The USA drama series Suits is back for Season 5, and Harvey (Gabriel Macht) is having difficulty adjusting to changes around the office that are affecting his ability to do his work. At the same time, Donna (Sarah Rafferty) is trying to find her groove working for Louis (Rick Hoffman), while he’s certain that it’s only a matter of time before she returns to Harvey.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Sarah Rafferty talked about the evolving dynamics of Season 5, digging even deeper into the characters, exploring who Donna is without Harvey, why the Donna-Louis relationship is so fun to play, whether Donna will regret her decision to leave Harvey, if she’ll be able to move on, and what her least favorite thing about him is. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: When you first signed on to do this show, could you ever have imagined that you’d be here, in Season 5, and that the story would be where it is now?
SARAH RAFFERTY: No. Oh, my gosh! Being an actor in TV, it’s such a brutal business that you constantly managing expectations. I never dreamed that I’d be here, in Season 5. Well, I dreamed it, but I didn’t necessarily think it would happen. It’s definitely a pinch me moment, that’s for sure.
And Donna has taken such a journey, over the seasons.
RAFFERTY: I know. It’s been super fun, too, because I never anticipated that our show would do flashbacks. In that way, it’s been even more fun because we’ve covered even more ground, going back in time.
When you learned about where things were headed for Donna, at the end of last season and into this season, what was your reaction? Were you excited to see how it would play out, or were you also a little bit worried about how fans might react?
RAFFERTY: Both. The night that the finale episode aired, Aaron Korsh, our creator, and I were on the phone together because I was a little bit nervous about what the reaction was going to be like when she quit. But we have such smart and engaged viewers that it was actually a really cool reaction. It was really gratifying to see how people reacted and how engaged with it they were.
Maybe people were just in denial that it would all be worked out, in the first episode back.
RAFFERTY: Right. It’s not going to all be worked out, in the first episode back. If it were, that wouldn’t be Suits.
How would you say Season 5 is different from previous seasons?
RAFFERTY: What I think is great is that we’re five seasons in now, so we can continue to dig, deeper and deeper, into these characters. With the change-up that’s happened in the firm, for Harvey and Donna and Louis, it definitely is very complicated for all three of them. Harvey, especially, is set off-balance in a profound way. He needs to seek professional help, in that way.
The Donna that we’ve gotten to know through the show has always been so intertwined with Harvey. What has it felt like for you to explore her for who she is, entirely apart from that?
RAFFERTY: I was excited about that. Because we had the flashback last year, in the finale episode, we got to go back in time to the day they met, and back to a time when she was very independent from him. I love going back and seeing her before she was just solely known as Harvey’s secretary, and I loved digging into what her dreams and aspirations were. She planned on being an actress. We learned that in the flashback at the end of Season 4. Her life has taken a different course, and it’s been fun for me to think about what that feels like for her.
This cast has been working together for some time now, and you guys must be something of a family yourselves. Is it hard to shake up that dynamic at work, and to work with people you haven’t worked with quite as much before?
RAFFERTY: Yes. I was laughing the other day because I kept getting confused when the A.D. said, “Oh, it’s time to shoot. Go on to set, to Donna’s desk.” I always just want to go to the set where the old Donna’s desk is, and it takes me a moment to go, “No, I’m going over here now.” I get a little confused. But I’ve had a lot of scenes with Louis, in the previous seasons. They were very close, especially at the end of last season. It’s been fun, and it’s a joy, any day, going to work and working opposite any of the actors in this cast.
We’ve seen the great dynamic between Donna and Harvey, but the Donna and Louis dynamic developed a little bit more gradually. When did you realize just how great Donna and Louis were together?
RAFFERTY: I remember the first time that they wrote a scene for Louis and Donna, and it was when Louis went to Harvey and said, “I want you to give me Donna for a week or two,” and Harvey said, “Donna is the one thing I can’t give you, but try it yourself.” And then, Donna totally plays a prank on Louis and starts crying and says that he’s making her feel cheap, and he freaks out and runs away. That was the first scene they’d ever written for the two of us, and I think that was in the third or fourth episode. From then on, there was just this dynamic of the two of them messing with each other and playing with their Achilles’ heels. That was really fun. And then, I really loved last season when they dug even deeper with Donna and Louis doing the play together. I loved all that they shared about their lives. He shared about his experience with stage fright, and she had that guilt about being the understudy and wanting to go on. They really bonded, and I thought that was really great. That’s why it was so hard for them to have that rough scene when Louis feels betrayed by Donna, after he’s found out about Mike.
Why do you think it is that Donna really does get Louis, in a way that most other people just don’t seem to be able to? Is it just her ability to read people, or is there just something in Louis that she understands?
RAFFERTY: I think it’s both. I do think that the superpower that she brings to the firm is that she’s a people person. She understands people’s emotions and what makes them tick. She didn’t go to law school. It was never her plan to be in this law world. She was an actress and was interested in relationship dynamics and emotions, and all that kind of stuff. I also think that there’s something special about Louis, and they have shared an understanding with each other. And he’s family. At this point, they’ve worked together for 10 years and they are family. They take the good and the bad, and ultimately just love each other.
Do you think that Louis fully appreciates just how lucky he is to have Donna working with him?
RAFFERTY: I think he does. I think that’s why she went to work with him. He couldn’t have expressed it more fully than in the finale of last season, after he lost Norma. And I think he realizes he’s so lucky, and that’s why he lives in fear that she’s going to leave him, at any minute. He thinks it’s so great, and that he’s the kind of guy that great things don’t happen to, so he can’t believe it. It’s almost another hurdle for them, that he can’t believe that it’s true. I think she recognizes that bit of underdog in him, and she has a lot of empathy for that goofy, unpopular kid that he was. We all can relate to that kid.
Will Donna regret her decision to leave Harvey? Will she have second thoughts about what she’s done?
RAFFERTY: I think it’s not going to be easy for her. It’s certainly not easy, seeing him every day at the office and not being at that desk and knowing why she can’t be there. It’s been 12 years. I’m sure she has moments of doubt about it, whether they’re conscious moments or she’s subconsciously struggling with it. I don’t think it was an easy decision for her to make. It was not a reckless decision. Like any break-up, it’s rough on both of them.
Donna gives Harvey a list of possible replacements for her. If he actually finds someone, how will she deal with that?
RAFFERTY: She saved the list for him. She gave him two weeks notice and was planning on helping him find somebody. She’s an upstanding person and a great employee. I think she definitely wants the best for Harvey, and thinks what is best for Harvey might be very good for her, too. They can move on. She sees it that way, and that’s why she’s provided that list for him.
Do you think she really believed things would go smoothly when she told him that she was leaving?
RAFFERTY: I think she was hoping that. Maybe she was a little bit in denial. I think she’s a little surprised that it doesn’t go as smoothly as she expected it to. I don’t think she could anticipate how he was going to react, either way.
Now that she has made this definitive choice, will we see her fully move on? Will she have a romance of her own, this season, or is there not time for that?
RAFFERTY: We see her believing that she’s moved on, for sure. She is moving on. She works for Louis now. She’s drawn a boundary, and she’s moved on with her life. We’re going to see her fully embracing that shift.
What is Donna’s favorite thing about Harvey and what is her least favorite thing about him, and are those two things the same?
RAFFERTY: That’s such a good question. Gosh! I don’t know that I’m going to be able to put my finger on her favorite thing about him. That would be, in some ways, like me trying to tell you my favorite thing about my sister. I couldn’t necessarily put my finger on one thing. But her least favorite thing about him, certainly, is his lack of emotional intelligence and his inability to engage in a conversation about their emotions. I would say, ultimately, his inability to have a conversation with her about what transpired between the two of them in her apartment, after they had been through the whole trial last season, that led her to making this decision. So, I would imagine that that’s the big problem. I’ve always thought that Donna has certainly told herself that she and Harvey aren’t right for each other because Harvey is not somebody who can engage emotionally, in the same way that she can.
Suits airs on Wednesday nights on the USA Network.