The Mortal Instruments book series by Cassandra Clare introduced fans to a mystical world that was blended with the normal one they knew. Though regular humans, referred to as ‘Mundanes’ throughout the series, couldn’t see it, demons, warlocks, werewolves, and other magical creatures walked among them. The demons are hunted down by Shadowhunters, a breed of half-human, half-angel. It is on Clary Fray’s 18th birthday that her seemingly normal life is turned upside down and she finds herself part of the Shadowhunters.
The upcoming television series “Shadowhunters” brings the books to life in a way that fans haven’t experienced before. Unlike the movie “City of Bones”, which focused entirely on the first book, the series will not limit itself to one book per season, but rather a mixture of events. It will follow Clary’s journey of self-discovery and emergence into this hidden world, with some added twists and a few new characters introduced as well.
For Katherine McNamara, who plays lead character Clary, bringing the books to life was a long process.
“It was actually quite a long audition process but it makes perfect sense considering that these characters are so important to the story and you have to make sure that you have the people that are going to bring them to life in a way that can be beneficial to the show,” Katherine begins to explain about her road to getting the role of Clary. She says, “I went through several auditions and I ended up doing a chemistry read with Dom [Sherwood], who plays Jace, and one with Alberto [Rosende], who plays Simon, and Emeraude was part of the audition process that I was a part of as well but we never read together.”
Calling the entire process a whirlwind, Katherine remembers being cast happening so fact that she didn’t have time to process it. “I saw on Twitter that they were going to announce who was playing Clary in two hours. And I hadn’t heard anything,” she says. “So I assumed that it wasn’t me and I had assumed that it had gone another way. Then I got a call from my team saying, ‘Hold on, they haven’t given their decision yet, just hang tight!’ And then I waited and waited and waited and waited.” To pass the time, Katherine recalls going to the gym to get her mind off of it. “Ten minutes before they were scheduled to announce it on Twitter, they called me and told me I got the part. And then my phone blew up ten minutes later,” she laughs.
“It was kind of an insane experience,” describes Katherine. “I was completely speechless. I didn’t know what to think.”
Although it was a long process in the making, she remembers the fun they had once they were all cast. “It was quite fun when we were cast to kind of look around and go, ‘Hey, we made it! We’ve been through this together, we went through the trenches together, and we made it out alive!’”
Some of the ‘trenches’ the cast had to endure after being cast consisted of the training. “It was one of the most difficult parts but it was also one of the most fun,” Katherine says. “It sort of became a cast bonding experience for all of us. We all trained together and it made it a lot of fun. We went to the gym together; we had a fitness trainer the whipped us into shape,” she remembers with a laugh.
A part of the training that really allowed the cast to bond took part during the weapons training.
“We all took turns with each other’s weapons, which was pretty great, so we all taught each other how to fight as well.” Through some giggles, Katherine tells Teenplicity, “With exception of the whip! I’m sure you’re familiar with Isabelle’s whip. We’re all terrified of that – we let Emeraude do her thing. I don’t know, we were all just terrified of that thing!”
Katherine recalls the gymnastics training they all received as well. “[It was] because we all wanted to do most of our stunts.”
Taking on any lead role is a challenge, especially with such a dynamic character like Clary Fray. But, this was a challenge that Katherine welcomed with open arms.
“My favorite part about playing Clary is the blend of strength and vulnerability that she has,” reveals Katherine. “She’s this very strong, confident young woman yet within the first 10 to 15 minutes of the show, she’s completely thrown off balance. Everything she knows and everything she loves is taken away from her and she’s forced to start anew and rise from the ashes and kind of become this warrior that she never thought she’d become.”
Continuing, Katherine acknowledges that her character isn’t perfect, “And through that, [Clary] makes mistakes. And yes, she is a heroine and she starts to become this warrior but she’s flawed. She doesn’t understand the consequences and she doesn’t think about them sometimes. So she makes selfish decisions and she makes mistakes. She costs people things and she costs herself things but she learns from it and she grows from it.”
Citing one of the most important things to keep in mind about Clary, Katherine mentions, “Even though she’s half angel, her humanity is very apparent throughout the season.” She describes Clary as quite a dynamic character to bring to life.
With an already deeply rooted fan-base due to the extremely successful book series, is the pressure on when it comes to creating “Shadowhunters”? Katherine says yes and no.
“It’s so nice to be a part of a project that people are excited about and [the cast], through social media and going to things like Comic Con and talking to fans, we feel that excitement and we are so thankful for it.” She recalls how great the fan support has been during shooting. “When we’re having a long day on set and we’re on set all night and it’s four in the morning and we’re tired, you know, ready to get a little bit of shuteye, we go on Twitter and we look at the comments and we see the fan art. We see how excited people are and it reinvigorates us and gets us ready to get back out there and hunt some demons,” she explains with a laugh.
“But it is true, something else I’ve learned through talking to the fans, is that these people grow up with these characters. These people are reading the books and form such personal relationships with them and these characters become their heroes. And we have to bring them to life. It’s very exciting but it’s also a big responsibility. And we don’t take that lightly.”
“The thing we’ve done with the show is we’re taking on a new, fresh perspective on the series,” Katherine hints on what fans can expect to be different from the books. “We’re seeing the story through a new lens. It’s a little darker, it’s a little grittier, and we wanted to keep it exciting for people who know the books cover to cover and people who’ve never been a part of this world before. So it’s a balance that we’ve tried to uphold throughout the series in that there are a lot of things that stay the same. We definitely stay true to the characters and the overarching skeleton of the story is the same but the way in which we get there is a little different.” She explains, “We bring in characters from books 2, 3, and 4. We have new characters that weren’t in the books at all. But, you know, we definitely have some iconic lines and some iconic scenes and some Easter egg props and some other elements that fans of the books will know and notice and appreciate.”
One of the unique draws of the show is it’s multitude of interesting relationships, something that Katherine finds fascinating about the series. “Even though it takes place in this world of fantasy and science fiction, the characters in and of themselves are so relatable.”
She explains further how the characters are aging with the audience. “The characters are growing up and falling in love for the first time and figuring out who they are, where their place is in the world, what that means for them and the people they love. And those are problem that everybody goes through and our viewers – that’s exactly what they’re experiencing as well.” Katherine says of the show, “It draws people to this story and these characters.”
Of the many relationships on the show, she hopes that in the future, the writers will explore Clary’s relationships with Isabelle and Alec more.
“One relationship that I find really refreshing is that between Clary and Isabelle. You get to see some nice key moments between the two of them but it would be interesting to see that moving forward because so often you have two strong women in a situation, you know, one’s established in the world, one is brand new to it, and it often pits them against each other and it becomes a relationship of competition and cattiness. But on our show, that doesn’t happen once. Clary and Isabelle form this kind of sisterly bond and it was really, actually, quite refreshing and quite a lot more fun for Emeraude and me to play because that’s our relationship off screen as well,” she says with a goodhearted laugh. “So it kind of turned out for the best.”
Katherine continues on to say, “But also, I’m curious to see where Clary and Alec’s relationship goes. Because Alec has quite a journey during season one, and so does Clary, they kind of have a contemptuous relationship, and it would be exciting to see where that all goes after the events of season one.”
Already on book five of The Mortal Instruments series, Katherine says she hopes all of it will be included in the show at some point. “Every moment! Every twist, every turn!” she laughs.
“I mean, Cassie’s books go so many places and take characters on these journeys and throw in these events and these strange happenings that make it so exciting to read. And now that I know all of the people that play the roles, it’s even more exciting to me as I read the books. It’s very exciting to kind of read and see the people that I know and have grown to love as these characters and to kind of hear their voices on the words. It makes it such a more personal experience for me. But, also what we do with the television show, we do so many things that don’t even remotely happen in the books. And go to so many exciting places and strange, weird things that readers have never experienced before and I’m curious to see where they take and what they do with it because there’s so much opportunity.”
Katherine states that fans can expect so much from the show, like action, drama, romance, fright, humor, magic, and all of the above. “[Fans can expect] to be drawn into a world that you wouldn’t expect. The show definitely takes place in this fantastical world but the show is all above love and loyalty and becoming something that you never thought you could become. And that’s something that we all experience.”
Something personal that Katherine has experienced while filming “Shadowhunters” has been learning. “I learned a lot actually. I learned a lot from the cast, both personally and professionally because I am a few years younger than everybody else.” Speaking about her cast, she says, “It was nice to have these big brothers and big sister to learn from throughout the process.”
However, tuning into her character has taught her quite a bit about herself as well. “Clary is probably the closest character to who I am as a person that I’ve ever played. And that – it kind of becomes a little terrifying at times because you go to so many places and Clary is kind of thrown into these situations and ends up very vulnerable at times. I exposed parts if myself that I never have before and a lot of things hit really close to home and it was very scary at times. But I grew so much as a person and as an actress in the process and I’m very excited to see how it all comes together.”
Reminiscing on her times on set, Katherine pauses for a moment to think of a favorite memory with her cast members. “That’s so hard,” she begins. “I mean there are so many great ones, the cast is really fantastic and we have such a great time together. Our show is so serious and there’s so much drama that happens on screen, but we like to keep it light off camera.”
Jokes and pranks are the recipe for the fun vibes off camera. “Pranks abound on the set of Shadowhunters!” Katherine exclaims with a laugh. She confesses, “I’m very easily startled and the guys are like my big brothers and they take it upon themselves, especially Dom, to scare me at any turn. And, of course, it is Shadowhunters, we have a lot of shadows on our set, there are a lot of dark corners, so it’s easy to say I got scared quite a bit.”
She laughs off the pranks and scares, although she admits she hasn’t gotten revenge.
“No!” she giggles. “I’m not good at sneaking up on people; I have very heavy footsteps.” On if she ever will, she wistfully says, “Someday…”
Thinking about the support system that has helped her reach this point, Katherine expresses an immense amount of gratitude.
“Thank you. A big thank you and all the love in the world for all the support and all of the amazing fan art and the excitement for the show – everything. I really am excited to share this world with everyone. I can’t wait to hear what they think!”
“Shadowhunters” premieres on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, at 9PM EST on Freeform (to be formerly known as ABC Family).