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Interview: Arrow’s Katherine McNamara

by Charles Trapunski

Everyone has their dream interview and one of ours has been to chat with the brilliantly talented Katherine McNamara. Well our dream came true yesterday (getting to speak with her as an exclusive too!) as she gets set to recur on Arrow in the newly created role of street fighter Maya (a character that doesn’t appear in the comic books).

What’s amazing about McNamara, and what surprised me the most, is that I can’t think of a 23-year-old possessing her sense of composure and fortitude, qualities that will likely translate into an intriguing character on an already very popular series. The passionate Arrowverse and Shadowhunters’ respective fanbases are about to converge in a big way and share their adoration for the accomplished actress. (The final season of Shadowhunters is set to start airing on Monday February 25th, 2019 on Freeform and Netflix, and Monday, December 3rd on The CW and Space. Set your PVRs now!)

The following is a condensed and edited version of our exclusive interview with the transformative Katherine McNamara.

Brief Take: I thought that your winning speech at the E! People’s Choice Awards was so inspirational.

Katherine McNamara: Thank you so much! I really did want to take a moment to thank the people that put me there, which was the Shadowhunters fandom. It’s been such an amazing community that they’ve created for the last three years! I knew people cared about this story based on the book and I knew that it affected people, but I had no idea about the depth and the warmth and the love that would be created by this community.


BT: Everyone I have spoken to that is involved in the Shadowhunters production relays your warmth and kindness. You clearly set the tone on set. 

KM: Thank you. The feeling definitely is mutual. I sort of feel like I grew up on the Shadowhunters set and it was such an influential few years of my life, and I feel really lucky and really fortunate to have been surrounded by people that are not only amazing artists, but amazing human beings as well.

BT: Talk about an exciting trip, from Toronto for Shadowhunters to Vancouver for Arrow! What can you say about your arc on Arrow?

KM: I can’t say much, yet! And that’s probably the hardest part about joining the Arrow family, not being able to say anything. You know, there’s so much depth and richness to this character, and it’s soul food for my actor’s soul. Getting to join this new universe, Beth Schwartz, the new showrunner of the show, is really taking it back to its origins of being dark and gritty and truly pushing the limit, which is something Arrow has always done. Maya grew up in an environment that was very hard and very harsh and was forced to learn to simply survive, and she’s a product of that. So she’s very much a punch first, ask questions later kind of gal. [laughs] She’s certainly not one to be messed with or underestimated. So it’s exciting to be a part of this season.

BT: You have many tools in your actor’s arsenal. Is hand-to-hand combat one of them?

KM: Not before Shadowhunters! But when I came into the show, it was part of the process of it, and I was fortunate enough to be able to learn with my character in a sense. But we had some incredible stunt coordinators who took me from not knowing how to throw a punch or hold a sword, to being able to do about 95% of my fighting and stunts by the end of season 2. It’s been such a gift, and they’ve taught me so much about being a human and being a fighter. And I have the utmost gratitude and respect for them, and now getting to carry that on into Arrow is incredible. Now playing a boxer and someone who fights for a living basically, it’s a really fun thing.

BT: You are quite the world traveller and this extends to where you film as well. What’s been your favourite part about getting to travel everywhere?

KM: I learn so much every time I travel. You know, that’s my favourite thing about my job, I get to live a million different lives in a million different places. Something that I have gotten lucky with is that I have gotten to travel quite a bit, from South Africa to Bulgaria, and we shot a little bit of Shadowhunters in Paris this year. Travel, to me, you know I grew up in middle America, and getting to see different ways that life has lived and to talk to different people in different cultures and different countries, perspectives, it’s been so…I am a perpetual student, so it’s soul food for me.

BT: And yet you take the time to give back, such as your work with Girl Up, and I was wondering if you would tell me more about your charity work.

KM: Girl Up is definitely one of them, also I have recently become a part of Michelle Obama’s Global Girl Alliance, and both of those organizations really work toward encouraging young women in developed countries to reach out and help young women in developing countries. Those of us that are fortunate enough to have access to opportunity and education work hard to create opportunities for women who don’t have them. I was raised in a family of scientists and medical professionals, so education has always been very highly valued, and it’s always been a joy of mine as well. Learning, to me, has been presented at a really young age as a discovery and a method of expanding one’s horizons, not as a chore. One of my favourite things to do has been to learn, and school has always been joyous to me, so finding out as I got older that there were people in this world that wouldn’t get to experience this to the full extent of their desire, it’s something that I feel so passionate about working hard to try and change. Knowledge is the one thing that stays with you throughout your life, and I find this so valuable.

BT: What was the greatest piece of knowledge that you have gathered on set?

KM: I was fortunate enough early on to do a Broadway show (A Little Night Music) with Angela Lansbury and Elaine Stritch, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bernadette Peters, a few others, some really incredible women. Not only watching them be these leading ladies and inhabit these roles, but also to be in positions of leadership, when I was so young was really incredible to watch. Angela very much took me under her wing and taught me a lot of things, and one thing she told me that I’ll never forget is “You have to remember what it is that makes you unique and what makes you special and keep that with you, especially in this industry, because only you have that quality and that’s what has gotten you this far, and that’s what will carry you through”. You know, everyone tries to put all of us in a mould or in a box, or in a character archetype, and the more that we can hold on to whatever it is that makes us individual, that’s the biggest value. I’ve never been one to fit into a box. I’ve never been normal. I think that this is part of the reason why I love this life that I live, and that I am an actor, and I am a chameleon, because I am okay with the not knowing sometimes, and I’m okay with the questioning and I’m okay with being different. [laughs] I’ve just learned to accept it and learn to love it, and I try to encourage others to do the same.

BT: What would you like viewers to look out for on Arrow?

KM: Something that has been so great is seeing the Shadowhunters fandom and the Arrow fandom really come together in this strange amalgamation of worlds. [laughs] The characters are so different, and I think that is one thing that people will notice right off the bat, which is that where Clary was a beacon of hope and love and community for the Shadowhunters world, Maya is very much a realist and often a cynic in many aspects, and she doesn’t have much hope in her life. But who knows, maybe that will change. [giggles] There’s a lot to happen and a lot to dig into with this character, but moving forward, I hope to have the opportunity to play characters like these that are interesting, and keep growing and changing and learning. My favourite thing is when I read a script and it scares me a little bit, and I question whether or not I can actually accomplish it, because that’s a challenge and an opportunity for growth and learning, and that’s what I strive for in life.

BT: You act in television and movies and sing and dance, and do a lot of different media. Is this something that you would like to continue?

KM: Absolutely! I started in theatre, so I’m dying to go back to that. The Maze Runner films were so fantastic, so I would love to back to that as well. I’m dying to do a little indie film that’s just simple and about human relationships and has nothing to do with superpowers. [laughs] There’s so many things that I’m dying to do. That’s part of what I promised myself when I came into this industry – is that I wouldn’t put myself in a box, and continue to work in every medium, in every industry. After working on Shadowhunters, and working with so many different directors that come from diverse backgrounds and have so many different perspectives, that’s another thing that I am looking to dip my toe into. I’m putting the pieces together to direct a short, in my copious spare time, which is none. [laughs] But it will happen someday. It’s just another aspect of artistry in which I have something to say and I’d like to find my way to say it.

BT: You have something of a sphere of influence and you present a positive and uplifting message. What is something that you want to impart upon your fans?

KM: You’ve basically just stated my goal! [Laughs] To basically make good art and to do some good in the world as well. But just to your point, I’ve always loved quotes. My Mom put a quote on my wall as a little kid because she thought it might be useful, and of course, Mom’s always right. It’s an Albert Einstein quote that says “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right”. I didn’t quite understand it at first, but when I went through my teenage years and into my early twenties, it’s really taken on a myriad of meanings. I find that if you focus in your heart on what is true and right and good, for you and for the person that you want to be in the world, and the kind of world you want to see, you really can’t go wrong. Trust your gut and sense of moral direction, if you will.

BT: Happy belated birthday and Thanksgiving! What is something that you are thankful for?

KM: I’m a turkey baby, I’m a Thanksgiving baby, and every 11 years my birthday falls on Thanksgiving, so I’m often thinking about what I am thankful for. I’m just eternally grateful for the growth that every year brings. I think if you seek out opportunities to grow as a human being, whatever your passion is, whether that’s art or science or technology or some other aspect of the world, you really will find it. It takes a little bit of effort and putting that desire in the world to bring learning opportunities into your life. Be open to everything that comes your way.

Katherine McNamara (photo credit: Ryan Jerome)


Katherine McNamara’s first appearance on Arrow airs on Monday December 3 on The CW! Shadowhunters returns on Monday February 25. Read more about Kat on her Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, as well as on her IMDB Page. 

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Brief Take