Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
May 20, 2016

In the coming of age drama A Sort of Homecoming, high school student Amy (Laura Marano), who was given up for adoption by her biological mother, sees a scholarship through competitive debate as her ticket out of a deadend life in her small Louisiana hometown. Together with her friend and debate partner Nick (Parker Mack), who shares the desire for a new start thanks to his abusive father, she edges closer to a national championship with help from brilliant academic Rosa (Katherine McNamara), who seems to be effortlessly peerless in all her pursuits and was born with an abundance of social advantages. Set in the '80s, A Sort of Homecoming tells the majority of its story in those colorful, shoulder-padded days, but also follows Amy into adulthood (where she is played by Michelle Clunie), which finds her returning to the hometown she ran from when an old friend unexpectedly needs her. The nostalgic reunion awakens its share of ghosts and regrets, and allows Amy to reconcile her past with her future.

Katherine McNamara's character Rosa is intriguing in her innate formidability, flavored further by traits that seem to contradict her natural gifts. As one of the nation's top high school debaters, she uses language as her weapon of choice, relentlessly firing off words like a barrage of artillery. She smokes the competition from every possible angle, all while maintaining a calm, cool, collected demeanor throughout. Yet despite her great aptitude, she has no interest in pursuing competitive debate into her college years; and even though her emotions are constantly measured and sometimes muted, she is more than willing to stop and lend a helping hand to mentor Amy.

In this exclusive interview, Katherine talks about her role as a fast-talking, badass ace student, the academic focus from her own teen years, and her musical aspirations that intersected the making of A Sort of Homecoming.

A Sort of Homecoming is now available on VOD. Check out the official website. Your character Rosa is so impressive in the way that she is absolutely at the top of her game. What effort went into creating her effortless-looking brilliance?

KATHERINE: Oh thank you, first of all. I wanted to do a lot of research, because yes, Rosa is at the top of her game, and she's supposed to be one of the best debaters in the nation. And I did a lot of research into debate, and what goes into it, and the different techniques, and what the master debaters actually do in order to be able to pull off these speeches that they create. I watched a lot of documentaries, watched a lot of interviews. But thankfully, I had done a lot of Sondheim in my musical theatre days, [and] the Sondheim patter lends itself well to debate.

Did you have a different type of practice or preparation for your scenes in which Rosa is firing off dialogue at a rapid rate, or was it a fairly standard rehearsal process?

It's a lot more repetition, I will say, because you have to know every single word of this dense speech and make it not only make sense, but also make it clear and make it accurate. And you have to say it a lot more quickly, so you have to know it without thinking, almost--it has to just be second nature and be able to flow without thinking about what you're saying. So it's definitely quite different.

Growing up, in which school subjects did you particularly excel, and was speech and debate ever in your academic arsenal?

[laughs] Well, I was definitely always a math nerd. Numbers were my game, and I loved everything about it. Actually, before I was an actor, I wanted to go into finance and be the CFO of a company, or be a financial advisor, or an economist, or something along those lines. And so education has always been, obviously, a priority of mine and something that I really enjoy. But now I'm getting a master's degree in literature, which I guess is lending itself quite a bit more to my career. But my undergraduate degree was in business, so that definitely lends itself to managing the business side of my career.

Rosa doesn't conform to what was largely '80s fashion, nor does she project an image we might associate with her preference for alternative music. What do you think that says about the character?

Well, I think with Rosa...She's from New York. She's been raised in a family that has means, but also is very artistic. And so she's been raised in a way where she can be whatever and whoever she wants to be, and has been encouraged to do so. So that comes through in her fashion as well. She has definitely her own style and her own way of doing things. And we almost wanted to bring in some '90s fashion trends into Rosa's look, because we wanted to make her a little bit fashion forward, and a little bit ahead of her time, because that's just the kind of person that she is.

You performed a song called "Wait For You" over A Sort of Homecoming's closing credits. Did you record it specifically for this film?

No, it's a song that I had in my arsenal for a little while. You know, I've been working on music on my own, trying to figure out where I sit musically and where my place is in that world as well. And that song was one that I ended up playing for the producers and for Maria [Burton] the director. And we all came to the realization that it sort of encompassed a lot of the themes and tonalities of the film. And what that song ultimately is really about is that throughout your life you make these connections, and you make these relationships, and you become connected to certain people. And [even] if you don't see someone for five days or five weeks, five months or five years, if you really care about that person, that connection will still be there no matter what. And that's sort of what the film is about as well: it's about [having a] support system and those connections that you make when you really care about other people. It never really goes away.

Your series Shadowhunters just got picked up for a second season. Will that commitment still leave time for you to work on films and music?

Yes! I almost have my EP together at this point, so I'll be releasing that as soon as I put all the pieces together. But outside of that, I'm always looking for great films, great projects that I can work on, because I'm all about not being stagnant, and all about growth and really challenging myself in whatever it is that I'm doing. So the short answer is yes! [laughs]

Is there another upcoming project we might see you in soon?

There is an independent film that I did last year with Mira Sorvino, Christopher Backus, and Cary Elwes called Indiscretion that is one of my favorite films I've ever done. And it should be coming out very soon. I believe they just finished it up and they're in the process of selling it. But that's something that was such a learning experience for me, being surrounded by these brilliant actors. And it's quite an intense film, so I'm excited to see it all put together.

Just a totally tangential bit of fantasy speculation here...It recently occurred to me that if the X-Men film franchise was ever merged into the proper Marvel Cinematic Universe and roles were recast, you would be a great choice to play Jean Grey. What would you, I, and the rest of the world have to do to make that happen?

Thank you! Well, talk to Marvel, because I am 100% in! [laughs] I am a huge, huge Marvel fan, and I would absolutely love to be a part of that universe...In any capacity! That would be a dream come true.

[jokes] I'll call them up this afternoon, we'll see what we can get rolling.

Perfect, let me know what happens! I'm in!

Thanks very much for your time this morning! And continued best wishes for everything going forward...

Thank you. Lovely chatting with you!

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