Katherine McNamara on Shadowhunters, Arrow, and Untitled Horror Movie

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From director Nick Simon, who also co-wrote the film with actor Luke Baines, Untitled Horror Movie is part comedy and part horror flick, following six co-stars whose TV show is on the verge of cancellation, so they decide to shoot their own movie remotely from their homes. While meeting up over their electronic devices to work on the plot, they unintentionally summon a demonic spirit that turns their movie into real-life horror.

During this virtual 1-on-1 interview with Collider, which you can both watch and read, actress Katherine McNamara talked about overcoming any obstacles that got thrown at them during the shoot, diving into her sweet and ditzy character, the challenge of having to be aware of so many aspects of the production while they worked remotely, and building cast chemistry during a pandemic. She also talked about the continued love from the Shadowhunters fans, the disappointment of her Arrow spinoff not getting picked up, and whether she’d be willing to return to the Arrow-verse.

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Untitled Horror Movie.]

Collider: This film is quite the unexpected thrill ride.

KATHERINE McNAMARA: Well, thank you. That was our goal. We just wanted to make something that would be an escape for people and that was entertaining and fun because we had so much fun making it.

It seems like there was so many things that could have gone wrong with this, especially trying to pull it off during a pandemic.

McNAMARA: It’s true. And at every turn, we all looked at each other and went, “Can we actually do this? This shouldn’t work, and yet somehow it does.” There should have been something getting in the way, but no, every obstacle at every turn, either Luke [Baines] and Nick [Simon], or our producers, or our incredible director of photography, Kevin [Duggin], or one of us would come up with an idea that would solve the problem. We were also starved for not only social interaction, but some sort of creative productivity at that point and we were willing to just dive in and go, “All right, let’s do this experiment. Let’s just see what we can accomplish.” And lo and behold, we have Untitled Horror Movie.

I love how this is so not the kind of character that we’ve seen you do, at least in your recent roles. Was she very defined on the page as a character? Did you get to have a hand in developing who she is and how she would be?

McNAMARA: A little bit. I helped to further the idea. It was a very collaborative process throughout. I was excited to see what Luke and Nick would come up with because I’ve been friends with Luke Baines from Shadowhunters and Nick Simon, I’ve known for years and years. It was one of those things where I was curious to see what they would write for me to do, and I was thrilled. That’s the joy, when a friend writes the script. They know what you haven’t gotten the chance to do. They knew I hadn’t gotten to do comedy in a really long time and that I had never really played a character like this, at least not for a good long while. It was so fun to get to dive into sweet Chrissy, who is just the most over-committed and under-informed individual. I love doing comedy. It’s something that I rarely get a chance to do anymore and it was great to stretch those muscles a little bit, that have not been used for awhile.

Was this a situation where you could add or change things on the fly because of the way you were shooting it?

McNAMARA: Absolutely. Through the magic of earpieces and headphones, we were all able to be completely isolated. We were on Zoom together for the group scenes, but all of our audio and video was completely isolated as it was recorded, which allowed them all of the freedom in editing to basically have six cameras rolling and six separate microphones at all times. And then, if we were to ad-lib or throw something in there, or somebody would go on a tangent, we could all go with it and they had it all captured. It gave us all of the freedom in the world to play and to find what the movie was actually going to be, both tonally and in actuality, branching out from the script as we were shooting.

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Since you were basically doing everything for yourself on this, did you find yourself enjoying one department more than the others?

McNAMARA: It was simultaneously very exciting and very terrifying. I think all of us wanted to not be the one to ruin the film, as it were. I have such massive respect for crews and for their knowledge base and their skill set. They have obviously trained and studied and done all of those things that I have not done. I’ve had the luxury of working with some incredible crews that have taught me a lot over the years and answered all of my many questions, as someone who wants to direct in the future. But there’s a big difference between seeing something and understanding it versus practically doing it yourself. Thanks goes to our director of photography, Kevin Duggin, who with the patience of a saint taught all of us everything we know about every department. I’ve always thought that what Kevin does, being a director of photography and lighting, has always been magic to me. There’s a way that directors of photography paint with light and can do so much with what seemingly to the human eye is amorphous. Through a few little bits of rudimentary knowledge, I’ve gotten to play in that a little bit more, even with self-tapes and interviews and things that I’ve done after. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with that and seeing what I can come up with, after the fact.

I love the use of shadow in this too, because it does actually play like its own character in the movie.

McNAMARA: Absolutely. Some of that was purposeful and some of it was that we’d be setting up a shot and Kevin would go, “Wait, what was that? We can use that.” That was the fun of the whole process. It was all a grand experiment where we were all just open to going, “All right, we’re going to give this our best shot and see what happens.”

Do you leave a project like this feeling more secure that you could direct, if the right thing came along, or do you realize that there are so many more things that you don’t know yet?

McNAMARA: A bit of both. Every bit of knowledge helps to fuel that. For me, I’ve shadowed a few directors and I’ve done a little bit of studying here and there, as far as that goes, and it only fueled my fire even more. I don’t think I’ll ever stop telling stories in front of the camera and creating characters, but as a director behind the camera, there are so many more tools at your disposal that you can use to tell a story and say things in interesting ways. It only fueled my fire more, to learn about those things. That being said, I know that there is so much yet that I still don’t know, but I learn more by doing, so it makes me more excited to dive in.

What was it like to shoot this during a pandemic? We were in this weird period for awhile when production shut down, where people thought production would be back up and running in a couple of weeks, and then there was the period where people wondered if anything would ever get back into production. What was it like to do something like this and figure out how to still build chemistry when you’re not able to actually be in the same room?

McNAMARA: Yeah, that was definitely a consideration. Retrospectively, it was very cathartic, in a way. Even though we don’t mention the pandemic at all in the story, you have six characters that are dealing with this period of uncertainty and an unknown future and not knowing what their lives are going to consist of, and they all deal with it in very different ways. We were all at home, not knowing what the world was going to look like in six hours, let alone six weeks. It was definitely a way of therapeutically working through this place that all of us were in, mentally and emotionally, as well as telling this story that will hopefully help other people do the same.

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But as far as the chemistry goes, so much of the film relies on that banter and that chemistry. I was lucky in the fact that I knew Tim [Granaderos] and Claire [Holt] and Luke from beforehand, so I had a bit of a relationship there already, but that was a big question for all of us. If you don’t have that spark, the whole movie isn’t going to work. And somehow in the first table read on Zoom, something just clicked. All of us looked at each other, virtually, and went, “Actually, there’s something here and we’re all on the same wavelength,” even though some of us had never even met. Still to this day, we all have not physically been in the same room together, so hopefully that’ll happen soon and we’ll be able to either go on a group vacation, or I don’t know, maybe shoot a sequel in person.

RELATED: Watch: ‘Shadowhunters’ Cast Teases the Surprises in Store for Fans of the Books

Shadowhunters was a show that had a very loyal and very devoted fan base. Has that fever died down at all, or do you still get comments from fans about it?

McNAMARA: It’s so interesting because I never expected it, when I first started the show. I was so excited. Being a fan of YA as a kid, I know the responsibility of taking on a story like that and taking on a character like Clary, that people are so attached to and a world that people relate to so much and love. The Shadowfam is so special. We love to call them the Shadowfam because from the creatives to the fandom, it’s all one big family. We really all have the same passion for the story. That has not ceased, and I truly don’t think it ever will. That’s all a credit to the fandom, in that they have taken this community far beyond us and the show and our characters, and created this beautiful space where people can feel accepted and just truly be themselves and find kindred spirits from all over the world.

In a space like social media, that can have so many different facets that run the gamut, to have a space that is so loving and positive is just a gift to be a part of. Seeing through the pandemic, so many new people discovered Shadowhunters and went on the journey anew, and seeing those comments online and meeting people at virtual comic cons, it’s almost been a resurgence of fresh enthusiasm into the world that we’re all just so excited to see.

You were so great on Arrow, where you had the really tough job of joining the show and finding a way to have that fan base embrace you, and you did that. I personally was very bummed to hear that the spinoff, Green Arrow and the Canaries, wasn’t moving forward. How hard was it to get that news and know that you wouldn’t have closure for Mia, as a character, in the way that you did get somewhat with Clary?

McNAMARA: Joining the Arrow-verse, in and of itself, was such a pleasure. Coming off of Shadowhunters, I was so bummed thinking that my next job probably wouldn’t be as active or as stunt heavy, and I wouldn’t have a chance to use those fighting skills at work every day, or to be immersed in a fandom and a world like Shadowhunters.

And then, Arrow happened and I was so thrilled to be able to dive in head-first. Granted, I didn’t know until after I was cast that I would be playing Oliver and Felicity’s daughter, which is once again a whole level of responsibility that I was not expecting, but was very excited for. I was ready for the challenge of diving in and going, “How do I take these two characters in this relationship that is so beloved by the fandom and do justice by it and create a character that’s an amalgamation of these two really specific, wonderfully developed humans?”

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Image via the CW

I was just so grateful that Stephen [Amell] and Emily [Bett Rickards], and everyone on the show and in the whole Arrow-verse welcomed me in with open arms and just made me feel so at home, including the fandom as well. I was a bit nervous to see how they would accept Mia and what they would think because the take that we took with her was very distinct. You were either going to love it or not, and most people really took to Mia and I was so grateful for that. The one thing you’re always sure of in the entertainment industry is that eventually a job will come to a close, but the great thing about the Arrow-verse and the great thing about Mia is that the Arrow-verse still exists and Mia lives on in comic-cons and as people rewatch the show. As much as I would’ve loved to continue her story, I was just so grateful to be a part of it.

When you have an experience like that, do they tell you why the show doesn’t get picked up? Did they ever give you a reason for their decision, or do the actors not get that information?

McNAMARA: Unfortunately, at least in my experience, actors are usually the last to know anything and have the least information when it comes to these things. So, I don’t know why. I don’t even have the authority to speak on the matter really, other than I wish it had gone forward. I was excited to see what the future held, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Are you still a game to return to the character in some capacity, especially if the Legends were to find themselves in 2040?

McNAMARA: Look, the Arrow-verse is what it is and I have no idea what their future plans are, but I would jump at the chance to go back and play again. There are so many wonderful people over at WB and The CW and the whole Berlanti world. I love working there and, if they ever need me back, I’m happy to go shoot arrows again.

Acting didn’t start out as a planned career for you, but you went from stage to film and TV and you’ve been working pretty consistently. When you realized that this was what you actually wanted to do, what did you envision for yourself? What did being a successful actor look like, in the beginning?

McNAMARA: It’s funny you ask that because that’s changed over the years. Something that I love most about my career is that it’s constantly evolving and constantly changing. At first, I would say that it was very different than it is now. I wanted to be an economist, before I was an actor. I wanted to work in financial planning or developmental economics, or something of that nature, and that’s actually what I went to school for. Growing up in Kansas City, they had a huge theater community there, so my plan was to work in a financial institution, which closes at five, and then I could make it to the theater by eight o’clock for curtain. That would have worked out perfectly. That’s what I thought my life would be. I thought, “How great, I can do both of the things that I love.”

Then, I ended up booking a Broadway show and moved to New York and went, “Oh, my gosh, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I’m going to live in New York and work in Broadway theater, and this will be fantastic.” Then, I booked the job in L.A., and 10 years later, I’m still here, going back and forth and doing all of these things. So, at this point, I’m just open to whatever the future holds, as long as I get to keep working in different mediums. I’d love to go back to theater. I’d love to do more film. I’d love to do another TV show. I want to direct soon. I’m developing projects. I’m doing music. I’m putting my hands in everything because diversity in creative exploits are what fuels my soul the most and keeps me growing and keeps me challenged. That’s what I would like to do. Continuing forward motion is my idea of success.

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Image via UntitledHM LLC

When you found out that you would be filming a scene for this, where you essentially have to strangle yourself, what went through your head? What’s that like to shoot and what’s it like to watch that later?

McNAMARA: Watching it is a bit funny. I’m funny about watching myself, but that’s just part of the job, I guess. I did turn to Luke and go, “Is this because Clary killed Jonathan in Shadowhunters? Is this why this is happening?” But he gives the sly Luke Baines smirk, so you never really know why, but it was a lot of fun. Given that Luke and I are such good friends, he knows that I have stunt mats at my house, so he knows that if anyone’s equipped during a pandemic to safely do stunts, it’s me, hence the fact that I ended up doing a lot of the stunts in the film. It’s a lot of fun to try your hand, literally, at something new. Being a huge fan of thrillers and horror, and all of those things growing up, it’s fun to get to experiment with what I have in my house that can make this as creepy as possible. How can I manipulate the few tools that I have to create an environment that would be a real set?

How hard is it to figure out those emotional levels or what you want to do physically when you don’t have somebody there who’s walking you through all of that?

McNAMARA: We were really lucky. Nick is such a fantastic director and is so collaborative and really honest. All you can ask for, from a director, is someone who can guide you, having the scope of the whole film to help you find those levels and find where it fits in the greater realm of the story.

Also, we were lucky enough to be able to call on some folks that we worked with before, from Shadowhunters, in all of the different departments, including stunts. We reached out to a few of our stunt performers and coordinators and friends from that show, who then sent us a video, if we were to do these things in our house, how to safely do it, but also make it look realistic enough on camera and how to shoot it and where to position the camera and how to position ourselves with the camera, which are normally all things the stunt coordinator would tell you and have planned out with the director and the camera operators on the day.

In this case, we had to do it all ourselves, so we were really lucky to have those resources. Given the pandemic, a lot of people had the time to take a few minutes to teach us and were happy to help because we all needed a bit of creativity in our lives, at that point.

I was very impressed with everything that you pulled off in this, because it just seemed like there were endless possible challenges along the way with something like this.

McNAMARA: Absolutely, there were, but that was the joy of it. As creatives and as artists, we always tend to be overcoming obstacles in one way or another, and this was just another opportunity to do that.

Untitled Horror Movie is available on digital and VOD.

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