“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” Oscar Wilde
Special thanks to the boys behind Bootsy Bellows at the H.Wood Group for providing the space for this magical moment to happen!
First impressions are supremely important, they literally define how a person will regard you for the rest of your life. And it isn’t very often that the first impression I have of a person is how genuine and passionate they are. Yet those words sum up Katherine McNamara perfectly. She is one of those rare individuals who truly knows what she is meant to do in life and is following that path without hesitation.
From her days in New York starring in a Broadway musical, to kicking demonic ass on the hit series “Shadowhunters” on Freeform, to having to run through the desert with a gun in “Maze Runner”, Katherine displays a zest for a life that can be infectious as I learned from our time together on set. From the moment Katherine walks into the LA nightclub Bootsy Bellows where we shooting the editorial, she lights up the whole atmosphere. Together with photographer Hennadiy Kvasov, I wanted to create the story of a young starlet like Katherine coming of age in Hollywood in midst of all the glitz and glamour, trying to find her own unique voice.
Katherine McNamara, A Touch of Destiny
Justin Howard – I am here with the fabulous Katherine McNamara, also known as ‘Kit Kat.’ Let’s get started. Acting, when did this bug bite you?
Katherine McNamara – No, not at all. I never intended to become an actor when I was a little kid. It was never something I knew about. It was not something I even knew how to do. I wanted to go into finance. I wanted to be the CFO of a company, I wanted to run my own company at some point. I wanted to be a financial advisor or an economist.
It all started when I ran into a family friend one day who was a directing a community theater production and needed a dancer. And since I have been dancing my whole life, as a hobby I thought, why not try something new over the summer with my friends. I fell in love…
I will never forget the first moment I stepped on stage for opening night. I felt that energy between the audience and the actors on stage. The whole breath, energy and light that the production brought. It hit me like a brick wall. I knew this was what I had to do for the rest of my life. I realized this was what I put on this earth to do. Even though this happened to me at a young age, it was crystal clear. And I have never looked back.
Justin Howard – Describe for that magical moment on stage, when you awake to your destiny.
Katherine McNamara – It is very interesting. You know it is that split second realization within yourself. Suddenly everything is clear and you just go “Wait a minute. This is it! This is what I have to do for the rest of my life.” Not simply or only what I want to do, what I ‘have’ to do for the rest of my life. I can’t even really describe it other then that. It has always been clear from that moment.
Justin Howard – It seems like a moment of destiny.
Katherine McNamara – It really was. Honestly, I am really happy I found what I wanted to do at a youngish age. I was 11 or 12 at the time. To know what I wanted out of life and to know what I was meant to do with the rest of my life at that moment was really beneficial.
Justin Howard – That sounds like a pure moment of clarity. Most people search their whole lives and never find it.
Katherine McNamara – That is true.
Justin Howard – How did you end up in LA? Because I have the feeling that will be a fun story.
Katherine McNamara – Yeah! So I ended up in New York first, working on a Broadway show. Then the show closed.
Justin Howard – What show was it?
Katherine McNamara – It was “A Little Night Music.” Amazing, best year of my life. After the show closed I started auditioning for film and TV. I ended up booking a pilot for a Disney show. I ended up coming out to LA to film the Disney show pilot for a few months and five years later I am still living here. Everything in my career and life as happened just by taking a chance, and going with the flow. Seeing where everything will take me.
Justin Howard – Let’s backtrack a little bit. Because Broadway is, well, Broadway… Tell me how you got into that.
Katherine McNamara – So in Kansas City, there is an amazing theater community. A lot of who I am as an artist, I owe to the work ethic and the amazing artists there. They sort of raised me artistically, if you will, within that theater community. Sometimes they bring in actors from New York to play roles at certain theaters to bring in the audience. I ended up working with a woman who went on to “A Little Night Music” right after we worked together. The production ended up needing an immediate replacement in the show for one of the girls. So this woman mentioned she has just worked with this girl in Kansas City, and that they should call me. So I get a random phone call, saying “Hey, there is an audition for a Broadway show in New York for you in two days if you want it.”
I had never been to New York before, I had never done anything on that scale, before, but I figured why not. Why not go for the experience and opportunity. I mean, who needs an excuse to go to New York and see a great city?
So I go to New York two days later and did the audition. Four hours after that I was in the call back, and less than an hour later I am at La Guardia Airport getting ready to fly home. At the airport, I get this phone call, “Hey, congratulations! You booked this part. Be back in New York in a week, ready to stay for six months or more.” I never thought I would leave Kansas City, but in that moment my entire life changed. I packed my bags, and moved to New York. I stayed there and did the show for a year.
Justin Howard – Let’s talk about New York. It is such a magical place.
Katherine McNamara – New York is amazing!
Justin Howard – What were your favorite things to do in New York?
Katherine McNamara – My favorite thing to do in New York was to go see theater. Just because there is so much variety and so much great art happening there. I lived a couple blocks from the theater in which I worked. I was right in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen and the theater district. I was 14, when I moved to New York. Moving from Kansas to New York at 14 was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It completely opened my eyes to the rest of the world. To all these influences culturally and artistically. It changed me and shaped me as a human being in a way that I think was very interesting and exactly what I needed.
Justin Howard – I like this! You really have this whole destiny seemly unfolding right before you.
Katherine McNamara – You know, I am a firm believer that all things happen for a reason. If you allow it (and yes there is free will and the rest of it) but if you sort of allow things to happen in the way they are meant to, then they work out for the better.
Justin Howard – Which city do you like better, New York or Los Angeles?
Katherine McNamara – I love LA. But the lifestyle in New York and the energy of that city, I thrive on it. I love New York, it is my hope and dream to move back there some day.
Justin Howard – New York, if you are listening, she wants to do another Broadway play.
Katherine McNamara – Yes, please! Yes, please! I volunteer as tribute. Yes!
Justin Howard – I love that little reference from “Hunger Games,” my friend Victoria will be tickled.
Katherine McNamara – I think I use that phrase too much. But it just feels right to say it.
Justin Howard – Right now you are on a hit show, “Shadowhunters.” You are in the second season right now which has gotten rave reviews and a great response from the fans. Talk to me about that, how are you liking the role?
Katherine McNamara – The role in “Shadowhunters” is amazing -a dream come true really. The fandom is credible as the show is somewhat based on the book series that has such a huge following and it means a lot to so many people. This story in particular because it has such a diverse cast of characters and such diversity in those relationships as well. The series has taken on a life of its own. In talking to the fans, that is something I have learned. They attached to the story and they deeply relate to it. Even though it is a supernatural story, the humanity of these characters really shines through and it becomes a relatable thing for them. When we are taking it to a TV series, our main goal is to pay homage to the original work and to put it on the screen in a way that gives it a new perspective and a new life. A new interpretation but still having all the elements of the original work that people love and respond to. I believe the writers have been able to do that. They have been able to strike a nice balance of keeping alive the originality, the themes and the characters that people love while putting it in this raw edgy dark light that Freeform allows us to do. It has kinda become the best of both worlds.
Justin Howard – How did you land the role?
Katherine McNamara – The audition process for Clary was a long one and understandably so. It is these characters that carry the story. It is these characters that draw people in and what gives the story its heart.
Clary becomes the catalyst for the entire story. She is the cog which everything rotates around and they wanted to be sure they found the person who would show their vision best. I had ten auditions total, four screen tests, two chemistry tests and a bunch of a different auditions in between. It was a really amazing process to be about of simply because Dom was cast. Dom (Dominic Sherwood) was cast as Jace – he and I had been friends for a while before the show. When I originally read the script I thought to myself, Dom would be perfect for this role. Naturally when he ended up getting cast in the part, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest.
Everyone whom they cast brings such life to their roles. Walking into the screen tests knowing that I knew someone already, the ice was already broken. Immediately the roles just came to life between all of us. Alberto Rosende who plays Simon and Emeraude Toubia who plays Isabelle, the three of us were all in the same round of the auditions process. We spent hours in waiting rooms together, cracking jokes and creating the chemistry together already. To come out on the other side of it all being cast, created this camaraderie already. We had spent all these hours together.
Justin Howard – It sounds like you all went through boot camp in the waiting room together.
Katherine McNamara – We did. We went through boot camp, waiting room boot camp which is a whole thing in and of itself. McG, who is one of the executive producers on the show, directed the first episode, so he was heavily part of the casting process. They really fostered each one of us in these roles and really helped us to craft them even as we were at the beginning stages of this project. That is something where having someone like McG working on the pilot was indispensable because he has such an energy and a passion for the project. He has impressive ideas, and really blows them up to the tenth degree. Everybody who is working on the show has such heart in it, a lot invested into it. It just creates this family through which we can create this show. Not only is everybody freakishly talented who is working on the show, but everyone cares about it. From wardrobe, to hair, to props, to set design and production design. The fact that everyone has such passion for the show elevates everyone’s performance to create something truly special.
Justin Howard – Your character is the catalyst that everyone else crystallizes around. In the books she is a complex character. She goes through a rite of passage and a loss of innocence. On the show, she comes out being a little bit more dark in a sense.
Katherine McNamara – From the beginning they have aged up the characters. In the books they are 16, in the TV series they are 18. They have Clary starting art school. They have taken them out of the high school setting and put it in a more adult world. Which I think works really well for the show and for Freeform. It opens up the audience beyond high school viewership and yet keeps it open for adults and kids.
It brings everyone into this world. When you graduate high school and you are starting off in the world, going to college, getting a job or whatever, it is that you are living a new chapter for your life, and that is what this story becomes for Clary whether or not she knows it.
That is something that makes Clary’s character so relatable. Throughout this whole process she is trying to figure out who she is and where her place is in this world. Then suddenly everything she thought she knew about her life goes up in smoke.
Justin Howard – It is all an illusion.
Katherine McNamara – Yes, it is all an illusion. In the first two episodes she is literally reduced to nothing and has to find a way to rise above the ashes and become this warrior, this soldier. It is an incredible journey. That is something I find so interesting about this story, is that each one of the characters has their own journey, their own period of growth. That is what gives our story such longevity. Each one of these characters starts in a place where they fit into a box, or they fit into a type. Or so it would seem. Yet they get put into these situations that push them out of their comfort zones and you learn more about them through out the series. You see that none of them are what they seem. It makes it so real and true to life.
Justin Howard – Every person alive is not just one thing, we all have multiple aspects to us that come out at different times.
Katherine McNamara – Exactly.
Justin Howard – In your own life, you have felt the call to action, the touch of destiny. You knew where you wanted to go and you have been on a trajectory. You experienced amazing adventures so far as part of that journey. Your character is on this crash course. What part of the role did you connect with right away? What part of your own life gave you a deeper understanding of the character?
Katherine McNamara – Clary has this intense passion for everything she does and, on the other side, she has this intense loyalty and love for the people she cares about. Those two qualities melt together to create this strength within her. No matter what she does or what situation she is thrust into, she dives into the deep end head first to do whatever she needs to do to save the people she loves. That can be a benefit but it also becomes her flaw. Her mother is kidnapped in the first episode, so for the rest of the season her quest is to get her mother back. Through that she makes sacrifices, she makes mistakes and she makes choices that aren’t hers to make. She hurts the people she loves even though it was never her intention. Not only does she have to get her mother back, she has to learn how to forgive herself and how to ask for forgiveness. How to make mistakes, to recover from them and how to make up for them. She grows up a lot in the first season. That has been very synonymous with my own life with this whole undertaking. I feel like I have grown along with her. Having a character I can grow with and grow into is the best thing I can ask for right now.
Justin Howard – I like that. You are mirroring her journey through your own.
Katherine McNamara – It is very similar. I have been placed in this TV series, Clary has been placed in the middle of this war and a lot is resting on our shoulders. We both are along for the journey.
Justin Howard – You guys are in Season Two now…
Katherine McNamara – Yes! So much is happening. We left Season One in a huge cliffhanger, Jace potentially went to the dark side, Clary’s mother is awake. Lots of things are going on, Valentine is on the warpath and so is Clary. It has been a very interesting turn of events, a role reversal between the characters. Jace has been so sure of himself for the whole series until now. Everything he is and everything he has known has been so concrete. The very fact that he found out the enemy, Valentine, was his father, has completely obliterated all that. To find out that Clary, the girl he was falling in love with, is his sister, has destroyed everything he thought he knew about his world and who he was as a Shadowhunter, as a person. He is thrown into this dark spiral.
Where as Clary was thrown into that dark spiral at the beginning of the series, and has been recovering from that the whole series. Now she has cemented herself in the shadow world. She is learning who she is and where she belongs. Now she is sure of herself in that. Their roles have completely reversed. I can’t wait to see how that plays out in their relationship, now that Clary and Jace are brother and sister. Whose arms is Clary going to fall into now? We don’t know. Is she going to fall for Simon? Is she going to fall for somebody else? We will have to wait and see… There is so much we have to explore with all the characters.
Justin Howard – You and the whole cast celebrated the successful end of Season One by getting the tattoos…
Katherine McNamara – We did!
Justin Howard – Well, don’t hold back. Tell me about that whole adventure from start to finish.
Katherine McNamara – It was something we did at the wrap party. It was a wrap party adventure. For all of us, the runes on the show had become a part of who we are. We were on location, we had spent six months together, seeing each other every day. Training together, working together, pouring blood, sweat and tears into this show. The runes had become a very personal thing for us. They are these markings that give Shadowhunters their power. There is something about wearing something on your skin everyday even if it is temporary. It becomes part of you and part of your identity in a way. I had been toying with the idea of getting a tattoo for a while. This one just seemed right. The tattoo that we all got is the angelic rune, which is not only the symbol for the show but it also stands for an angelic blessing and it is a symbol of strength. It was all-encompassing for what that season meant and what the show is to all of us. It is a way to bond with together as a family one more time. We didn’t know at the time if we had a season two. We didn’t know if the show was going any further. We had become family. For us there was no better way to show that.
Justin Howard – I am almost in tears. I love that. Aside from “Shadowhunters,” you were cast in “The Maze Runner” film series as Sonya. Can you talk about it?
Katherine McNamara – “Maze Runner” is one of my favorite stories. Dylan O’Brien I knew from back in the MTV days. I am such a huge fan of him personally, I have such respect for his work. Being on set with him, as we shot the second film in the “Maze Runner” series before “Shadowhunters,” was my boot camp for the young adult science fiction world. I was thrown into this, and “Maze Runner” is a lot different than “Shadowhunters.” It is more set in science fiction than fantasy. It is grittier, and much more raw even in the way we shoot it. In “Shadowhunters” everything is choreographed, and very fluid. It is meant to look very graceful and angelic. In “Maze Runner,” they stick you in a desert, hand you a gun and say “Alright, kids now run!” There is no blocking, because they want it to be natural. That is why these films come across in such a gritty, natural real way.
Justin Howard – Because it is natural in a sense?
Katherine McNamara – It is beautiful because of the way Wes shoots. He has cameras going all the time. Wes is brilliant. The “Maze Runner”
movies are his baby. It is the greatest thing in the world to watch him work because he has such a vision for it. He is constantly shooting things and you never know if the camera is on you or on somebody else.
All of us are always in it. We just get immersed in this world and it is very easy to step into it. To feel all these things these characters are experiencing because most of the time you are actually experiencing them. It was such a great thing to watch all the actors in that, to learn from it, and to be part of that family. It is another cast where we all get along and everyone spends time together on and off set. We all look out for each other. We are a family. That chemistry you see on screen is the same chemistry that everybody has off screen. That is a fun role for me to do, because I had never done anything that was pure bad ass. This girl, Sonya, was from another maze and had escaped and joined the rebel alliance called the ‘Right Arm.’ She has been living in the wildness for a couple years now and has seen it all. She has watched her friends die. She has watched the people she loves be ripped away from her. She refused to stand for that. That is why she is part of this alliance. She is ready to fight back.
Justin Howard – Silly questions time, favorite designer?
Katherine McNamara – I love Alice & Olivia. Marc Jacobs is another designer I am always in love with. They are both young and feminine with an edgy feel to them. I love that there is a level of class and elegance to it, but there is an element that heightens the fashion just enough. So it is still wearable, with an element of art to it. Other designers include Red Valentino, Christian Siriano, Ted Baker, and All Saints.
Justin Howard – What’s your ‘can’t live without’ fashion piece?
Katherine McNamara – I love a good leather jacket. I have my favorite leather jacket that I take everywhere. It is my go to if I need something warm, if I need an extra element. It is something I looked for for three years till I found my favorite one. I will never let it go. It is a pebbled leather.
Justin Howard – One thing that is always in your purse?
Katherine McNamara – The cast on “Shadowhunters” always calls me “Grandma” because I always have those Listerine pocket strips. I always carry those with me. They are in my pocket on set, they are in my purse.
They call me “Grandma” because I have the purse that has cough drops, hand lotion, pony tail holders and a phone charger. Everything that anyone needs.
Justin Howard – Wait.. Does that make you “Kit Kat Grandma?”
Katherine McNamara – Yeah, they call me “Grandma.” It is great, but you know when they want fresh breath they come to me. You know when you are working seventeen hour days it is always good to have them on you.
Justin Howard – Last item, is there anything you want to say?
Katherine McNamara – Keep watching Season Two of “Shadowhunters” on Freeform. We have taken all the great elements of the show, reviewed the fan responses, saw what worked and what didn’t, and we took the dial and turned it up to eleven. I am working on music right now. I will be putting up an EP shortly so stay tuned!