t get to school safely, either because of the terrain or the places they have to go through or it is just too far to get there. So they are forced into child marriages, forced into harsh labor situations, and really lose out on the opportunity to choose what they want to do with their lives. In simply giving a girl a bicycle, it gives her the independence and the opportunity to choose what she wants to do with her life and to continue her education. It really changes their lives. As a young girl, I always wanted to make a real difference in the world, and I didn’t really know how to. That’s what GirlUp does. It gives girls all over the world the opportunity to make a difference and to stand up for their international counterparts. That’s something that I think is not only important for our generation to be aware of, but also to instill these values and awareness in future generations that can continue this trend. Because honestly, these problems are so widespread that it’s going to take a few generations for any real difference to be made.
CHRIS: OK, a few quick questions for Novel2Screen. Besides Shadowhunters, what’s your favorite adaptation of all time?
KATHERINE: I’m a huge fan of the Marvel movies. They bring to life certain elements of the comic books while still taking on their own interpretation as well. I think they’re very well done, and they cast impeccable actors. It’s the universe I hope to join someday.
CHRIS: Is there a novel that hasn’t been adapted that you want to see adapted?
KATHERINE: There’s a play by Tom Stoppard called Arcadia that is my favorite play of all time.
CHRIS: Thank you so much for chatting with me and sharing some insights into Tuesday night’s season finale!
KATHERINE: Thank you so much for being a fan and supporting our interpretation of the books! I’m just as big a fan of these books as anyone so it means so much to us that you have embraced the show and enjoy it.
* For the record, Novel2Screen does not believe someone can watch too much Scooby-Doo.
Be sure to watch the season finale of Shadowhunters Tuesday night at 9/8c on Freeform.
For more information or to donate to SchoolCycle, please visit www.GirlUp.org/SchoolCycle.
Featured image courtesy Ricky Middlesworth Photography.