Being Mia Smoak and Saying Goodbye to Clary Fray: A Conversation with Katherine McNamara
Katherine McNamara began her acting career on Broadway, appearing in A Little Night Music with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury. She began guest starring on television series including Drop Dead Diva and 30 Rock. McNamara has appeared in theatrical movies such as New Year’s Eve, and appeared in the Disney Channel original movie Girl vs. Monster playing the role of Myra Santelli. She co-starred in the film Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, playing the role of Tom’s girlfriend Becky Thatcher. McNamara also appeared in the independent films Contest and A Sort of Homecoming.
She appeared on three episodes of the Disney XD series Kickin’ It, in which she had a recurring role as Claire, Kim’s rival, and in two episodes of the Disney Channel series Jessie, playing Bryn Brietbart, a rival to Emma Ross. She also appeared in an episode of the Nickelodeon series The Thundermans. McNamara was cast in the MTV series Happyland as Harper Munroe, a resident of the park who pursues a boy despite the fact that she already has a boyfriend, she also played the recurring role of Kat on the third season of The Fosters in 2015.
It was announced on May 6, 2015 that McNamara would be playing the lead character Clary Fray in Shadowhunters, the Freeform television adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s best-selling book series The Mortal Instruments. Her first musical release, an original single titled “Ember“, was included in the show’s second-season finale. McNamara appeared in The Maze Runner film sequel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, as Sonya, a co-leader of Group B. She reprised the role in the 2018 sequel, Maze Runner: The Death Cure. In September 2018, McNamara was cast in the seventh season of Arrow as the recurring character of Mia Smoak, the daughter of Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak.
Headshot Photo courtesy of Ryan Jerome
In our latest The Fan Carpet Chats To… interview, Kat tells The Fan Carpet‘s Marc Jason Ali about her start in the Industry, joining the Arrowverse and what props and wardrobe she was allowed to keep from her time on Shadowhunters…..
For those that don’t know, was there a defining moment for you to get into the entertainment industry, being that we know how much of an academic you are?
There actually was and, it sounds so silly when I kind of talk about it, but I feel so fortunate to have had this moment of clarity happen so early on. I was a dancer as a kid as a hobby and that was sort of my outlet into the creative side of things. I was also a softball player and a girl scout, and as a career I was looking to go into developmental economics, but I ended up running into a friend who was directing a community theatre show and needed a dancer. So I was a kid who would try anything and said “oh sure I’ll do this for a summer it might be fun” and I will never forget the first moment I stepped out on stage on opening night, there was this moment of clarity, that’s the only way I can describe it, that hit me like a brick wall, where I just knew in that moment that telling stories and creating characters was what I was put on this Earth to do and it’s for my soul too it’s what I have to do for the rest of my life.
That’s wonderful, because obviously you’re a shining light with everything you’ve worked on. So you’re Mia Smoak AKA Black Star on Arrow, how was it for you joining such an established and popular show, having to craft a character you initially weren’t told too much about?
Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time if I’m honest because when I first auditioned for the role, the character sides where sort of masked underneath this sort guise of rookie cop.
So I’m going in there thinking “ok”…….. even after I booked the part I started doing research on, you know, the kind of training police officers go through and all these other things and thinking about it from the perspective of the side of justice, and then I get a call from Beth Schwartz who’s the showrunner of Arrow who says “Hey welcome to the show, we’re really excited to have you. By the way everything you know is a lie, you’re Oliver and Felicity’s daughter and you’re going to be this fighter, underground thief. Good luck.” (laughs) And I’m going “Wait wait. What?, you have to reexplain this to me.”
It’s very exciting because I know and I’ve seen with Shadowhunters with Malec this kind of ship that so many people respond to and through that I’ve seen, the Olicity fandom adjacent to that and how beloved this couple is and now, in watching the entire series of Arrow and seeing that relationship build, I see why people respond to it so much and I understand the responsibility of taking on the, for lack of a better term, the end result (laughs) of the relationship.
Absolutely, you’ve been great on the show. One of my favourite reveals in Arrow history was when you revealed your identity to William, I was personally convinced you were the new Green Arrow, which fits with your badassery, but the reality is so much better. What was your reaction when you first read that in the script?
I thought it was the most Mia Smoak reveal that could have possibly been written. I was so excited, the writers had been teasing it to me for a long time and then telling me I’d be very excited about it and when I finally read it I knew why, because it’s just the most nonchalant and badass and unassuming bomb drop you could possibly have, just having the confidence to drop the knife and go “You have a gun to my head but you’re not going to shoot me” and I’m 100% confident in that and the fact that she is obviously reeling from figuring out that William is her brother which we though even prior to that, having her be able to steel herself and gain the power in that situation again is just so indicative of who she is and the survivor she’s become.
Yeah absolutely and you’ve been a great addition to the cast, you really have, which brings me to my next question. With Arrow sadly ending next year after a ten episode run, I read a report that they’re very impressed with you and looking to do a Black Star series with you at the centre, is that something that would appeal to you?
I would absolutely love that. No one has spoken to me about it as of yet, but I love the idea of that and I would absolutely be open to it, I love this character and the other folks I’ve been working with on this show have been just lovely, and it’s really amazing to be in this kind of generation of kick ass woman in film and television, you know, growing up as a kid Mulan and Pocahontas where my favourite Disney princesses simply because they where the ones that fought their own battles and fought back for themselves and didn’t wait for the prince to rescue them, and being able to play a character like that and to have it become something that people really respond to is wonderful, I had that with Shadowhunters as well and to be able to continue that now with Arrow it’s great.
It is absolutely. I’m a massive fan of Shadowhunters, I have been since the beginning. I saw the film a few years ago as well, which predates your show, but I love your show I really do, I’m sad it’s ending. Obviously you’re best known for your incredible turn as Clary on Shadowhunters and we just saw you return to the institute after being held by your brother, with that sadly ending with a two hour film finale, each episode is quite cinematic, what are some of your favourite memories from the show?
Oh I could write a book from all of the memories I have from Shadowhunters truly, just because I started the show when I was 19 and now I’m in my 20s and it…,you know, getting to work with people that are not only brilliant actors and brilliant artists and, you know, even down to the every single person on our crew, but also wonderful people, we really did create a family on that set. But I have to say that shooting the finale was really special because, most shows when you find out that you’re not continuing you don’t really get a chance to finish off properly and to really do justice to this thing that you’ve really poured you’re heart and soul into and it really was a gift to be able to do that. I’ll absolutely never forget the moment that…..the last scene we shot for the show happened to be, it wasn’t the last scene in the show, but it just happened to be a scene where we were all in the institute and just about every character that’s ever been on the show was in this scene, and the last shot I did I happened to be holding Dom’s hand and looking at him and behind him was everyone else, I saw Harry and Matt in the corner and Emeraude and Alberto you know, some of our newer characters and everyone whose been a part of making this show what it is. And it was so indicative of what the journey has been and so indicative of the family that that’s been created, you know, I have that picture in my head forever and it’s something I’ll always cherish.
Brilliant. Yeah I know that Shadowhunters is very close to your heart with the friends you’ve made and the books and the fandom as a whole, such a loyal and dedicated fanbase. We’re in the midst of season 3B so I don’t want you to spoil anything, is there something from the books or a deviation from the story that was made that you’ve really loved bringing to life or that you didn’t get a chance to do?
Kat: I mean there’s actually quite a bit of both in 3B which is why I’m so excited for the fandom to see it. You know, I’ve grown to love the fandom so much, they existed before we did as a show, with the film and the book series and I understand being a fan of YA novels myself being a fan of the book series, why it’s so important, why they respond to it so well and the fact that they welcomed us with open arms has just been the biggest gift.
But as a book fan also, I’ve just been so excited to share 3B with the Shadow fans because there are many many iconic book moments that we have not, as of yet, had a chance to do that we get to bring to life in 3B and for me it was almost akin to our season 2 where we that had the moment at Lake Lyn with Valentine and Jace, bringing things to life that I’d read and imagined so many times over and over again over the course of the series, actually getting to live them out with some of my best friends, it’s so exciting to then get to share that with the people who are as invested in the story as we are.
Great great. Where you able to keep any of your favourite props and do you have any favourite runes?
I do actually, all of the above. Our props department and our wardrobe department where very very lovely in letting us take a few pieces home with us. I have a set of Clary’s Seraph blades, I have a stele, I have a holster of hers and several of the leather jackets and things where custom made, you know, our wardrobe department was just absolutely impeccable, not only did they take apart leather jackets and refit them to our bodies but they also learned how things fit on us so well that they where able to make a lot of things from scratch. So some of these pieces are so special, not only because of that, but because of the many many hours that I spent wearing them with blood, sweat and tears pouring out of me making the show (laughs) but it’s really wonderful and, you know, those things are things I’ll always cherish.
But as far as favourite runes I did end up getting a few as tattoos. At the season one wrap party a lot of us, it was Dom’s idea, a lot of us got the angelic rune tattooed on us and I took that from there and every season got a different rune and for me it was a way to sort of sum up the season and sum up that year of my life and go “what symbol can I put to this that I’ll always remember by?” and I have the shape shifter rune, the calm/ anger rune which is also precision, and it’s really interesting to see that progression and to have that…..because I didn’t know at the time that it was only going to those three so it’s an interesting pairing and those are probably three of my favourite runes.
Wonderful, that’s brilliant. Will any of the jackets make it into your rotation that you wear on a daily basis?
Oh they definitely have I tell you, it’s very funny. I got to a point where Clary’s wardrobe and my personal wardrobe where very similar, you know, I go to work every day in a leather jacket, a t-shirt, jeans and boots and put on a leather jacket, a t-shirt, jeans and boots just slightly different. And there a definitely days now where I look down at my wardrobe or look down at my clothing and go “oh I’m wearing Clary’s clothing today” The boots, the jeans, the t-shirt and the jacket are all things that I’ve adopted and that’s nice.
I was just saying that’s incredible.
That’s very funny because Clary is a part of me because when you play a character for that long you become a part of them and they become a part of you and it’s just such a real life personification of that.
Yeah it’s incredible. Okay, so you’re going to be Hannah in Replicate, what are you allowed to say about that exciting project?
I’m allowed to say that it’s a very interesting concept and such a cool film. The pace is really fast, Joel Courtney whose also in the film is one of my best friends and, you know, he does a really great job in it. There’s not much more I can say without giving it away but expect the unexpected for sure.
Cool alright, we’ll look out for that one. With the recent popularity of Goosebumps, is that a fantasy genre that you would like to return to, given that you where Lillth in Monsterville?
I would absolutely love to go back to that, that was such a fun film. I shot that with a few of my really close friends in a city that I love and I love playing characters that are so very different, you know, when you go on set every day or get to put on a wig or put on tattoos there’s something that really does transform you. That’s why I’m an actor, to be a chameleon, to wear a million different people’s shoes and live a million different lives and sort of see what makes people tick that are completely different than I am. So that’s what it’s all about to me and any chance to do something like that is great, I sort of fallen accidentally into this sci-fi/fantasy genre and I’m very happy there, I’d like to branch out and do different things as well, which I have some irons in the fire for the fear of doing just that, but it’s really been a lot of fun.
Okay, awesome, do you have any favourite films or TV shows?
I have a list a mile long. This is really the golden age of television and there’s so many things to watch and so much amazing content. Of course, like most people, I love Game of Thrones, I’m a huge Sherlock fan, huge fan of Mad Men. I’m very slowly working my way through Black Mirror because that’s the one thing that actually terrifies me, so I have to pace myself otherwise I get too caught up in the “what ifs” of our modern world.
My grandfather he’s a huge cinephile, and I grew up watching all of the films from the 1940s and 50s and, you know, the classic old Hollywood black and whites of the 1930s, so those are…..Gilda is one of my favourite films, I love Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. But alternatively, The Usual Suspects is also another one of my favourite movies and, you know, I love all the Hitchcock films. I really just love anything that tells a good intelligent story and hold a mirror up to society and makes you really think about things, that’s what I think our jobs is as artists.
Brilliant okay. With working in television and film, do you approach the projects differently depending on the medium?
Absolutely. You know, it’s a different process when you’re on set so to prepare for that you have to have a different level of flexibility depending on what the project is. In film verses television for example, with film you often know what the entire arc of the character is, so when you have certain scenes you know how to plan with a bit more certainty which way you’d like to take them or which couple of ways you’d play with because you know how it ends. But with television you often only know this episode and maybe the next one and maybe vaguely where your character goes from there and that can always change, so three episodes down the line a choice that you made in the past may no longer be relevant, you have to kind of always be open to your character changing and growing and kind of be on your toes and the pace is often a lot faster in television, so you have less time to prepare. But I love both equally, you know, with film you have a chance to really go more in depth with the subtleties of things and in television you have to think on your feet and learn and change and adapt very quickly, so I like to have a mix of both in my life.
Okay sure. So I’ll just finish up with, you provided the song “Ember” to the Shadowhunters soundtrack, is that something that you would like to do again given the opportunity?
Absolutely and it’s actually something I had been intending to do for a long time, you know, even before Shadowhunters. But I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a lot of work, and a lot of work on-location, that has kind of been getting in the way of my music. But now that I have a little bit more time on my hands, I’m getting back into that side of what I do, you know, so much of the rest of my career has been living in someone else’s shoes, someone else’s words and someone else’s emotional journey.
And with music it’s so refreshingly, terrifyingly vulnerable for me because it is a little piece of me and my experience and my heart and soul out there, kind of, laid bare for people to experience and hopefully relate to and enjoy in some way, but it’s definitely something I miss.
So are we getting your album then soon?
I’m hoping at least an EP in the next year or two.
Awesome. It has been an absolute pleasure and honour to speak to you today Kat. You look after yourself and I’ll be watching Arrow and Shadowhunters for the remainders of their runs.
Wonderful, thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure.
SHADOWHUNTERS IS CURRENTLY AIRING ITS SEASON 3B ON NETFLIX EVERY TUESDAY AND ARROW AIRS ON TUESDAY’S AT 8PM ON SKY ONE