Katherine McNamara

Katherine McNamara fell into the acting world backward. Performing professionally wasn’t even on the radar for her. The plan was always to be an economist, finding beauty in trends, patterns, mathematics, and how they inform our worldview. But the best-laid plans tend to be the ones that can (occasionally) go astray in the best way. So, when she stepped onto the stage as a ballerina for a community theatre production, suffice it to say: she was addicted. The energy, the storytelling, the collaboration, the feeling of coming together and creating art was something she couldn’t let go of. It was pure magic.

Always looking for the next step in her evolution, McNamara continued to find the next big thing. And then the next big thing, and then the next. Constantly on the go, continuously wanting to learn and improve her craft, she absorbs all she can from those around her. From fellow actors to directors, to the crew, and all the people in between, everyone has something to offer. Every gig is a new opportunity for growth.

A self-proclaimed nerd, her enthusiasm and adoration of all things nerdy is infectious. Genuinely a fan of fandom and fans themselves, McNamara has seen firsthand the positivity and power of her fellow nerds. The sense of community, lifelong friendships, and the unadulterated love for the stories that shape us. From Shadowhunters, Arrow, and Walker Independence, McNamara has walked in so many shoes, leaving a bit of herself with every role and taking a little something away, too. As her creative journey continues in front of and behind the camera, one thing is clear: she has a very long and fruitful career ahead. 

In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe, Katherine McNamara chats about her love of storytelling, the positivity of fandom, and more.


Let’s start with an easy one —  how did you first get into acting?

I always say I fell into this world backward. I grew up wanting to be an economist. I love math. I learned that numbers, equations, and puzzles can be used to explain world-changing trends in society — the way we live, and how lives interact with each other. It blew my mind. My life plan was going into developmental economics. I also did ballet as a hobby and I ran into a family friend who was directing a community theatre production. She needed a dancer and I was the kid who would try anything [laughter]. I remember so clearly being on stage opening night of that show. It was one of those rare moments of just certainty and clarity that one has in one’s life. I knew at that moment I was going to tell stories and that I never wanted to do anything else for the rest of my life.


So, that was your ‘lightbulb’ moment?

It was as though it hit me like a brick wall [laughs]. I stopped in my tracks and I remember feeling this magic. This collaboration of all these different artists with all these different creative influences talents and skills coming together to create this world to tell this story out of nothing, you know? It was something special to bring a story to life out of the darkness and into the light. We all connect through stories and there was something about that that I never wanted to let go of.


Across your filmography, do you have a favourite scene that you’ve filmed and why?

There are several that come to mind. I love a challenge and I love putting my all and every single ounce of my being into my work. There are moments that I live for. This is something that Dom Sherwood and I did on Shadowhunters together for years. We talked about this a lot when we do conventions and people ask us this question. It was the season finale of season two, there’s this big moment that happens that we’ve been building and building and building toward. It’s the climax in the third book. It was my favourite sequence, and I wanted to get it right. I give all the credit to our crew as well because they gave us the space to get it right. It was the middle of the night. We’d been fighting all day. They just set up the cameras and just kind of let us go. Dom’s character was dying, and I was trying to save them. I was crying for ten hours. It was a lot. We found every colour and facet and every way that we could to do that scene justice. Everyone felt so satisfied creatively. There’s nothing else I could have done, there’s nothing more I could have given. It was great. 



I have to ask: what was it like to don the iconic Green Arrow costume?

I didn’t even know that I was going to get a suit! The costume designer pulled me aside and she showed me this drawing and I asked, ‘What’s this?’ And she said, ‘This is your suit.’ I almost passed out right then and there because I was so in awe [both laugh]. I loved that process because I got to watch them build the suit. They’re meant to be form-fitting and it takes months and months as they go down to every detail. It’s made by a company called Ocean Drive Leather who are so brilliant. I walked in, I hadn’t even talked to them beforehand, I put on the pieces of the suit, and they had created a fabric that had little, tiny arrowheads on it. Little teeny tiny green arrows all over, that no one else knew about. They feed on collaboration. They allowed me to have my say as well. I wanted to redesign the shape of the mask and they went back to the original Green Arrow comics and said, ‘What if we do a play on what Green Arrow was back when it was first drawn?’ It was a little different than Oliver’s. Every stripe and every piece were made to fit Mia and to fit the kind of fighting she does. Those are the things that mean the world and then that suit becomes your home of sorts. It becomes a second skin.

I didn’t realize how much the suit meant to me until I put it on again. So, I went back to The Flash for the first time, it was my first proper job after the pandemic. I just landed in Vancouver, went to the studio, hadn’t seen anybody, and barely read the script. I walked in and it was hanging on the rack. I burst into tears because it just felt like coming home. We all went through so much during the pandemic, we all went through our journeys. But I realized at that moment that that’s what I’d been missing. That sense of collaboration that I’d had for so many years on Shadowhunters and Arrow. I was finally home.


Did you get to keep the suit?

I’ve been begging for four years [both laugh] I’m going to knock on Greg Berlanti’s door.


Is there another hero you’d like to take a crack at?

I’d love to bring Green Arrow over to the DC films. I think Mia Smoak would have a very interesting time in this new universe that James Gunn is recreating over there. But again, that’s all a mishmash of DC mythology that is way above my pay grade. I love the world of superheroes. There’s something really beautiful about this idea that there are these paragons of these morals and values that we aspire to. There’s such a tradition with each hero. And when you’re given that mantle, it hits you: ‘Oh, no, I am the guardian of this. This is mine and mine to care for and to be responsible for.’ There are a lot of things to consider, but even more so when it’s a superhero character because there are comics and years and years’ worth of lore. I love a lot of DC and a lot of Marvel as well. There are so many stories of people that come out of some sort of hardship or tragedy or choice that they’ve had to make. They’ve either chosen to be a hero or a villain. I find those choices are what make you who you are.


Do you have a favourite superhero movie?

Oh, the Batman with Michelle Pfeiffer in it? 


Batman Returns

I love that movie because it’s just fun and Michelle is freaking brilliant. The Dark Knight is amazing. Then you go back to the original Avengers movie, Thor Ragnarok. I love what Taika (Waititi) did with that world. He gave it humour and made it so self-aware. Anybody who puts Jeff Goldblum in anything is fantastic in my book. To go even further, The Suicide Squad is amazing. A good friend of mine, David Dastmalchian, played the Polka Dot Man so beautifully. And yes, these people have powers and abilities and they’re weird. But they just want to be loved. That, to me, is just so human.


When speaking with the Creative Coalition you mentioned your love of Comic Con and conventions. Is there a particular fan interaction that stands out to you?

I’m very lucky because the fandoms I am a part of are very loving and very kind, and wonderful communities. The Shadowhunters community showed me what a fandom can be. The power, beauty, and love can just be so all-encompassing. Not only a love of the story and love of the characters but the love of each other and love of what the story represents and that mutual appreciation for the sentiment. And it creates community. It struck me after a few years – we were doing a convention for Shadowhunters and the show had just been cancelled and the series finale had aired. We were all tender about it because it was a huge period of our lives. We were so happy to be surrounded by the fandom and the people that we love and have grown up with. It struck me that we’ve known a lot of these kids — or I call them kids, they’re not all kids at all anymore — I’ve watched them grow into themselves. There were these girls that didn’t feel comfortable talking to other people the first year they were at the con and now they’re speaking up. They’ve got friends and they’re running around doing all these wonderful things. We got to hear about them going through school, what careers they’re going to have, and things they’ve gone through in their lives. It was so wonderful to witness these huge transformations of people blossoming into themselves. They’re surrounded by the support system of fandom.

There was one experience at the end of that con where we were doing the closing ceremony, we all got on stage to give our closing remarks and say thank you to the fans. And suddenly the lights went out and all the kids pulled out these heart-shaped balloons from under their chairs and started singing the theme song from Shadowhunters. They’d been planning this for weeks! They organized it with the convention coordinators, they wanted to do something for us to say thank you for the show. That to me is the epitome of the Shadowhunters fandom. We were there to make sure they had a good time. We were there to make sure they got all their questions answered, their photos taken, and anything else they could want and they chose to do something for us in return. It was so heartfelt.



What you described is the positivity of fandom. It can be so beautiful and so collaborative, and you can find lifelong friends through it. So, as a fellow nerd yourself: what gets you excited?

I’m a Star Wars nerd. I love Marvel and DC. I’m a huge DnD (Dungeons and Dragons) nerd and I’m learning to DM. I’m obsessed with it. There are so many things that I just appreciate and that’s what I love about these multi-fandom cons. To just go wander the floor and see what’s out there… I love people who get excited about these things. There’s something so magical about people and embracing that freedom that you had when you were a kid. It’s nice to be surrounded by people who just love being huge nerds together. It hit me at San Diego Comic-Con. I was able to go because of work. I loved every minute of every party and every press line. Never felt that sort of weird exclusivity hierarchy that you get sometimes with these things. Everybody who’s there is a fan of someone else! Everybody’s excited to be there. 


Absolutely! I love walking the floors at conventions, too! Seeing the cosplays, the different fandoms, the art! It’s incredibly joyous! Moving forward, can you talk a little bit about your work with The Big Slick and what it means to you?

The Big Slick is probably my favourite charity event that happens ever, every year. Started by five incredible gentlemen. Although now it’s become six hosts: Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Eric Stonestreet, David Koechner, Rob Riggle, and Heidi Gardner. We’re all from Kansas City. The charity helps the local children’s hospital Children’s Mercy. And it’s amazing that what started as a little poker game, has grown into a softball game in a major league stadium, and a couple of hospital visits, it all culminates in a huge fundraising live auction event. We raised over $3 million in two days. And our overall goal this year was total over what we had made in the last 14 years. We’d made 20 million and now we’ve hit over $21 million. The hospital operates a lot like St. Jude. They will treat the kids no matter what and figure out everything else later. They are kids and families first. The staff have the biggest hearts. They create an environment that is conducive to creativity and love and hope. They also do a lot of work bringing in new experimental treatments to just try and do anything they can to improve the lives of these kids and give these families hope. We bring in folks that we know and love that we’ve worked with from all over the world and have a big fun weekend where we just make fools of ourselves and make the kids laugh. We get to watch our friends go on stage and do a variety show! I got to eat hot wings with Sean Evans this year and I didn’t die.


That’s impressive! You’re braver than I am. I don’t think I could survive the wings challenge! [laughter] How do you feel you’ve grown as an actor?

I’ve learned to trust myself a lot more as an actor and a storyteller. I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of directors, actors, and even crew that tell stories in various ways. The crew on Shadowhunters would take the time to answer our questions and explain how things work technically. There’s a bit of a wall between cast and crew. I found that if you obliterate the wall, it helps everyone. I had an incredible director, Michael Goi, who’s a cinematographer, and an amazing director. He came on to do an episode of Shadowhunters and he was so kind and answered all our questions. He looked at me and said, ‘You realize you’re asking the questions a director would ask not an actor.’ [laughs] I’m looking to direct very soon. That’s sort of where I see myself. I don’t ever look at what’s going to serve me or my character better, it’s what can I do to serve the story. I’ve learned to trust my instincts.


And lastly, what is something you’d like to manifest for yourself in 2023?

I want to find the next step. So many things have come into my life at the perfect time. I’m looking for the next challenge. I wrapped an action movie in Bulgaria earlier this year, where I was fighting most of the film. I did about 90% of my stunts. I was fighting for days straight and that was a new challenge. That’s what I’m looking for. Something that’s going to aid in my next stage of evolution as a creative. I learn something as a person through that, I learn more as an artist and I’m scared but that’s how you grow. Scared is good. 


Interview Dana Reboe

Photography Storm Santos

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