Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
August 23, 2016

In the drama/thriller Natural Selection, burdened teen Tyler Evans (Mason Dye) starts life at a new high school with more than his fair share of emotional baggage from home. But while he is treated as an outsider by some of the popular students, he is quickly befriended by two very different individuals: the enigmatic Indrid (Ryan Munzert), who seems to be a comfortable outsider in the school's social hierarchy, and the compassionate Paige (Katherine McNamara), who seems eager to lend a helping hand to others, whether it be through tutoring, offering a shoulder to cry on, or serving as the unofficial welcoming committee.

But as their stories unfold, it becomes clear that all three harbor their own demons. As the only child of an alcoholic, depressed single mom, Tyler finds himself in the unenviable position of constantly having to be the parent in their dysfunctional and corrosive relationship. Paige, despite her supposedly idyllic life, is harassed by the aftermath of a breakup with an abusive boyfriend. And Indrid, whose agitation and hatred of those around him increases by the day, is edging ever closer to a dangerous and openly violent conclusion.

In this exclusive interview, Katherine McNamara offers a thoughtful discussion on her character Paige, from her coming-of-age journey to her myriad of emotional beats. She also talks about her particularly prolific year in film and teases the return of her television series Shadowhunters, which looks to build upon the successes of its first season.

Natural Selection is currently in theaters, and also available on VOD. We recently talked about A Sort of Homecoming, and now we're here for Natural Selection. Looking ahead, Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? is to be released next month, while Indiscretion should be out by year's end. Is this just a case of coincidental scheduling with so many of your films, or have you been working nonstop to bring us so much entertainment in 2016?

KATHERINE: It's been a bit of both, to be perfectly honest. It's interesting how things can happen that way. [laughs] I had a period of time where I was working on indie film after indie film, and then suddenly, I was doing Maze Runner and Shadowhunters. And you don't realize sometimes how long it takes for indie films to come together and to come to fruition. And then suddenly I look back, and I have three films coming out almost at the same time! [laughs] It was not on purpose, but a happy coincidence.

Your characters Rosa in A Sort of Homecoming and Paige in Natural Selection both share some parallels in how they're top students who still take the time to help others. How would you describe Paige, and what type of person do you think she is?

I think you're right on the money with that. I mean, Paige is a person that is fiercely loyal to the people that she loves, and really does care about the community and about the relationships that she has in her life. But she, I think, is a lot less sure of herself than Rosa. Paige is just at the stage where she's growing up. You know, she's grown up in a small town, and she's now realizing that, wait a second, there might be more out there in the world, and there might be more to explore beyond the confines of where she's grown up and the life that she's known thus far. But what's interesting about that is that it forces her to really take stock of her life, and really take stock of the relationships that she has, and where she's at, and where she's going and where she wants to be. So it forces her to kind of learn how to close certain doors and to open other ones, and to see what she needs to do in order to get where she wants to be in life, and to help those around her on that journey as well.

Despite Paige's compassion and overall niceness, she had a boyfriend who didn't treat her very well, and has an enemy in Indrid, who has a hugely delusional dislike of her. Do you think this adversity was just Paige having a bit of bad luck with small town life, or were her openness and kindness somehow magnets for these awful people and their drama?

I think it's a combination of the two. I think, honestly, that it comes from the fact [that] sometimes when you have a very limited view of the world, and you grow up in a place where that's all you know, sometimes you're not aware of the situation you're in until you're able to look at it from 50,000 feet. And I think as she starts to grow up and as she starts to mature, she realizes that the situation that she's in with the relationship that she has is leaving her kind of trapped. And I think until this point, she was very naive as to what her situation actually was. But after meeting Tyler and starting to think about her future, she starts to see that she needs to make some changes in order to move on and to grow up.

Paige's bedroom and home life seem very quaint and retro: she has physical photographs as decorations, she uses a corded phone, and she has what look to be really comfortable pajamas. What do you think these things say about her?

[laughs] It shows you that she's been very content with her upbringing. Up until this point, she's always known what she's wanted out of life, and she's been very happy with the simple things. But then as the story progresses, she starts to realize that she can move on and she can change, and there are other opportunities and other ways to live and see the world. And she doesn't want other people to get trapped like she did. And she starts to see the negative influences that these things can have [when] she sees the change happen with Tyler, and she starts to see a different side of her ex-boyfriend, and all of these situations. You know, I thought a lot about this, having had a couple years since I shot it, and having seen the film and being able to kind of think about it... [laughs] At its core, Natural Selection is really about people, and about humanity--you know, each one of us has a dark side, each one of us has obstacles, each one of us has challenges and things that we go through in life. But it's how we handle those things and how we deal with those different challenges that ultimately determine who we are and how we present ourselves to the world. And that, in a sense, [is] what each of these characters is dealing with. But it's how they deal with it that determines whether or not they survive in this process of natural selection.

As Paige, you get to alternate scenes of intense vulnerability with scenes of strength and resolve. How did you feel about playing out that whole emotional spectrum with her?

Yeah, that's something that ultimately drew me to the project. Because I saw this role, and it's very rare that you get a character that has so many facets to her in such a short amount of time...But I think that's also what makes it so real. Because human beings, we're not one-dimensional--we all have a lot going on, and it all goes back to our situation and our upbringing, and the people surrounding us. And we get to see that from Paige, which I think makes it a very special character.

There are a few instances where Paige is emotionally rattled. As an actress, how fast can you go from zero to crying?

[laughs] Honestly, it depends. It depends on the scene, it depends on the day. It depends on my mind frame, or how many other emotional scenes I've done that day. Part of learning how to play with your emotions as an actor is being aware of that, and being aware of the different things you have to do, and different ways that you can go there. Because if you've already done three crying scenes and you've got one more to do that day, and it's the twelfth take at two in the morning, you still have to cry! [laughs]

Just to wrap up...I understand you've really hit the ground running with filming the second season of Shadowhunters. How are things going, and how do you feel about living abroad in Canada?

I love it! You know, I travel so much for work, and because it's season two of the show, and we have a lot of our same team back, and the whole cast is so close, it really has become sort of a home away from home for me. I'm very comfortable here in Toronto where we shoot, I love the area I live in. But what's interesting about season two is that we have made a lot of changes, and we have done a lot of things differently, but it's all been in a way that really benefits the show, and it really makes it better than it ever has been. So we've had the opportunity to take what we've learned from season one and grow from it, and change things and refine things, and really improve the show in a very interesting way. And so it's exciting to be able to share, and you'll see what season two will bring!

Looking forward to it! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak to us yet again for another film!

Awesome, thank you so much! Talk to you again soon.

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