The new CW drama series Nancy Drew follows the brilliant teenage detective (Kennedy McMann) who was known for solving mysteries in her hometown of Horseshoe Bay, Maine, until her mother’s untimely death derailed all of her plans and made her swear off of crime-solving. And then, a murdered socialite puts Nancy right in the path of the crime and she finds herself having to team up with high school nemesis George Fan (Leah Lewis), mysterious rich girl Bess Marvin (Maddison Jaizani), burnout Ace (Alex Saxon) and her secret boyfriend Ned “Nick” Nickerson (Tunji Kasim), in order to clear all of their names.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Kennedy McMann talked about what it’s like to get to play such an iconic character, the nerves that come with embodying Nancy Drew, how easily identifiable she was, how this version of the character feels true to the original while also having differences, having the responsibility of leading a TV series, the supernatural element of the story, and the fun of exploring all of the character relationships.
Collider: How cool is it to get to be playing Nancy Drew?
KENNEDY McMANN: It’s pretty amazing.
Are there nerves that come with playing a character that has such an iconic name?
McMANN: Yeah. I’ve certainly had moments that have been like, “Oh, my god, it’s Nancy Drew!” But especially once we started shooting, it was pretty quickly buried by, I’m just playing this girl who I already know and who lives inside of me, in a way, and her name is Nancy Drew, but I know who she is and she’s just a girl. Once that embodiment hit and came into practice, that faded away. I still have that moment occasionally, but it’s a balance. The more I just focus on how this is just a character that I’m playing, and I’m going to play her to the best of my abilities, that takes the edge off of the intensity.
Did you find her to be pretty relatable, right away?
McMANN: I have a really clear memory of reading the script, for the first time, and being shocked because I was like, “This is my voice. This is how I speak.” And that’s really rare to find, at least for me, words written in such a way that sit so easily in your mouth. You can tell good writing, in that way, when I get a script where it just falls out so easily, and this was to such an extreme degree. This is the Nancy that I have always known, in the books and in the games, and that I’ve lived in, in my head. I’ve always been quite a super fan of Nancy Drew. So, it was quite easy to find. All of that prep work, beforehand, that I didn’t even know that I was doing for this, helped inform so much about her that it felt really innate to step into her shoes. Her and I, the way that we’re portraying her in the show, are quite similar. There are definitely some differences, but the way she speaks, her sense of humor, the way she looks at things, the way she analyzes things, how she’s just totally unafraid to be commanding, are things that just felt like a really perfect fit.
Do you see that character from the books in her, or does she feel different?
McMANN: For sure, that original character is 100% in there. There are differences, as well, but she is that incredibly witty, brilliant, fearless, tenacious person that she’s always been. She’s in a different context now. She’s in a very different time period. And she’s not so afraid to get a little messy. There was a structure and a prim and properness to her in, especially the early iterations of the books, and now she’s a little bit more reckless, in a way that I think, as a viewer, will be really satisfying. I don’t know anybody who wants to watch a television show about somebody who’s perfect. That’s the lamest thing I’ve ever heard. And she’s not perfect, at all. She’s amazing, but she does not do everything right. She messes up, a lot. In her relationship with her dad, in her romantic relationships, in her friendships, it’s a lot about her learning what her limits are, but coming from a place of believing that there are no limits for herself, and that gets her in sticky situations and forces her to learn her way out of them, which she can because she’s Nancy Drew and she’s amazing. She’s a bigger risk-taker, she’s more bold, and she’s more unafraid of what people are perceiving her to be.
What’s it like for you to step into something like this, where you’re leading the show, it’s on The CW, you’re playing the title character, and you’re #1 on the call sheet, so you set the tone for everyone?
McMANN: It’s not something I ever necessarily anticipated doing, this early. However, in some ways, I think it plays to a lot of my strengths. I’m an all or nothing person. I’m a full throttle kind of gal. I wanna hit the pavement, and I’ve gotta do that, in this role. It’s very long days, and a lot of days in a row ‘cause I don’t really get days off. It’s just a lot of hours, and it’s a lot of emotional and physical work. And then, there’s the aspect of it that’s being a center for morale. One of our directors and co-producers, Larry Teng, I credit so much, in general, for myself, as an actor and as a person, because he’s amazing. We sat down together, before we shot the pilot, and he was like, “Listen Kennedy, this is an acting job, but you also have to realize that you are a leader on set because people’s eyes are just literally on you.” Part of everybody else’s job is to be looking at what we’re shooting, and a lot of the time, that happens to be me. I’m the person that’s on set with the crew, all the time. There are days where it’s just me and the crew, for the whole day, because Nancy’s breaking into some place and snooping around by herself. And he really made a point to say, “A part of your job is being there, being onset, remaining positive, and keeping the energy up.”
The nights are late and the days are really long, and I take a lot of pleasure in that part of my job, too. We work with such amazing people. Our crew is super, and it’s my pleasure to hang out with them and spend time with them, all day. It’s a two-way street, all of it. The more you can give, the more you get back. The more positivity that we’re feeding each other, the better everything is and the more everybody wants to rise to the occasion and really make something great. And I think we are doing that. So, saying all of that, I love a full throttle kind of job, and that’s what this is. I’m having a great time. It’s a lot. It’s also about figuring out how to pace yourself. You have to learn how to dial in the stamina for a certain scene, a certain day, a certain week, or a certain month, and how to take care of myself, during downtime. I’m doing a lot of learning in that realm, right now. It’s a lot of experimenting with things like, can I go out on the weekends? Honestly, not really. If I’m hitting it, every day, for the work week, those times are precious. It becomes about saying, “No, I can’t go out for drinks,” or whatever it is, because I need to protect myself, in order to make the show happen. It’s about learning how to balance it all.
What’s it like to have the supernatural element to the show, as well?
McMANN: It’s been really fun because I, Kennedy, am a total scaredy pants who can’t watch horror movies. I do get really freaked out, but I love the concept of it. I’m somebody that’s like, “Yeah, I think I can do it. Sure, I’ll watch it.” And then, I regret it immediately. I always really wanna love it, so to get to act in it is perfect because I’m not scared. I know what’s going on, and it’s a cool way to interact with those elements. And it’s really cool, the way we shoot it. It’s very creative. There’s a lot of seeing things in reflections. It’s just really cool and interesting to see how it’s all shot, and it’s really fun. It’s fun to throw yourself into that state of fear, for that character’s experience, at that moment. I’m sure some people do, but you don’t really get to experience the feeling of seeing a ghost in the mirror, or something. That’s such a fun part of acting because you’re getting to live out a bunch of things that you wouldn’t normally get to live out, in your real life. It’s just extending and expanding the scope of your own life, by pretending that these things are happening.
Are you somebody who wants all of the answers to the questions about the bigger mystery, or do you prefer not to know what’s happening?
McMANN: I am pretty firm in not wanting to know what’s happening, only because it makes my job easier. If Nancy doesn’t know, I don’t really wanna know. We spend so much time with Nancy, figuring things out and exploring different possible options, to really make the most of exploring every path. If I genuinely don’t know who it is or what happened, it just makes it a lot easier for me to throw myself in, completely, to that being a possibility. So, that’s my preference. Though, I know a little more than I probably would like to know.
Nancy’s world has to be populated with a bunch of different characters, whether it’s family, friends, adversaries, love interests, etc. What are you enjoying about exploring those dynamics?
McMANN: Relationships, human-to-human interactions, and that sort of growth is my favorite part about acting. I love watching characters’ relationships develop, and I love playing that. It’s so fun. That emotional life of it and the intricacies of those relationships, I find incredibly interesting. It’s my favorite part of acting. It’s a blast. It’s really cool to be playing through the origin stories of this gang, who’s this classic mystery-solving group. You’re seeing them all disparate, and then coming together. Because nobody is really super close yet, it’s these little moments where, through unforeseen circumstances or high stress, people are forced to come together. There are those beautiful moments of seeing both characters’ walls come down because they’re desperate and they have to connect.
The romantic relationship between Nancy and Nick (Tunji Kasim) is something that starts physical, for Nancy to process this grief of losing her mother and feeling so utterly alone, and watching her life fall apart, and having to spend the summer at home and not actually going to college and, and just trying desperately to connect with somebody, anybody. All of her friends are off of college, and she’s here and she doesn’t know what to do, and she’s grieving. It’s cool to watch how that, as an initial physical outlet to fill that void, then becomes an emotional outlet and an emotional investment. But then, you watch that ebb and flow, as certain secrets are revealed, and things are uncovered about Nick’s past and his relation to everything that’s happening, and see how they fight through that because they really want it to work, and then something else comes into play. And then, there’s Nancy and George (Leah Lewis), who really didn’t like each other in high school and have quite a troubled past, and are now in a situation where they’re stuck together because of this murder. They’re suspects in this murder case, and they’re forced to work together and make things happen. You’ll watch them really butt heads, but then, because of that, they’re hitting so hard that those walls start to break down. They have these emotional connections that are building blocks for later, deeper friendships.
She doesn’t really have a friend who’s always been there for her.
McMANN: The only person who has is her father who, at the passing of her mother, really turned inwards and isolated himself from her. And so, the one person that has always been there for her, in her mind, has abandoned her, even though he’s just grieving and struggling, in a different way. It’s a lot of her just trying to figure things out. There’s a real jaded quality to her, in the beginning, because of all that she’s been through and all that’s happened. There’s a heart in there that’s desperate for friendship and love, and for somebody to care about her and take care of her, but then, there’s a more external force, which has her fighting to do it all by herself because she knows she can. You find out that she does, in fact, need a little help, and could benefit from some friendship and some love.
Nancy Drew airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.