‘Shadowhunters’ – Katherine McNamara on Playing Clary and ‘The Mortal Instrument’ Books

Shadowhunters Cast Photo
Dominic Sherwood, Katherine McNamara, and Alberto Rosende in ‘Shadowhunters’ (Photo: ABC Family / John Medland)

Author Cassandra Clare’s bestselling book series The Mortal Instruments makes the leap to the small screen as the new TV series Shadowhunters, premiering on January 12, 2016 at 9pm ET/PT on Freeform. Clare’s first book of the series was made into a feature film in 2013, however the television series will allow the complex world of demons and Shadowhunters a better chance to unfold over the course of 13 episodes. At the Television Critics Association’s winter 2016 press event, I had the opportunity to learn more about Shadowhunters from series star Katherine McNamara who plays Clary Fray, the teenager at the heart of the Clare’s novels.

The Plot: “Based on the bestselling young adult fantasy book series The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, Shadowhunters follows Clary Fray, who finds out on her birthday that she is not who she thinks she is but rather comes from a long line of Shadowhunters – human-angel hybrids who hunt down demons. Now thrown into the world of demon hunting after her mother is kidnapped, Clary must rely on the mysterious Jace and his fellow Shadowhunters Isabelle and Alec to navigate this new dark world. With her best friend, Simon, in tow, Clary must now live among faeries, warlocks, vampires and werewolves to find answers that could help her find her mother.

Nothing is as it seems, including her close family friend Luke, who knows more than he is letting on, as well as the enigmatic warlock Magnus Bane, who could hold the key to unlocking Clary’s past.”

Katherine McNamara Shadowhunters Interview

Why is this fantasy world so popular?

Katherine McNamara: “Something that I found early on and meeting the fans and seeing everything that’s gone on is that these fans are drawn to these books not necessarily because it’s a world of fantasy, but because these characters are relatable. That’s especially true of The Mortal Instruments series which is what Shadowhunters is based on. Yes, we may have warlocks and demons and werewolves and vampires, but they’re kids. They’re still growing up and falling in love for the first time. They’re learning things, what their place is in the world, and who they love and what that means for who they are as people.”

Did you read those kind of books when you were growing up?

Katherine McNamara: “Absolutely. I love those kind of books. I read them voraciously.”

What did you geek out on?

Katherine McNamara: “All of them. I’m a huge fan of The Maze Runner series, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Mortal Instruments – all of the above. There’s so many elements that just take you away to other worlds and they can really make you just feel something different and feel powerful when you’re a kid.”

And then to be in one, what’s that like?

Katherine McNamara: “It’s very exciting. It’s so exciting because so many kids have fallen in love with these characters and grown up with them, and they’ve become their heroes. And to be tasked with bringing them to life is so exciting. You feel that love and that support, and it’s also a huge responsibility because these characters mean so much to these people. You just want to do it justice. You just want to do right by the story.”

Would you like to keep your hair this way or are you done with it?

Katherine McNamara: “I think for me personally it’s become such an iconic part of Clary that I wouldn’t want to do the exact same color for another character because it is such a big part of who she is. It just wouldn’t feel right. But I would absolutely do red; I would do a different shade. Naturally I’m a strawberry blonde. I’m a ginger at heart. But I’ve been blonde, I’ve had brunette wigs, I’ve done a myriad of colors. I just love changing things up. I’m a chameleon. I’m an actor and I like to think of myself as a blank slate.”

How did the finished effects in the pilot measure up to what you imagined when you were shooting it?

Katherine McNamara: “I was actually really pleased by how it turned out. I had no idea what the special effects were really going to look like. I had no sort of concept of what everything was going to be when it all came together because we did so many reshoots and little things here and there. They’ve been tweaking things for months and when I finally saw it it came together in such a way that I think really accomplished what we set out to do. No pilot is perfect; there’s still a long way to go, but I think it’s a good starting point and a good way to introduce the audience to our world and to these characters and kind of pull them into our journey. Whether people have read the books and know the story or whether they’re new to our world, it gives us a chance to let us draw them into this world and take them on this journey. They will not regret it.”

Can you see being in this for a long period of time?

Katherine McNamara: “Absolutely, and that’s something that really attracted me to the project initially is that Clary is a character – all of these characters really because they’re based on such a rich wealth of books – they are so developed fully developed and they’re so invested in the journey for each character. The way the relationships change and the way the characters evolve over the course of the story is such a vast difference. Where Clary is starts at the beginning of book one and where she ends up at the end of book six is a completely different character.”

Had you read the books before you got the part?

Katherine McNamara: “No. I read most of the first book during the casting process, and then I read a lot about it online. But I’m just finishing the sixth book this week.”

Do you see yourself in her at all?

Katherine McNamara: “I do. And obviously because I started reading the book during the audition process, I was hoping. But now that I’ve known all these people for a long time – I practically lived with them for six months – we’ve become such a family and I know them so well. It’s amazing to read the book and hear their voices and see their faces. It makes it so much more visceral and much more special for me.”

Are you happy you had the luxury of a season to do this book?

Katherine McNamara: “Yes. That’s why I think television is such a good medium for this story because there is such a rich world and such a rich mythology behind this world that with television we have 13 hours essentially to not only explain this world and how it all works, but also to keep the story moving simultaneously. So it’s kind of the perfect storm for this story to be put on to the screen.”

When you got cast did you immediately hear from the fans?

Katherine McNamara: “I did and it’s a funny story. They announced on Twitter that they were going to announce who Clary was. They said, ‘We’re going to announce Clary in two hours,’ and I still hadn’t heard anything, so I assumed it wasn’t me. I knew it was between me and one other girl. I got a call from my team saying, ‘Hold up, they haven’t said anything yet, just wait.’ So I’m waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. I’m at the gym trying to work things out so I don’t lose my mind and I get a call 10 minutes before they’re going to announce it. And of course Twitter’s going berserk, and I get a call 10 minutes before they announce saying, ‘Congratulations, you got the part. And, oh, by the way your phone’s about to blow up.’”

And did it?

Katherine McNamara: “It did. My phone quit working because there were tweets, instagrams, text messages, phone calls, emails…everything was all happening at once. I had to put my phone down for the rest of the day. I couldn’t do anything. I had to put my phone down for the rest of the day. I couldn’t call anyone and I couldn’t do anything.”

Do you have to watch what you put on social media now?

Katherine McNamara: “I’ve been working for a few years in different projects and so I learned that I don’t really ever put too many personal things on social media because you have to be so careful. I use social media more as a marketing tool. It’s a way of including the fans in the work process, to drive them to things that will excite them about the project. That’s what it’s all about and kind of including them in the process of making the show or the film.”

What was one scene from the book you couldn’t wait to film?

Katherine McNamara: “Oh, there’s so many. Probably the first scene were Jace and Clary meet. The two of them have such an instant connection. And the whole sequence at Pandemonium because that so sets up the story and the world of what Shadowhunters are and how badass they are, and Jace and Clary’s connection is kind of the catalyst for the whole story. That was very exciting to shoot.”

What was one thing from Cassandra Clare’s books that really helped you figure out who Clary is and helped you get into the character?

Katherine McNamara: “There’s little things. She includes these little details and little reactions, little nuances of who these people really are that open a door and shed a lot of light onto who they are on the inside. There’s a lot of that. She creates such a rich world and these relationships and these characters are so well-developed that you can’t help but be drawn.”

When you met Cassandra Clare, what did you ask her about Clary?

Katherine McNamara: “I asked her a lot of things. I wanted to know if Clary cries, how she reacts in these situations, if she was this, how strong she was and how she felt about certain things and about her background – what happened before the books that really isn’t included. There were a lot of questions that I had for her, but Cassandra’s books are kind of our starting point. They’re our blueprint because we’re this new interpretation. We’re not a carbon copy of the book. It’s this new interpretation of the story that we’re excited to share with the fans.”

Does Clary cry?

Katherine McNamara: “Sometimes. At the beginning of the story she’s so thrown off her game, her whole world is destroyed so it takes her a minute to get her bearings. But once she does, she rocks through it and does what she can not to let that side show.”

Is there a scene from the next books you can’t wait to film, if you get more seasons?

Katherine McNamara: “There’s so many. I would love to film, for book fans, the end of book three. It’s probably my favorite thing. There’s a huge finale to book three I would love to shoot.”

When you got into acting was action hero something you’ve always wanted to do?

Katherine McNamara: “Absolutely. I want to do everything. I want to do every genre, every kind of role, everything. I’m a chameleon; I want to do it all.”

Also of Interest: Interview with Dominic Sherwood (‘Jace’)