Robert Rodriguez

Shadowhunters' Kat McNamara Pens a Sweet Sendoff to the TV Class of 2019

With the Freeform drama wrapped, TV Guide's 2019 valedictorian reflects on this time of transition and her hopes for what comes next

Life has a funny way of giving you exactly what you need. Every challenge placed before you is an opportunity for growth. This year has run the gamut of emotions for me, and I have become a better person for it. For starters, shooting the series finale ofShadowhunters allowed me a moment to take a look back at the experience as a whole and realize what utter magic it was.

Shadowhunters was a joy and a thrill, but it also presented new challenges. It was baptism by fire, and I am so grateful to have those experiences and those people to shape me into the person and the artist I have become. I am simultaneously thrilled and pained to have had such a brilliant experience so early on in my career. I am eternally grateful as now I know the pinnacle of what family can mean on a set in this nomadic life we choose to lead. I also, however, am well aware that this is not a typical situation, and that I very well may never experience this kind of magic and harmony ever again. I will always cherish the memories, the laughs, the challenges, and every ounce of love I felt in making this show. I emerge from this series a woman on a mission -- to take with me a bit of this rarified air, this lightning in a bottle, and bring a bit of that light to every endeavor moving forward.

Courtesy of Kat McNamara

At 19, I was challenged with the responsibility of not only being the lead of a show but enticing and enchanting a fandom who were extremely passionate and opinionated about this story and my character. So I set out to lead with professionalism, positivity, and a desire to learn as much as possible from those around me. Looking back, I scarcely recognize the girl I was at 19, and I am ever grateful for the learning and growth that Shadowhunters brought. I must give the most immense thanks to the crew, the cast, the creatives, the writers, and everyone involved in the production team. We became a family, we took care of each other, we were in the trenches pushing each other to make the show better each and every episode. The cooperation and community created on set made going to work every day a joy -- no matter if I was covered in blood, sweat, tears, or all three (a common occurrence, I assure you) -- I was elated to be surrounded by that company. They proved by example what I have always believed: Collaboration can create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts when inspired, creative minds work as a team. On top of that, they recognized a young girl who was eager to learn as much as possible about how the magic happens and took her under their wing.

Kat McNamara, Shadowhunters

Ben Mark Holzberg/Freeform

We currently live in a world where strong, proactive female characters are coming to the forefront and becoming the norm rather than a rare commodity. Clary is very much a part of that conversation, being a girl who literally and figuratively battles her demons against insurmountable odds. I have learned so much from Clary and from playing out her journey. Over the last four years, I have spent more time, hour for hour, in her shoes than I have in my own. She will always be a part of me, ingrained in my mind and engraved on my heart. Her passion for what she believes in and the people she loves, as well as her willingness to sacrifice for them, is inspiring. However, it is her humanity, despite her angelic nature, that has truly taught me a lesson. While Clary is our protagonist and angelic by blood, she is far from perfect. Time and time again she falls flat on her face or causes dire consequences despite the best of intentions. She has taught me that above all else, our mistakes are not meant to define and hinder us, they are meant to be used as stepping stones to climb our way up and grow into our full potential. That is exactly what I feel this process has set me on the path to do, both on a personal and artistic level.

Courtesy of Kat McNamara

I could write a book about all the lessons and skills I learned through this production, but I want to be sure to touch on a few specifically. I have always been a petite person. As such, I was under the impression that meant physical strength of any real significance was out of the question for me. I was active -- a dancer, an athlete, a hiker, etc. -- but I never thought that I would or could be strong in any sense but an emotional one. Shadowhunters changed all of that for me. In training for the fight scenes on the show, I began working with a brilliant personal trainer and the impeccable stunt team to gain the stamina and skill set in martial arts, boxing, and weapons in order to bring Clary to life to the fullest extent. These gents showed me very quickly that I just didn't have the knowledge previously to use my size to my advantage and to craft it into a kick-ass fighting machine and a tool for the process. By the middle of Season 2, I was doing the majority of my own fighting and stunt work, regularly learning from and training with my incredible stunt double and the rest of the team to keep pushing my skill set. I am now a bona fide fitness fanatic. I love my time in the gym and in training, and I feel so empowered that these professionals believed in me, coached me, and helped me push beyond my perceived limits to achieve what I thought was impossible. I speak about this often as I want to encourage others who have not fully explored the world of exercise and fitness to take the leap and see what they are capable of. The human body and spirit are amazing things, and combined they are unstoppable.

Luke Baines and Kat McNamara, Shadowhunters

John Medland/Freeform

I also always had the idea to direct in the back of my mind, but coming at my career from an acting standpoint, I never knew how to take that step or if I even should. I was working on an episode and chatting with our guest director who pulled me aside and told me I was asking all the questions a director would be and asked if I had ever thought about it. He then proceeded to take me under his wing and encouraged me to seriously look into it as another creative outlet in my career. Shadowhunters gave me the opportunity to work with several skilled and diverse directors with varied styles and tactics. With this inspiration in mind, I was able to view their work as an education and take note of what elements I would adopt and the process of how they communicated and solved problems on set. I am now beginning to shadow and look at directing my own short film -- once again, events I never thought would be possible.

Courtesy of Kat McNamara

I would also be remiss if I didn't thank the Shadowhunters fandom who, from day one, have given me the warmest welcome and the utmost support through this journey. I say this often, but I am in constant awe and admiration of the community we have come to call the Shadowfam. Coming from the book series, the fans took a chance on our interpretation of a story in which they are so invested and came on this journey with us to re-experience these characters and situations they have been discussing and analyzing for years. They are open to changes in story, character, and mythology, and have the knowledge to understand and accept differences for the better, as well as call us out when they disagree. They engage with us and each other in respectful discussion and debate about the show and always show a willingness to have their minds opened by a person they may have been previously in opposition to. I have watched artists' careers blossom as the fandom sends their creations viral when they find something they respond to. I have seen people connect across the globe and find kindred spirits that grow into lifelong best friendships as they create a community despite the obstacle of distance.

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In addition to all of that, even after the cancellation of the show, they came out in droves to show their support and to do their part to try and resurrect the show series with the #SaveShadowhunters campaign. From cupcakes, to planes flying over Netflix headquarters, to over $30,000 raised for The Trevor Project, to four write-in People's Choice Award wins, to billboards in major cities across the world, to over 22 million tweets, they made their voices heard. Despite the outcome, as a group, they proved that people who are united for a cause for good can build something incredible by sheer force of willpower and cooperation. They have used our little show as a jumping off point, an impetus and an inspiration for what I can only refer to as a movement. The story of Shadowhunters is all about love, acceptance, and finding the hero in us all. That is exactly what these angels have done: come together as a force for unity and love in a divided world.

Kat McNamara signs a poster for a fan at New York Comic Con

Jeff Neira/Freeform

I write this barely more than a week after the airing of the series finale and find myself feeling a deeper sense of loss than I expected. I'm an actor; I live a transient life with a cycle of temporary jobs. The only permanence in the job cycle is that no job is permanent. Inevitably, one project will draw to a close, and the next one will begin. I am used to this; I have been for quite some time. So why do I feel as though I have lost a limb?

Courtesy of Kat McNamara

I am aware I'm still too close to it to fully understand, but after much thought and musing, I believe it has to do with how influential this job and the people involved have been in shaping the adult I have become. The time in my life in which Shadowhunters fell is such a massive transitional period for anyone. In that time, not only did my entire life change from a career standpoint, but I grew up as well. I left my teen years and my childhood behind, all while creating a show and a world that enveloped my entire life. I started the show a naïve teenager who had never shopped for an apartment, never lived on my own in another country, never had a leadership role on a job, couldn't throw a punch, and didn't even drink. I was slammed with new experiences, new opportunities, and a crew of big brothers to guide me, teach me, and corrupt me just enough to develop into so much more than I ever thought I would be.

This year, in particular, has been quite the rollercoaster for another reason as well. It has brought the next chapter, the next puzzle, and the next family into my life: The CW's Arrow. It has been a process full of surprises from the start. My audition for this show came about a week after the Shadowhunters cancellation news, so needless to say, I was still getting my bearings. Despite all that, when this fell in my lap, I was immediately intrigued. The sides, the pages an actor uses to audition, were for the role of a rookie cop with a dark past and a propensity for sass -- even toward the formidable vigilantes she encountered.

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When I was cast, I immediately started research on the type of training and education police officers receive when I got a call from Beth Schwartz, our showrunner and resident superhero, who told me that this character was merely a front for auditions and that I was instead (SPOILER) Mia Smoak, the daughter of Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak. I was speechless. I had been witness to the power of Olicity due to the popularity of Malec and knew how beloved they are to the Arrow viewers. As daunted as I was by the responsibility of this endeavor, I was determined to take it on as creatively as I could, taking elements of both characters and blending them into a person who honored the relationship that Stephen Amell, Emily Bett Rickards, and the writers of the show have spent so many years developing.

Kat McNamara, Arrow

Jack Rowand/The CW

I am so thankful to have been welcomed into the Arrowverse family. From the cast to the crew to everyone else involved, it has been quite a joy. Being the new kid on the block is never easy; going into the show halfway into their seventh season, I was a bit trepidatious and feeling a bit like it was the first day of school. Coming off of a show where I was a part of building the world from day one, where I knew every member of the cast and crew so well, this was unfamiliar territory and something I had not done in years. However, I was instantly put at ease by none other than the Green Arrow himself. He was in the middle of shooting one of the most difficult episodes of the season, and as soon as we crossed paths when I arrived on set for initial fittings, he jumped out of his chair, gave me a huge hug and actually took a moment to greet me and make me feel welcome.

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This experience is not only indicative of Stephen Amell but also the rest of the Arrow cast and crew, who instantly treated me as one of the family -- something for which I will be eternally grateful. Arrow is such a hallmark of superhero television -- a classic in its own right -- and I have loved jumping in with the folks who have been on the show from the beginning and seeing them get excited and inspired by this new chapter and exploring what creative possibilities that could entail. Also, having the opportunity to continue my physical training -- expanding my fighting skills as well as adding a certain iconic weapon to my proverbial tool belt (thwick) -- has been incredible as it was one of the elements I was so sad to lose with Shadowhunters coming to a close. Beth and the writers at Arrow HQ have gone above and beyond in crafting Mia's story. They have created a woman who is complex, dark, troubled, and badass, yet who still manages to have a sense of humor and a heart of gold, albeit one a bit tarnished by the events of her life. This has made it an absolute dream to explore and create this woman, and I'm beyond excited to see where her journey may lead.

Kat McNamara, Arrow

Dean Buscher/The CW

In this career, each new project creates a new chapter in my life. It brings with it a new family, often a new location, and a set of challenges all its own. I always find this to be the most exciting part of it all. Very rarely in life do you get a clean slate, a fresh start, and a chance to create something completely new. Every time I take on a new character, I get to do just that -- start with a blank page and a fresh script, eager to dive into the world and direct the mind and heart of this new person put in my hands to bring to life. In doing so, I inevitably end up putting a bit of myself into each character and taking a bit of each of them with me. So, too, the people around me on each project affect what I do and how I see the world, given the amount of time we spend together and the fact that I am a perpetual student attempting to glean something from every experience. Each project becomes not only a phase of my career but a part of the tapestry of who I am.

Courtesy of Kat McNamara

I am often asked what I believe to be the definition of success. In an industry that often does not have a clear path or destination, this has required a good deal of thought. At this point in my life, I would define success as creative fulfillment and being able to support oneself in doing so. This outlook came to me even before I entered the world of television, when I was fortunate enough to be in A Little Night Music on Broadway. In this show, I worked with some of the most incredible and influential women I have had the pleasure to encounter in my career, particularly Angela Lansbury and Elaine Stritch. I spent hours backstage with these women, hearing their stories and attempting to soak up the wisdom they had to offer. Both helped shape how I view success in the industry in their own way. They taught me the importance of being open to letting life and your career take you where they may and to make the most of where you end up, while still staying true to who you are and why you started in the first place. If you can achieve both in your career while being well respected for telling stories that move people and hold a mirror up to the human experience -- to me, there is not much more one can ask for in terms of success.

Kat McNamara and Dominic Sherwood, Shadowhunters

John Medland/Freeform

This year has brought some of the highest and lowest points emotionally and mentally in my career thus far. It has been full of moments of change, uncertainty, gratitude, reflection, loss, creative magic, and unbridled joy. Needless to say, I have learned a great deal through it all as this range of events has led to opportunities for learning, expansion, and growth. Overall, the greatest takeaway I have from this experience is that life is all about balance. If you keep a positive outlook and surround yourself with people who keep you centered, you can handle anything life throws your way -- be it demons, arrows, jetlag, or anything in between.

For some, the uncertainty in the life of an actor can be daunting. For me, I am excited by the prospect of unlimited possibilities for the future. Having worked with and observed people at all stages and realms of experience in this industry, one constant is that if you love what you do and pursue it with an unlimited passion and openness to learning, you will lead a life full of adventurous joy. My experiences so far have brought me just that, along with so many lovely, beautiful human beings to guide me, dive in with me, and celebrate with me along the way. For the experiences that have shaped me and guided me to where I am today, I'm grateful. For the opportunities and challenges yet to present themselves, I'm ready.

(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)