She got her start on Broadway when she was 13, graduated from high school at 14, and got a bachelor’s degree by the age of 17. Now, at 19, Katherine McNamara is working on getting her master’s, releasing her own music, prepping for the release of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, and filming the first season of ABC Family’s Shadowhunters. It’s easy to see that McNamara thrives on pursuing her passions and keeping herself busy.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is the second installment in the Maze Runner film series, based on James Dashner’s book trilogy of the same name. Before joining the cast, McNamara was familiar with the young-adult dystopian series and had seen the first film. “When the opportunity arose to be a part of the next chapter, I jumped at the chance. It’s a really different project for me and it pushed me towards something I had never done before,” she said.
With the rise of film adaptations of young-adult dystopian novels—i.e. The Hunger Games and Divergent—vibrant characters, compelling plots, and vivid visuals are necessary for an adaptation to stand apart from the rest. McNamara said the first and foremost goal of the Maze Runner’s filmmakers is to make a quality action film, regardless of the story it’s based on. “Yes, there are a few liberties taken with the story—as most book-to-film adaptations do—but we’re faithful, beyond anything else, to the characters,” she said. “Wes Ball, who is our director, is the genius at the helm. He has such passion for the project and is the mastermind that helped to bring this world from the page to life in such a brilliant way.”
Scorch Trials isn’t McNamara’s only project based on a young-adult series; she landed the lead role of Clary Fray in Shadowhunters, a TV adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments young-adult fantasy book series.
A film adaptation of City of Bones, the first novel in the series, was released in 2013. Plans for a sequel film were eventually cancelled and the book-to-TV series was ordered. “Cassie Clare put so much rich detail, thought, and love into these books, and each book is around 600 to 700 pages long, so it’s really hard to condense all of that into a film format. That’s why I think television services the series very well,” McNamara said. “We can use that time to explore the characters and see where it takes them. We’re hoping to really honor what the fans love about the books and the characters and create the world ourselves. It really is the golden age of television and it’s exciting to be a part of that world.”
The best part of diving into the fantasy genre is the unexpected and unreal situations characters get thrown into, she said. “The other day, I was at work fighting a vampire, and the next day I was creating a portal, and the next day I was getting runes drawn on me—there are so many thing we [as actors] get to do that you can’t do in normal life.”
She also had to train for fight scenes. A room on set is filled with swords, daggers, archery equipment, and a number of other weapons to help the cast learn new techniques. “Honestly, my favorite scripts are the ones I read that scare me,” she said. “The reason I love that is that I know I can do it if I concentrate enough. It forces me to grow and learn and do what I never thought was possible. My biggest goal is to do the books and scripts justice.”