Katherine McNamara’s Heartening Approach to Forging Forward in Film & TV

May 13, 2023

Not only is it a colossal challenge trying to spark a career in film and television, but once you get there, the pressure rarely lets up. How does one manage such non-stop stressors, especially the ones that are entirely out of an artist’s control? There’s no be-all, end-all answer to that question, but over the years, Katherine McNamara’s built up an especially effective and inspiring set of tools and ideas to ensure she’ll continue forging forward, and likely inspire others to do the same in the process.

McNamara joined me for a Collider Ladies Night conversation to put the spotlight on two recent projects, Charlie Day’s feature directorial debut, Fool’s Paradise, and her new CW series, Walker: Independence, which sadly was canceled the day after we recorded. Fool’s Paradise stars Day as a mute man who’s plucked off the street by Ray Liotta’s character, a producer desperate to replace an actor who won’t come out of his trailer and, it turns out, Day’s character looks exactly like this actor. As for Walker: Independence, that one was a prequel series to The CW’s Walker starring Jared Padalecki. Set in the 1800s, McNamara headlined as Abby Walker, Padalecki’s character’s ancestor. Even though The CW did cut the show after just one season, there are reports circulating that it is on the hunt for a new home.

Whether Walker: Independence continues on elsewhere or not, there’s no doubt McNamara will thrive in front of and eventually behind the lens. During our Collider Ladies Night conversation, we revisited her journey in theater, film, and television including a number of key influences she met along the way who proved pivotal in shaping her outlook on industry operations and what it means to be a strong leader and collaborator on set.

Image via The CW

It all began with something McNamara lucked into — being raised in a city with a thriving theater community. Here’s what she said about Kansas City’s lasting impact on her:

“I was lucky to be in Kansas City that has a huge beautiful theater community, both community theater and regional professional theater. There’s tours that come through all the time and there’s such a gorgeous arts community there, and I just kept going and kept finding opportunities and meeting people. I always give my utmost gratitude to the Kansas City theater community because they raised me artistically. And not only did they teach me how to explore and be creative and think outside the box, but how to have work ethic, because there’s no ego in that kind of community. Everybody does every job and as long as we get the show up at the end of the day, that’s what matters, and do everything we can to make it the best story possible. So it never mattered what job you were doing or what part of production you were. Everyone was valued and everyone’s work mattered, and everyone worked hard. That’s kind of my biggest takeaway.”

McNamara found more good in the opportunity that brought her to LA, the pilot for Madison High, Disney’s first go at creating a High School Musical series. While the show never got picked up, McNamara looks back on the experience fondly and credits it with setting her up for success when the time came to headline Shadowhunters. Here’s what she said when asked for an early project that helped her identify what she valued most in an on-set experience:

“The job that brought me to LA was the first time Disney Channel tried to do High School Musical the Series, and at that time it was called Madison High, and it was about 13 years ago now. Ms. Darbis went to a different school and created a new drama program, and of course it was the TV version of High School Musical basically. All the character archetypes were the same, but just different people. And the cast and that experience of going into musical boot camp for two weeks, learning all the dance numbers, all the songs, getting in the studio, working with everyone, having that kind of camaraderie, and building a show that would have its own image and its own lore was so all encompassing, but I had the best time. I didn’t really know at the time, but that ultimately would serve me really well going into something like Shadowhunters, which I think is what ultimately answers your question because that show for me, it had this epic nature to it and a character that was challenging but had growth, and a cast and crew environment that truly was going to work with family every day. That is ultimately what I strive for seeking out in the future, and as I continue. There was a rarefied air on the Shadowhunters set and it was something that I will always be grateful for.”

Image via Freeform

Shadowhunters marked McNamara’s very first lead role in a series, which comes with a significant amount of responsibility. Not only are you tasked with nailing a significant amount of material, but the position also has a make-or-break trickle-down effect. Fortunately for McNamara, she had already encountered quite a few #1s on the call sheet that’d show her how it’s done especially well, headliners like The Maze Runner series star Dylan O’Brien. Here’s what she said about watching him lead the way on the set of the sequel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials:

“I’ve known Dylan forever. I hadn’t worked with him. I’d known him for a lot longer than I’d worked with him, and when I got on that set, I was astounded by how dedicated he was and how diligent he was to making sure that everything was done with quality, and it was all done properly. But also, he had the best time of anyone on that set. The balance he had between the fun and the silliness and the goofing off and the pranks you can do on set and the camaraderie you can build in that way, but [without] sacrificing any of the seriousness of what we’re trying to do and the story we’re trying to tell. That was brilliant.”

Another vital influence McNamara found along the way? A theater mentor who’d ultimately shape McNamara’s approach to auditions and all the industry’s ups and downs. She recalled:

“When I started doing theater actually, one of my mentors at the very, very beginning put everything into perspective in the most beautiful way, and she said to me, ‘You know, an actor’s job is to audition, and you go into that room for 10 minutes and you tell your story and you create this character and that’s your performance, and that’s your job. You leave the room, you’ve done your job, you leave it behind. If the job works out, that’s something extra, different and special, but if not, you’ve done your job and you move on to the next job.’ Obviously there are those roles that you just connect with and every fiber of your being will fight for that and you can’t let it go sometimes. I’ve had those as well, but those are a lot fewer and farther between than other things, and that sort of helps in a way. But I think having so many things that haven’t worked out for whatever reason — and a lot of times it’s no reason other than there just wasn’t space on the network this year, and so with the way that television goes, then that’s kind of the end for that show. It taught me to invest in things and put my heart into it, but know that even if something doesn’t work out, there’s something else that’s coming down the pipeline. That wasn’t meant to be for whatever reason, but it grew you and it led you to whatever’s coming next.”

Image via The CW

Yes, having such a mentality can come in handy when a door closes for a project entirely, but all hope isn’t lost for Walker: Independence yet. Padalecki, who’s an executive producer on the series, recently said, “We are aggressively looking for a place that Walker: Independence can land.” As one might expect, McNamara is very eager to continue exploring the world Season 1 of the show established and to reunite with her Walker: Independence cast and crew. Here’s what she said when discussing renewal/cancelation pressure before the announcement had been made:

“When it comes to this year specifically, everything’s changing at The CW, everything’s changing in television in general, and there are so many options and opportunities and unorthodox ways in which shows stay, continue, get canceled, get renewed somewhere else entirely. I have become so resigned when it comes to these things. I just leave it up to the television gods. I’ve gone, you know what? I’ve put my heart and soul into this show. I’ve had the best time with this cast and crew. We’re all chomping at the bit to keep telling this story. We’ve just barely hit the tip of the iceberg of what all these relationships can be and what this town can be because that’s so much of what Walker: Independence is, is the spirit of this town, which, for us, includes our crew and our writers and everyone else. And so, moving forward, I’m hoping for the best, but ultimately whatever is meant to happen will happen, but if I could go back and be in that playground of a 15,000 acre ranch with that amazing group of people again, I would give my left foot for it.”

While we wait for more on Walker: Independence’s status, you can catch McNamara on the big screen in Fool’s Paradise, which marks yet another opportunity for McNamara to grow as a creative force in this industry — one with ambitions to direct. Here’s what she said when asked about working with Day as a director:

“It was such a lovely experience getting to watch him work. We’d met at The Big Slick, which is a huge Kansas City charity event. Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis and the rest of the wonderful comedians that are from Kansas City have started this thing and bring in people like Charlie. We met and then a few months later he called me up and said, ‘I’ve got this script, read this part, see if you want to do it,’ which is how so many people ended up on this film was just, ‘Hey, I’ve got a part, come in for a day and play.’ And that’s what I ended up doing and had the best time. And as an actor who wants to direct eventually, it was amazing to be able to watch him and to enter a set where the entire crew loved him so much.”

When — not if — McNamara gets the opportunity to make her directorial debut, there’s no doubt she’ll spark a similar atmosphere on set, one brimming with the type of kindness and support that create fulfilling on-set experiences and result in stories fueled by deep creative passion for us to enjoy.

Eager to hear even more about McNamara’s journey from Kansas City to Hollywood? Be sure to check out her episode of Collider Ladies Night in the video at the top of this article or you can listen to the full 36-minute conversation uncut in podcast form below:

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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