“Shadowhunters” makes its way to TV tonight on the newly rebranded Freeform (formerly ABC Family), offering a new spin on Cassandra Clare’s beloved “Mortal Instruments” novels, following a failed film adaptation “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” in 2013. Star Katherine McNamara, who plays Clary Fray, promises that the series is fit for longtime fans of the story and newcomers to the franchise.
NcNamara admits that she didn’t read the books until she started auditioning for the role, but after diving in, she says she relates to the whimsical fantasy tale because of Clare’s characters and their relationships.
Below, McNamara tells Variety why viewers will relate to “Shadowhunters,” how she did most of her own stunts and how Freeform allows the series to become edgy and dark.
Why is Clary Fray the perfect role for you?
I’ve been looking for a job like this to really grow into and that I can grow with — something that has the elements of sci-fi fantasy that makes it really fun to go to work every day and all the training with the stunts and the weapons. Everything has kind of come together in a way that I couldn’t possibly imagine.
Talk about your training. How many of your own stunts do you do?
We had a lot of physical training for the show and that sort of became a cast bonding experience for us, which we were fortunate to have. We had physical training with a personal trainer who made us eat right and work out and do all the things we needed to do to be healthy and fit. Then we had weapons training because we have swords and bo staffs and throwing knives and archery and whips and all manner of demon slaying devices. We all took turns with each other’s weapons and taught each other how to fight, which was great. Then we also had a lot of gymnastics training so that we could do most of our own stunts. Most of the stunts on the show are actually me. I did have a stunt double for a few things here and there because of insurance, they just wouldn’t let me do. I learned a lot from my stunt double and she taught me so much. It actually got to a point in the season where unless it was something where they knew they were going to have to use my stunt double, they wouldn’t even call her to set because they knew that I would be able to do it.
What have you learned from playing Clary, so far?
I was very fortunate to be able to learn with my character, because Clary is not a bad-ass at the beginning of the series and she just kind of reaches the tip of that iceberg of being a physical warrior by the end of the season. She’s thrown into this world and has nothing to go off of but instinct and pure human survival and she has to learn with these other characters who are already established fighters and established soldiers. I feel very fortunate, as an actor who’s not a fighter in real life, to be able to learn with my character and go through that process with her.
Were you a fan of the books?
They had been on my list forever and I’d heard a lot of good things about them but I never actually sat down to read them until the audition process. By the time I was done with the audition process I had finished the first book and was completely in love with the series. Now I’m almost all the way through it. I was reading it during filming but had to kind of back off because I started confusing scripts and books and it was just all too much. Now I’m back to the book, and Cassandra [Clare] has created such a rich world for us to be involved in.
What do you like about the “Shadowhunters” story?
It’s this wonderful dichotomy of living in that world of fantasy and yet, what draws people to the story is that these characters are going through things that all of us go through. You know, they’re falling in love for the first time and growing up and learning who they are in the world and who they love and where their place is going to be in life and what that means for them and what that means for all of their relationships. It’s all of these things that our viewers are going through and it gives them a sense of objectivity to be able to look at the characters in this fantasy world and see maybe how to solve their own problems.
Do you feel pressure going into this series knowing there’s such an embedded fan base or does it just make you more excited knowing that people are excited for you?
It’s honestly a bit of both. Something I’ve learned through going to Comic-Con and the fan events we’ve done and talking to people on social media is that because these characters are so relatable, people are really drawn to them. Reading these books is such a personal experience that people have formed relationships with these characters and these characters are their heroes and they grow up with these characters, and then suddenly we’re tasked with bringing them to life. It’s incredibly exciting to have all of that support and that excitement, but it’s also a huge responsibility. I know my main goal in all of this is to do justice to their love for these characters and to this story that means so much to so many people.
For viewers who have never read the books or never heard of them, do you think the “Shadowhunters” series will be a good fit for them?
I do actually. That’s something that I think is so great about what Ed Decter and McG and ABC Family — or Freeform — has done in setting up our particular perspective for the series, is that we’ve kind of created a balance in that we have the time to explain things in the world for people who know nothing about the series and about the world in which the stories take place, but we also have things for people who know the books cover to cover. We kind of change up the story a little bit for people who do know it very well to keep it exciting for them, but we still stay true to the story enough where people who are brand new to this world can jump right in and learn about the world and be captured by these characters and just go on a ride with us.
How do you think that the new network’s name Freeform really embraces “Shadowhunters?”
We’ve had an amazing opportunity with being the first show that Freeform is putting out because we have a little bit more freedom, for lack of a better word, and we got to explore kind of an edgier, darker side of this story that we might not have been able to had they not been doing this re-brand. Now I’m going to go to the nerdy side for a minute because I’m a business major and I kind of understand that side of things as well — I have massive respect for ABC Family for doing this re-brand, because yes, they are kind of where they want to be as far as in comparison with other networks, but they’re still trying to grow their brand and they’re still trying to move forward and not be stagnant with their audience and they’re still trying to expand their purview and their reach. I think that’s incredible and I think Freeform is a much more fitting name to their programming. ABC Family, yes it’s stories about families, but it’s about families as they are for our generation, for the becomers, for the people who are being a part of this generation that is more open and more free and more accepting of people as they are, as opposed to forcing them to conform to what we think is ideal or normal. Normal has kind of gone out the window and I think that is very apropos because that’s kind of what happens to Clary in the first episode. Normal means nothing anymore and that’s kind of what ABC Family-slash-Freeform has been doing for years, so it’s very fitting with our show and with the audience I think.
“Shadowhunters” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Freeform.
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