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Friday, June 15, 2012

An Interview with Suits' Sarah Rafferty


Sarah Rafferty plays Donna on USA's Suits, a legal drama that prizes exploration of morality and character drama over case-of-the-week procedural. Donna is Harvey's right hand (wo)man, who knows everything about him. Harvey may be a slick hot shot with an ego, which is well deserved, by the way, but Donna relates to him better than anyone, providing moments that humble and ground Harvey. She has a quick wit and a kind heart. She also serves as the gatekeeper, keeping the world away from her boss.

Rafferty is nice, too. This is her day off, and she makes the trek to the studio, anyway, just to speak with us. She isn't done up to look like Donna, perhaps giving the impression, more than the other interviews that day, that she is a real person, not just the character she plays on TV. She is frank and open, excited to share her passion for the series that she loves being a part of.

The first thing Sarah reveals is that Donna has a huge story coming up in the fifth episode of the season. It turns out, Donna is not always right. I'll give a moment for you fans of the show to digest this, as it simply doesn't seem possible that her character could ever be wrong. But it's true. It thoroughly confuses Donna, as much as it will viewers, and will take several episodes to play out. Donna likes to put on masks, and they will fall away with this development. According to Sarah, after episode five, “That lingering confusion and doubt and remorse are there.”

Rest assured, though, Sarah says, "It's good wrong. It's right wrong." Whatever that means. But the bottom line is that Donna will be knocked off of her perfect pedestal, which, as beloved as she already is, should make for a more well-rounded character.

Rafferty is pleased with the way Donna's role is expanding this year, allowing her to be a more complicated person. In an effort to make Suits more of an ensemble piece, and a less predictable formula, Donna isn’t just interacting with Harvey this year. Right away, in the season two premiere, Donna has a great scene with Rachel, with whom she is forming a friendly bond. There may be some friction in future episodes, but for now, it's great to see the gal pals palling.

Suits is good to its female characters. Rafferty likes that the women on this show, Donna included, are strong, multi-layered, complicated, and real. They are not stereotypes. They are not just romantic interests or supporting players. They are every bit as important as the male characters, and will have plenty to do in the upcoming episodes.

Part of this dynamic shift, away from the two-man show that was much of season one, can be credited to bringing in Hardman, whose name is on the door, but has been unseen til now. Hardman is played by the fantastic David Costabile (Breaking Bad, Damages). Sarah says, "Introducing Hardman makes all of the relationships more dynamic. It’s really exciting to have David here. He’s amazing.” But Hardman is also a mysterious character with a past, and his relationships with each character, as well as the power he seeks to wield over them, throws everything out of balance.

How will Donna deal with Hardman's intrusion? Rafferty says “Donna is intensely loyal and brave in her loyalty.” She understands Harvey better than anybody, because she has always worked with him, even before he came to Pearson Hardman. Her loyalty will be tested this season, and “she goes as far as she possibly can to protect him.”

Donna also has a relationship with Harvey's protege, Mike, played by Patrick J. Adams. Rafferty thinks that Donna likes what Mike brings out in Harvey, which definitely colors her fondness for the young man. After all, she wants the best for Harvey, and if Mike can help him be at the top of his game, she is all for it. Plus, Donna and Mike, because of their unique, close relationships with Harvey, can now be confidantes.

It's no mystery to Sarah why people are connecting with Donna, besides her devotion to Harvey, of course. She thinks that they like her wit, and how quick she is. She works in a man’s world, but isn’t competing with men. It's a great, bold character, who certainly stands out as unique in this television landscape.

When asked how much of herself goes into the role of Donna, Sarah doesn't take much credit. She says that many scenes are written with very specific beats. All of the writers have strong ears for the voices of the characters. Donna and the others have been extremely well defined from the first episode. So mainly, she just tries to play what is on the page, saying she has no input into where the character is going. Many will agree, she plays the part quite well.

That doesn't mean that the actors aren't allowed to take risks. Sarah reveals that they are encouraged to improv after they get the script filmed as written. It's a great experience that helps hone the craft, as well as really gets under the skin of the part.

She further compliments the writers with their bravery, especially in season two, where plots move along at a very rapid pace. She says they can stuff a ton into an hour because they have so many other ideas on where to go from here. There is no sense of stretching anything out, or making the fans wait for the best developments. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and if the season two premiere is any indication, the story has, indeed, moved into the fast lane this year.

The question many fans of Suits want to know is, will Harvey and Donna be hooking up? After all, there is definite chemistry between them. Sarah laughs, and chalks that up to her long friendship with Gabriel Macht, who plays Harvey, that spans two decades. She professes that their children are friends, and it would be very awkward for her to play with him in that way. She also thinks it might be a "jump the shark" moment for the show. Many will disagree with that, but she may be right.

Now, Rafferty isn't against Donna getting a love interest on the series, at least one who is not Harvey. Her suggestions for the role include George Clooney and Brad Pitt, which are definitely realistic for a cable television show. Not. But she says, "when that day [to find a love interest] comes, you can be sure that I will be in on the casting."

Sarah Rafferty admits that she would like to be more like Donna. Donna is thoroughly unneurotic, easygoing, and confident, the latter of which is really challenging for the actress. Rafferty admires those traits. Also, Donna is a much better dresser. Sarah says she has learned a lot about how to shop for herself from the costume designer. So on that front, they two may be becoming a bit more similar.

Great insights! Thank you, Sarah, for your time today!

Suits begins its second season tonight at 10 p.m. ET on USA.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my Suits set visit articles! Article first published as Talking with Sarah Rafferty of USA's Suits on TheTVKing.com

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