In a world of people settling for ordinary, Katherine McNamara is the superhero we all need. Starring as Mia Smoak in the beloved show Arrow, McNamara is a hero on and off the screen. She is hardworking and creative, and also a strong advocate for others finding and pursuing their passions in life. McNamara says, “When you find something you love, whether it’s an art or a science, and you want to dedicate your life to it, go for it. Find those opportunities. Start doing it, learning about it, training yourself in it, and immerse yourself in it. You’re at your best when you’re doing something you love.” Katherine McNamara discusses turning the superhero trope on its head in our 16th issue.
I did a little reading and saw that you received your high school diploma at 14 and your bachelor’s at 17. Is this correct? If so, what was it like being so ahead of many of your peers?
Yes, it is correct! I had an amazing preschool teacher when I started school. I credit her with everything. She helped me find my love for knowledge. Through her, school became a joyful experience with a sense of discovery. Every time I learned something, I was uncovering something about the world around me. School for me was never a chore, it was something fun. Yes, there are those tasks and projects you don’t want to do, but because I was surrounded by so many of those wonderful experiences, I had a love for it.
Do you think the discipline it took to accomplish that helped drive you in your acting career? How did you develop such a strong work ethic?
I credit that to my family and the people who were around me growing up. My family is largely medical professionals. It’s just something I was always surrounded by as a kid. I always say I was raised artistically in the Kansas City theater community because there’s such a lovely pocket of people there that create art because they love it and are passionate about it. There’s no ego involved, and it’s truly just about the work and love of it. Everybody did any job that was needed and bounced around. It really was a team. That’s where I learned that no matter what part you are, you’re vital and should work hard.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but one of your first major projects was on Broadway with A Little Night Music. How did you get your start on Broadway?
A lot of times different theaters in Kansas City brought in people from New York to work on the shows. I had worked with a woman who had come from New York and who worked on a show that needed an immediate replacement. She threw my name out, and I got a random call saying, “Hey, we have an audition for you for A Little Night Music on Broadway. Come to New York in two days if you want to audition.” I never thought in a million years that I would live in New York working on this Broadway show, but I said, “Sure, why not?” I thought it would be fun to have the experience of trying out for a Broadway show, and a week later I was living in NYC working on the show.
Transitioning to television, give us a rundown of your character, Mia, on Arrow.
Mia has overcome quite a bit. Taking over the legacy of the Green Arrow is next for the hero she’s become. It’s been exciting to see these last few episodes of Arrow because we’ve seen how far she has come and her relationship with her father. Now we get to see the more human side of the fighter she is.
You came into the show a bit down the line. Were you intimidated at all by that?
I definitely knew I had my work cut out for me. I was playing the daughter of two characters that have been on the show since the beginning, characters that were cared deeply about by the fans. I somehow had to come in and figure out how to be the amalgamation of characters that had been around for six seasons. I was ready for the challenge, and it was exciting! I had the chance to watch all of the seasons and pulled bits of the characters out and used them to make Mia a combination of their best qualities. On top of that, I was given the warmest welcome. The cast and crew were amazing hosts and so welcoming from the beginning. They made me feel like part of the family instantly.
I have seen there is a possible spin-off involving the female characters of Arrow. Can you give us more information about that?
I can’t say much because anything I say is basically a spoiler. I can say that there is a next chapter. The crisis we have in this show is going to change everything irreversibly. What we see in the backdoor pilot is how the Earth is now and what the future will look like.
It was a huge surprise to me. In this industry, things can change so quickly, so I don’t expect anything. I work hard and do what I can to be a part of the team. Whatever happens, happens. This has been pretty amazing. Truly, there has been a lot of discussions, changes, and re-working of things to see what this series could and would be. I’m excited to see how it will come together.
Why do you think it’s so important to have a female-lead show such as that one?
What’s interesting, I think, about this spin-off series in general is that we’ve had the Green Arrow set as such an iconic superhero—a strong figure that has worked so hard and come so far and doesn’t know much about consequences but learns about sacrifices, loyalty, and accountability over the course of the last eight years. He’s the Green Arrow. Now, you have the superhero trope turned on its head with the Green Arrow played by a tiny, blonde girl. It changes everything, and it really turns everything on its head in a fresh, new way. It shows that anyone can be a hero.
What’s one thing you step back, think about, and say to yourself, “Wow, I did that?”
That’s a difficult question for me because I’m a perpetual student. I’m always looking for the next thing I can learn or work towards. There’s always room in life to grow and reach the next step. However, since education is so important to me, I’m glad I got a business degree. Before I was an actor, I wanted to be an economist and go into developmental economics. Getting to explore that passion occasionally was really fantastic. But looking at what I’ve been able to apply that in, I’ve been able to look at my career as a business as well as a creative endeavor and balance those things to go about it in the best way.
What’s one major thing you still hope to do?
I have a list a mile long. One thing I’m really hoping to do is to direct. It’s something I’ve always known I wanted to do, and I know I have something to say in that realm as a storyteller. I shadowed a director on the set of Arrow this year, and it really solidified that part of me, the part that wants to tell stories. I don’t think I’ll ever stop creating characters. I want to play every kind of character. That’s what I love about what I do: I get to be a chameleon. I get to live a million different lives and explore different characters and walks of life. I hope to work in every genre, type of character, and time period. Directing is just another route of storytelling.