Good and evil magic thrive on “Shadowhunters,” the new fantasy series based on Cassandra Clare’s bestselling “Mortal Instruments” novels.
Katherine McNamara (“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”) stars as Clary Fray, whose life is derailed when her mother is kidnapped and she discovers she descends from a long line of Shadowhunters, human-angel hybrids who hunt demons. Clary is thrown into a hidden shadow world filled with faeries, warlocks, vampires and werewolves, where she pursues demons with the mysterious Shadowhunter Jace and her best friend Simon.
Ahead of the Tuesday premiere of “Shadowhunters” on Freeform (formerly ABC Family), McNamara spoke with SPINOFF about putting her own stamp on the Clary character, mystical mayhem, and the novels’ devoted fan base.
SPINOFF: We’ve already seen Lily Collins bring Clary to life in the movie, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.” How do you go about making the character your own for “Shadowhunters”?
Katherine McNamara: I have a massive respect for Lily Collins. I’ve always been a huge fan of hers, and I think she’s brilliant. I thought she was so incredible in the film, but this is a different world. It’s almost not even a comparable thing because we are so different and we doing our own interpretation. We are doing everything we can to keep the show done in a way that is exciting for everyone. Whether you’ve been a part of the Shadow World for years and you know every book cover to cover, or you’re brand new, we still want you to gasp, cry, laugh or have new things show up in screen.
As far as the character goes, Clary is very head-strong and unique. She’s short, stubborn and has a bad temper. She’s a lovely character to play because she has this blend of strength and vulnerability that really speaks to how she was raised and who she is.
What can you tell us about Clary and where we first meet her in the series?
In the beginning of the series, we meet Clary as she goes into her final interview for the Academy of Arts. She’s an arts student; that’s her dream. She wants to go forth and tackle the Brooklyn art scene. She has her best friend Simon [Alberto Rosende] at her side. There’s her mom, who she lives with in Brooklyn. The great thing about Clary is if she never found out about the Shadow World, she would have lived a perfectly normal, mundane life. She was ready to conqueror the world and that self-confidence is what serves her well when everything is ripped out from underneath her and she is thrust into the Shadow World and has to figure out what to do with herself.
Everything is thrown at Clary so quickly; it’s just one thing after another. How does she adapt in terms of not only what she’s seen, but also with her emerging mystical abilities?
One thing that I love about Clary is she is human. She does have a breaking point. You see that in the pilot episode. When her world comes crashing down, she’s literally left sitting amongst the rubble, and I mean that in the most literal sense. Somehow, she uses her strength to pick herself back up and fight back. There’s so much happening and she’s able to overcome by leaning on her old friends and her new ones.
Let’s talk about her social circle. We have Jace (Dominic Sherwood) and Simon. What have you enjoyed about the triangle that’s been created?
The triangle between Jace, Simon and Clary is fantastic. I quite enjoy it because I’m working with two people I count as dear friends. I met Alberto during the audition process. Dom and I were friends a while before this show started. It’s such an interesting relationship between Clary, and she does need both of them. It’s not like she can fully choose one over the other and completely cut one out. Simon has known Clary her entire life. He knows her better than she knows herself and is there for her and knows how to comfort her and how to help her more than anyone else. But Jace understands her new world and understands everything that she needs to learn and know. Jace is there to challenge Clary and help her grow and help her realize things in herself that she never thought possible. We really play up that struggle. In the books, it’s not necessary. There’s so much chemistry between Clary and Jace that Simon falls by the wayside almost immediately. That doesn’t happen in out series. There’s definitely more of a triangular struggle that happens.
In what ways did “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” prepare you for this role?
“The Scorch Trials” gave me a little taste of action and adventure before hopping onto this project. I was on “Scorch Trials” for about a month or so, shooting the end of that film. That was my first real action movie where they gave me a deer rifle and strapped a couple of knives to my leg and sent me running through the desert as things exploded around me. That was one the most fun experiences. It definitely did prepare me for this. It gave me a little glimpse into what it’s like to have pyrotechnics and special effects and stunts on set at the time, while you’re trying to stay in character and, “Oh, yeah, what’s my line?” Now we’re here in lovely Toronto shooting this show and it’s a completely different animal. Being a part of another franchise – I count my lucky stars.
McG (“Charlie’s Angels,” “Terminator Salvation”) directed the pilot. What did he add to the series?
McG not only directed our pilot episode, but he’s also one of our executive producers. He came in with his burst of passion and energy and set us on the right path to creating this world. Really, we had so many long conversations. He impassioned us and invigorated us, as he does. He has so many ideas that seem to come out of nowhere, but make so much sense. He adds so much to the show. I’ve been a fan of his for a while and really wanted to work with him. It’s pretty much a dream come true to do so.
You’re wearing very high heels today. Bryce Dallas Howard commented on the difficulty of performing stunts and running in them for “Jurassic World.” How challenging have the action sequences been in them?
It’s been crazy. When Clary first ends up at the Institute, the only clothes she has are Isabelle’s. Let me just put it this way: They are high, high heels — stilettos. So, for a couple of episodes, until Clary gets clothing of her own, she’s in these giant stiletto boots, literally running around.
I’ll never forget we had this one day where we were shooting under this overpass; it had rained that day. We had wet grass and they put plywood on top of it so we could run easier. Then, that got wet. They had to put leaves over it and that got wet. We were basically skating our way. I fell so many times. I tripped. It was quite the challenge, but it was worth it. It just added to the story because that’s exactly what would be happening. I love heels. I must say, as the season has gone on, my heels have progressively gotten lower. My calves aren’t as toned, but my feet don’t hurt as much at the end of the day. It’s all a trade-off.
What’s it like jumping on a project like this that already has a devoted fan base?
It’s wonderful. It’s a little nerve-wracking at the beginning, hoping they will like our new interpretation of the show. We’re definitely taking our own path with this. We’re not doing what the film did. We’re not doing what the books did. Yes, we still have the same characters. Yes, we’re still going from point A to point B, but we’re not in any means trying to be in the same world.
We’re taking our own path with it and making it a very dark, edgy, sexy and dangerous world. We’re really pushing the envelope as much as we can in that sense. It’s amazing to have a show where fans are already excited to see what we’re going to do and to see what we bring to it. Having that support is something that really keeps us going when we’re on set at 4 a.m., downing Diet Coke and coffee as much as we can to keep going. Every time we post something, just to hear the comments –and the vast majority are positive – it’s so inspiring and invigorating. We love it.
At the same time, how helpful has it been to use the novels or movies as reference, or to better the character and where she’s heading?
It’s great to have Cassie’s books as a reference. We are doing our own thing, but we are definitely pulling as many elements from the book as we can. I just enjoy reading them on my own time. I’m a huge fan of the books. I can say as a book fan, fans have nothing to worry about when it comes to doing the books justice. That’s our number one goal, is to that we service the story in a way that is respectful and beneficial.
“Shadowhunters” premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform.
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