Katherine McNamara On Her Wildly Different Role In "The Stand," And Saying Goodbye To "Shadowhunters" And "Arrow"
"I really give my whole heart to the people that I love. I'm a stubborn optimist."
Katherine McNamara has taken on a lot of beloved TV roles in the last few years. From her work as Clary on Shadowhunters to playing Oliver and Felicity's daughter Mia on Arrow, she's brought some fandom favorite characters we love to life. Now, Katherine is starring as Julie Lawry on The Stand, a role that is wildly different from anything she's played in the past.
To celebrate The Stand, Katherine sat down with us to chat about everything — like the best piece of advice she got from Angela Lansbury while on Broadway, which Shadowhunters moment she's most proud of, the final days of filming Arrow, and how her role in The Stand came about. Here's everything we learned:
1. First, What's the last TV show you binge-watched?
Schitt's Creek. I feel like I was a little late to the party, but I just needed something lighter. I've been watching a lot of darker and more intense shows, and I just needed to laugh and I needed something fun. I'm absolutely in love with that show.
2. Which emoji do you use the most?
[laughing] So, after doing Shadowhunters, and being around the guys for so long, especially via texting, I feel like I tell a lot of unabashed dirty jokes. So, I feel like I have to put the little smirk face (😏) to just make sure people know that it's a pun or a joke. It just sets the tone.
3. What's your favorite movie of all time?
Okay, I have three. Gilda with Rita Hayworth, The Princess Bride, and The Usual Suspects.
4. Is there a movie or TV show that made you want to become an actor?
I used to watch a lot of old Hollywood movies as a kid, and one of the ones I remember the most was Funny Face. It was the one movie that Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire did together. I was a dancer growing up, so I just loved it. It captured the magic of Paris. I didn't quite know I wanted to be an actor when I first saw it, but there was something about that movie that, retrospectively, I think really influenced me in a lot of ways.
5. What's a role people would be surprised to find out you auditioned for?
I was almost Fiona in The Giver a few years ago. I was the second choice and we didn't know for a long time [if I would get it or not]. That was one of my favorite books growing up as a kid. I actually had to choose between flying to New York for a final callback for a Broadway show and flying to LA for that final callback. I was on my layover, I think I was somewhere in Texas, and I had to stop and make a choice. I ended up flying back to LA. I just loved that book so much I had to give it a go.
6. What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
There's two. My mom found this quote once, and it turns out to be an Einstein quote, "What is popular is not always right. What is right is not always popular." That's something that I didn't really know what it meant when I first saw it, but then as I grew up and went into my teen years, it really took on a lot more meaning.
The other piece of advice was from Angela Lansbury, who I worked with on Broadway. I just remember asking her, "What advice would you have for a young person like me who's just coming into this and getting started?" And she turned to me and goes, "Never lose that little spark that makes you different, and makes you an individual, because in this industry, and in this world, everybody's going to try and put everybody else into a category. But there's a reason you're here and it's because there's something about you that's different." That's true for every one of us. I think it's true no matter whether you're in entertainment or any other industry.
7. If you could invite three people — living or dead — to a dinner party, who would they be?
Elaine Stritch, first of all. I also worked with her when I was on Broadway and she taught me so much then, but I feel like, 10 years later, I would have so many more questions for her. She had the best stories. I would also say Alexander Hamilton because I want to ask him about what he thinks of the musical and because when I was younger I wanted to be an economist when I grew up. And my third person would be Sidney Lumet because I just love his book Making Movies and I just want to pick his brain about directing.
8. What is your wildest fan story?
It's the wildest and kind of the sweetest story as well. We were in, I believe it was Belgium, doing one of the Shadowhunters fan conventions. It was the closing ceremony, so we all went up on stage to just thank everybody for being there. Suddenly, the lights went down and all of the attendees pulled out these red heart balloons, and started singing the Shadowhunters theme song. Immediately, all of us just burst into tears because they had taken the time to organize and surprise us with something. It was just the sweetest, most moving moment when everybody came together as a community. I remember I was hugging Jade [Hassouné] (who played Meliorn) and we were both crying.
BuzzFeed: I'm always so impressed and in awe when something like that happens at a convention because the time and effort it must've taken to let everybody in the audience know what's going on is astounding.
I know, and these kids — I call them kids, because I feel like they're my kids — they're from all over the world and they've come together for just this weekend. They had all of the balloons like stuffed under their chairs, and they were just waiting so patiently. Then, all of a sudden, it just happened and it really just shows you what the Shadow Fam is all about.
9. What's your favorite musical of all time?
Oooh, that's such a tough question. I would have to say it's a tie because of my nostalgia with both of them. It's between Into the Woods and Hamilton.
BuzzFeed: Have you seen both on Broadway?
I didn't see Into the Woods on Broadway, but there was an amazing production with a lot of my friends in it when I was in Kansas City. I went to see it probably five or six times.
10. What's your favorite thing to cook?
Oatmeal butterscotch cookies. But I also make a great pot roast.
11. What's the one thing you can't live without?
Probably apples. Anybody who knows me knows that I can live on just apples and coffee.
BuzzFeed: Was that your go-to crafty snack on set?
Always. Particularly at like 3 a.m., a granny smith apple will wake you right up. Things you learn on the set of Shadowhunters.
12. Who have you been the most starstruck by?
I think it was during Season 1 of Shadowhunters and the Toronto Film Festival happens every year in downtown Toronto. It's the one time where those of us who are up in the frozen tundra shooting get to see the rest of Hollywood. I was standing at a party, and I look around and suddenly I notice there's Jessica Chastain in one corner, Amy Adams in another, and Nicole Kidman in another, and I thought, "I don't know where to look or what to do. I'm surrounded by all of these powerhouse gingers and I just love it."
Since then, I met Jessica through Isaiah Mustafa and the whole It Chapter Two thing, and she was amazing. I ran into Amy Adams one day in a shoe section of a store and I ended up having a conversation with her, and she was lovely. I've yet to meet Nicole Kidman though.
"I was standing at a party, and I look around and suddenly I notice there's Jessica Chastain in one corner, Amy Adams in another, and Nicole Kidman in another."
13. Who is your childhood celebrity crush?
I kind of waffled back and forth between Fred Astaire and, of course, Ryan Gosling in The Notebook. He just gripped my attention when I first saw that movie.
14. Do you ever go back and watch any of your previous work?
I've done it a few times. It's always an interesting experience watching my work back because I'm very Type A when it comes to my work and I always see room for improvement, which is a good thing because I've learned to temper it in a healthy way. I think the most fun I've had rewatching things is, for example, Shadowhunters fans during quarantine have been doing different rewatches and tweet-alongs. So I've gone on and kind of seen what people are saying, and going back and rewatching a show like that is fun because there are so many memories. We were such a family and still are, so it's really special.
15. What's the last book you read?
Clanlands by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish. It's so fun. I love the two of them dearly. It captured both of their personalities so beautifully. Also, The Alchemist. I had never read it somehow. Actually, Luke Baines gave it to me for my birthday a few years ago, and it was just wonderful.
16. What's your favorite Stephen King book?
I do love The Stand. It's always been one of my favorites. There's also something about the It book — and even the series of movies — that I love. I don't know, it explores the darker side of kids' imaginations in a very Alice in Wonderland way. But again, also being a young ginger girl, I always loved Carrie as well and I think that Sissy Spacek is iconic in that movie.
17. What was the audition process like for The Stand?
There was no audition process for me, actually. Josh Boone, who is one of the creators of this iteration of The Stand, we've been friends for years, [and] I remember, probably eight years ago, he said to me that he was developing this book. We've been talking for years about different parts and where hopefully I would be able to fit into it. The timing just worked out really wonderfully to be able to play a character that's so different than any that I've ever done before.
I'll tell you this, I didn't know that my hair was going to be pink until just a few days before. It was almost an aside, they sort of said, "Oh, by the way, we told you we're dyeing your hair pink, right?"
18. Do you have a favorite behind-the-scenes memory from filming The Stand?
I have so many and I have videos of a few of them, which is great. There was a lot of musical-ness going on behind the scenes. I think it's because when you're doing a project that is so intense and so heavy, you just need to goof off and laugh when you're not shooting.
So, in between takes, people brought their speakers to set and we would have dance parties and just kind of keep the spirits up. Also, there was one day on set when everyone was together, and I'll never forget Greg Kinnear and Nat Wolff ended up in our on-set delirium writing an entire song about the experience and the beginning of 2020. It was brilliant and one of my favorite memories.
BuzzFeed: Were you filming during quarantine at all? Or had you just wrapped filming?
We had just finished. When we were doing certain scenes, we were just hearing about this thing called the coronavirus, but we all didn't know much about it yet. There was that moment on set where we all kind of went, "Oh, this is oddly ironic. Shooting a story about an epidemic during a pandemic."
But, right after I wrapped on The Stand, I went to New York and went to shoot an indie film called Push with Matt Daddario, and we finished the day before New York City locked down. I got back to LA just when the whole world shut down.
19. Did you get to keep anything from the set of The Stand?
I think I still have a bottle of pink hair dye, but I think that's about it. I would like to have [kept more]. There are definitely pieces of Julie's wardrobe I loved. There's a certain red sequined cat suit that I really would like to get my hands on at some point.
20. Which of your characters has been the hardest to prepare for?
I think all of them have had their challenges in their own ways, and that's what I love about what I do. I get to be a chameleon and I get to play a million different characters and walk in a million different shoes. I would say, though, my character in The Stand, Julie Lawry, was a challenge in a new way, in that she's a person who's very different from who I am. In a lot of ways [it was] very uncomfortable for me as a person [to play her], given the language she uses and sort of her opinions about certain people.
You have to find a way, especially when you're playing a villain, through it to give you some human piece as well. I used her as a kind of a cautionary tale and an example of who not to be in this world. You know, that's something all of us are doing right now, we're reexamining our society and the way in which we speak and the things that are not okay, that have just become normal in our world, and Julie sort of serves as an example of something that's not okay. I'm hoping that people will look at her not as an example of condoning that behavior, but as an example of highlighting how absurd and horrible it is.
21. What aspects of Clary from Shadowhunters, Mia from Arrow, and even Julie from The Stand were you able to personally identify with?
As far as Clary, she has this undying sense of hope, and this loyalty to the people that she loves. She will literally do anything, risk anything, for them. While I've never been in such dire situations as Clary, I do the same thing, I really give my whole heart to the people that I love. I'm a stubborn optimist.
As far as Mia goes, she is a survivor, and she's a fighter, and she will not give up when it comes to anything, no matter how much work it takes. That's sort of akin to my own work ethic.
When it comes to Julie, there's not a lot that I relate to her on, but she loves a good pair of shoes, which I also love a good pair of shoes. She really does try to live life to the fullest and that's something that I aspire to do, not in the same way that she does, but in a much more productive and constructive way.
22. Looking back, which moment from Shadowhunters are you most proud of?
Oh goodness, there are so many. I'll say two. The season finale of Season 2, when we did the whole Lake Lyn bit with Clary killing Valentine and saving Jace. When I read the books, that was one of my favorite segments and I knew how much the fans cared about that because it's such an iconic piece in the book. I was so proud of all of us, from the crew to Dom [Sherwood] and Alan [Van Sprang] and myself, and everybody. We left it all in that mud pit. I remember getting home at 5 a.m. from shooting that scene and I literally could not stand up and shower because I was so exhausted. We'd been crying for like 16 hours and it just turned out to be such a beautiful, raw, emotional, and badass piece that I think served the book very well.
"Those tears are real. There was no acting in that scene."
Also, I was really proud of our series finale. I saw so many people, in every department, really pull out all the stops and experiment and push all of us to really give the show the last hurrah that it deserved. And we got to do the Malec wedding, which was just so wonderful. The very last scene that I ever shot for the show was Jace and Clary dancing, their two monologues, and then walking away for the last time. Those tears are real. There was no acting in that scene.
23. Do you remember what the last scene you filmed for Arrow was?
One of the last scenes I filmed was actually with Ben Lewis, who played my brother William, and it was the scene where the two of us are talking about the rock and looking up at the statue of our father. I love Ben so much. He'd been there since my first day on the Arrow set and he really is like my big brother. I adore him and I'm just so proud of him and everything he's doing.
But the last last scene I shot was actually a pickup [for the Arrow series finale]. It's the scene when Mia goes back to the future through the portal after being in 2020. She's standing there looking at her father's statue and then steps back through and kind of leaves it all behind. It was very interesting because I was the only cast member left on set and at that point we didn't really know the future for Mia, and Mia's very much in the same place. It's very bittersweet to get to shoot those scenes that are all too real at the very end of a process.
24. Have you ever caught somebody watching one of your TV shows or movies on a flight?
It happened once. I was on an international flight and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials had just come out. I was sitting next to somebody and I just happened to glance, and I saw they were watching the movie. It's just neat to see somebody enjoying a project that, you know, you have such warm feelings for.
25. What's a hobby you picked up or got back into during quarantine?
Other than organizing and reorganizing and reorganizing my house? I've been into trail running. I haven't had a traditional gym setting, so I've had to get really creative, but I'm sort of like a puppy in a lot of ways. Like, you know, socialize me, exercise me, feed me, and cuddle me, and I'm happy. I needed a little more exercise because I wasn't getting as much as normal and it's so great to explore Los Angeles.
26. What's something on your bucket list?
I want to climb Machu Picchu. It's one of the things I've been thinking about for years and I love hiking and I love travel. It's just an experience that, I don't know why, but I've been drawn to it for a very long time. I've been a hiker my whole life too. I'm a mountain girl. I feel very at home in the mountains. It's kind of my happy place.
27. And finally, what does your perfect day look like?
Out of quarantine, I would like to be in some foreign city somewhere in the world, wandering around with loved ones and a camera. Just experiencing. I think that's the thing I miss the most. And ending the day with a good meal and a glass of whiskey.