Sarah Rafferty has had some pretty juicy scenes to work with in Suits, this season. With the show’s winter premiere on Thursday, January 7 (10/9C), Sarah Rafferty – Donna Paulsen on the series) – took some time from her hiatus to speak with a group of journalists/bloggers about what’s coming up (and digs into what has gone before).
If you need to catch up with missed epsiodes, or just want to refresh your memory, all previous eps of Suits are now available online.
So can you kind of just tell us what’s in store for Donna this year or the rest of this season?
Sarah Rafferty: Oh what’s in store for Donna for the rest of the season? Well you get – the firm is going to be busy picking up the pieces in the back six after the power struggle that we went through in the beginning of the season. So Donna is going to be busy, you know, helping out with Harvey and, you know, having her usual fun.
All right, and what do you enjoy the most about working on Suits?
Rafferty: Oh my gosh, that’s probably hard to nail it down. Right now, now that we’re not working on it we’re on hiatus for a few months, I can tell you I definitely miss my castmates. I miss seeing them every day. So I think the right TV family that we have is really special so I’m really grateful for that.
I was wondering is there anything you brought to Donna that wasn’t originally scripted for her?
Rafferty: Oh my gosh, all her brains. That’s all me. No, I do not share that quality with Donna actually. You know, I think we’re lucky on this show. We do have some fun ad libbing every now and again. We do what’s written on the page and then sometimes we improv a little bit. So, you know, I think there is a little bit of that happening.
And in my real life Gabriel and I have been friends for almost 20 years now so I think we naturally brought that kind of comfortable relationship to Harvey and Donna. I think that just kind of naturally bled into it because of the circumstances of our own life.
What do you think it is about Suits that continues to make it such a fan favorite program?
Rafferty: Oh gosh, we are so lucky to have such great fans, such devoted fans. I think, you know, our writing is awesome. We really are so lucky that the stories are incredible but the writers have also just done such an amazing job of creating these characters and the stories enhance our connection to these people.
And I think I know when I read the pilot I was really struck in just that one script at how much of a hit I got from each character. I knew who these people were and I was intrigued by them. And I think the writers have, you know, done an amazing job with that, our creator did that, and it’s probably what hooked the fans in I would imagine.
Well even though Donna returned to the firm can we expect her to be more guarded than she was before, not just with Harvey but in general with everything that is happening?
Rafferty: Yes and probably more protective of the firm too. Yes I think that’s kind of a natural consequence of what she has been through. So yes I think that’s a pretty good guess.
And how do you think Donna has been affected by the coastal murders case and the firing?
Rafferty: I think – I’m sorry, I have a phone ringing here. I’m just going to turn this off. I think she is – well one thing is that Donna hasn’t, you know, Donna was really – let’s see, how can I say this. How has she been affected by that case? I can imagine that Donna is going to desire to have some one-on-one time with Daniel Hardman as a result of what he did to her. So that’s something that she’s going to need to have an opportunity for some closure in that way.
What do you think she needs to protect herself from the most when the show returns?
Rafferty: What does she need to protect herself from?
Yes, the most.
Rafferty: Tell me what you’re implying there.
Well after everything that has gone on like with, you know, the case, Harvey, now that Louis is kind of a loose cannon. She seems vulnerable in a lot of ways so I’m wondering like, you know, in being guarded, what does she, you know, does she have to protect herself from.
Rafferty: Well I think you bring up a really good point about Louis. I think everybody is going to be a – got to be a little guarded about Louis because, you know, they feel really betrayed by him. So she is – it’s going to be a process, their relationship is going to be a process and Louis is going to, you know, have to work at that going forward.
Rafferty: And so that will lead to some interesting, you know, situations with Donna and Louis. Because Donna did have I think you witnessed, you know, an affinity for Louis in a unique way. And that was really challenged.
So you and your castmates, you really had us on the edge of our seats, you know, for a significant amount of last season and obviously there was a lot of very emotional, very hard hitting moments. I’m wondering, you know, for you as an actress how hard is it to sort of, you know, put that down, walk away from it, take a break, and then pick it back up again?
Rafferty: Do you mean pick it back up like while you’re shooting the scene? Is that what you mean? Or do you mean (unintelligible)?
You mentioned that you’re on a break now and I’m just wondering after, you know, such a, you know, hard hitting emotional series that we just saw sort of take a break, sort of how easy is it for you to sort of get back in the rhythm of things when you return to the set.
Rafferty: I think – well I think that there are a number of things that make it easy to have you return to it and I keep going back to the writing but the writing is just so – has such clarity for these characters and it’s so true to who these people are and has such a strong voice that you can kind of get right back into it.
I’d also like to say, and it sounds superficial, but putting on those clothes really brings you back. Like you put on those high heels, you walk like Donna, you know. You know, you’re almost the same height as Jessica so you’re seeing her in a different, you know, have a different energy.
So I think there are – it’s – I think you can get right back into it when you’re on set and I’m sure that after, you know, some rest we’ll all be very excited to go back to season 3 which we’ve been so lucky to be picked up for which is great.
Yes that’s great. Well, tell me also, you guys film in Toronto which is in my coverage area and it seems like a lot more TV shows are filming these days in Toronto. What do you like about working and acting in that city?
Rafferty: I like Canadians. Who doesn’t like Canadians? It’s amazing, they’re the friendliest people on earth. It’s a great city. It’s really – we really enjoy it. I have two kids so it’s a great city for families. There’s so much to take advantage of culturally but it also just has – it’s a really comfortable city to live in and then you can also have a lot of fun when you go out as grownups. So who knows, it’s great, it’s really nice. And the – we’re really lucky, you know, to have this – to have our Canadian crew. They’re awesome.
I was wondering, with Donna being absolved with the missing document fiasco, how – and now that she’s back at the firm and Hardman has been kind of defeated at least for now, how is Donna going to get – relate with the other employees? Will there still be ramifications from what happened with Harvey or any of the others at the firm?
Rafferty: No, I think Donna’s ready to move on and put it behind her. Yes, that sounds short and sweet but I think it’s true. I think that’s Donna’s style. She’s looking ahead.
Awesome. Can you talk a little bit about Donna and Rachel’s relationship in these last six episodes? Does Donna get involved at all with Rachel’s father coming in the third episode or anything else going on?
Rafferty: You know what, that is so funny that you bring that up. When I – the answer is Donna is not that involved actually with Rachel’s father coming to town but it’s in an amazing – it’s a great episode because we really do get to learn so much more about Rachel.
But it’s funny that you bring that up just like on a side note. I am a huge Wire fan, were you a huge fan of Wire?
Yes I watch that.
Rafferty: Like obsessively, right?
Rafferty: So when I heard that Wendell Pierce was coming to play Robert Zane I wrote a note to our creator and just said can you write in a scene for Donna? I just wanted to have an opportunity to meet him and work with him but that will have to happen the next time.
Oh. So you guys didn’t get to scene together?
Rafferty: I did not get to work with Wendell Pierce this time but I’m, you know, still holding out my hope that maybe he’ll come back.
I want to talk about my favorite aspect of the show is that there’s so many strong female characters.
Rafferty: Oh yes.
It’s so refreshing not to, you know, deal with, you know, neurotic like womanly crisis every week.
I mean, tell me a little bit about, you know, is that refreshing, that must be refreshing for you as an actress.
Rafferty: Absolutely. I mean, it’s – I really – I was really – I’m very excited about how these three women are all incredibly strong and incredibly good at what they do and they’re not trying to be anybody really that they’re not, you know? Rachel of course has her aspiration but she’s pretty comfortable in her own skin and she’s, you know, a strong, smart woman so that’s great.
I’m told that there’s no like cattiness going on, there is no room for that at this firm. And, you know, I always think it’s amazing, I always enjoy that Donna – Donna is very strong but she’s also very feminine and she’s, you know, you think this was a “man’s world” but Pearson Hardman isn’t. I mean, you know, Jessica Pearson obviously is a woman and, you know, doing a great job in her position. She’s an aspirational character.
Definitely, for sure. Do you have, you know, so far having filmed the last six episodes of the season, is there like a standout Donna moment?
Rafferty: Oh I couldn’t tell you any of that. You’ve got to tune in.
Okay, okay, fair point, fair point. But, you know, is there – does she like stand up to, you know, we know that she’s going to have some sort of one-on-one time with Daniel.
Rafferty: I’m trying to think what else there is that I could tell you about. You know, what’s fun is in the back six we get a little bit more into Harvey’s personal life and that’s always fun for Donna.
Okay now the question before kind of covered it but since Donna is such a kickass badass, you’re Harvey’s equal. And thank you for being a powerful healthy female role model. What is the one character trait that you admire of Donna’s you wish you had?
Rafferty: I wish I had?
Yes, that you wish you had of Donna’s.
Rafferty: Okay well she is quick, she is quick witted. It may be because I have two kids that I feel like not quick witted. But she really can think on her feet and yes, I mean, I could go on and on about characteristics about her that I admire. You know, she’s – she seems fearless, she doesn’t (unintelligible), she’s so loyal, she’s loyal to a fault. She’s really confident. She’s kind of maybe a little too confident like Harvey, they’re kind of fun.
And then she has like her Donna superpower which is that she’s kind of known to everything which is fun. And she’s a people person. You know, she’s – I think that’s why she’s a good complement to Harvey is that she really understands relationships and she really cares about relationships. And we get to see that continue as the season continues with the back six.
Okay now what do you remember most about your experience studying theater abroad in London and Oxford during your year there that you still implement today?
Rafferty: That I still implement today, gosh, you know, I think what you learn studying acting is that you have to have the courage to just make a strong choice. And one thing that was really great about that year abroad, I can’t tell you how much theater I went to see while I was in London and Oxford and, you know, I went to Stratford.
And just witnessing people making bold, deep choices. And I think whether you’re working on the stage or in film or on TV, you know, that’s what is required to kind of make things compelling. And it’s risky too because you can get it wrong, you know. So it takes a certain amount of courage.
Okay and my last question is what would be the best advice you would tell your 16 year old self?
Rafferty: Oh God. Stop worrying. Stop worrying, just be present.
My first question is what as an actress are the biggest obstacles you have faced on the set of Suits?
Rafferty: Biggest obstacles, you know, it sounds sort of lame but sometimes it’s really late and we’re really tired and that can just be hard. It’s just the nature of shooting something. We can be there at 4:00 in the morning trying to shoot something and, you know, you can be – it can be hard at times to remember what you were going to say or things like that.
Sometimes, you know what’s fun about shooting when you shoot exteriors, when you’re shooting on the street in Toronto, Donna and Harvey had such a great scene on the street when he comes to give her her bonus check and get her back, to come back to the firm.
And that day it was over 100 degrees and we were shooting on one of the busiest streets, one of the best looking but busiest streets in Toronto that had cable cars. And there’s no cable cars in New York. So we were constantly having to stop so that the cable cars wouldn’t be in the shot.
And it was just a lot of picking up the pieces like and hurrying and trying to just get it while we held the traffic, let’s just get a shot in, that kind of thing. So it was kind of – it’s kind of exciting and challenging at the same time to be dealing with those kind of elements.
Okay and my second question is what is your dream role as an actress?
Rafferty: Oh God, that’s impossible. That’s so – oh that’s such a good question and so impossible. I’m going to say that there’s a chance that I might currently be playing her and I’ll leave it at that.
My question is that you have done a lot of guest roles in many popular shows. How does it differ for your acting point of view compared on being on a regular show or a guest star? Is it easier, harder, or is it fun and challenging, which one is fun and challenging?
Rafferty: You are asking which one might be more fun or which might be more challenging?
Rafferty: Well I think, you know, it’s all great because it’s really fun to be able to play different characters and to go visit other people’s shows and be a guest on them and work with different actors. That’s, you know, always a pleasure and a great opportunity.
But when you’re a regular on your own show there’s a comfort level that you have with the crew and the other castmates so going into work can feel like going to your second home. So that’s one of the real pleasures of being a regular.
And also being a regular on our show, it’s been really fun for me getting the scripts each week just seeing how Donna evolves. And I’m just excited to kind of be on the journey with her going forward. So that’s a real pleasure about being a regular on a TV show.
Oh and is there a favorite episode coming up for Harvey and Donna? If not then perhaps you can see anything in the future for them that fans should really look forward to?
Rafferty: Well I think what’s great about – I loved the flashback episode that we had this year and since we have now all ten of the episodes and also the first season, anybody at any time can go back and watch that episode on demand.
And I actually am going to do that soon because that was one of my favorite episodes. I don’t know if the writers have anything, any more flashbacks planned but yes. Sorry, you were going to say something?
No, no. Just that is there any scene in the future that we should really look forward to?
Rafferty: Well Donna is going to continue having her fun with Harvey in terms of his personal life and his personal life is going to come up a little bit more in the back six.
Okay. And just one last question, which actor would you like to work with in the future on Suits?
Rafferty: Can I have anybody? I can have anybody? I’m going to pick – right now I’m going to pick Mark Ruffalo and I think that he’s going to have to be Donna’s love interest.
We love your character, we just love Donna so I just wanted to tell you how much we enjoy your work.
Rafferty: Oh I’m so glad, thank you.
We had an opportunity to talk with Mr. Korsh a couple of months ago and you keep bringing up, you know, great writers. Do you ever talk about – because Donna is in a supporting position in that firm and does she have an aspiration to become a lawyer herself? Or do you ever talk about where you would like to see in the future?
Rafferty: Yes that’s a great question. So it’s kind of a two-parter, right? I think that Donna – and she said it sort of straight up to Rachel when they went out for drinks. Do you remember that episode? And she says I’m a legal secretary but that’s not who I am.
Rafferty: She said I’m proud of that fact but it’s not who I am. And I think one of the things that makes Donna – that I really admire about Donna is that she’s really comfortable with who she is and she’s really proud of who she is. And I don’t – I think she recognizes that she’s indispensable. So I don’t believe that she aspires to be anybody other than herself.
Rafferty: Which is a great thing to play. And the second part of your question was the conversations that we might have with the writers about where our characters are going. Is that what you asked?
Rafferty: You know, I think that some of those conversations may come up more in the future but up until now my conversations have been more about – we have fun talking about the backstory that we see for the character. I have great conversations about what we think happened in the past for Donna. And, you know, so that might evolve into talking about things that will happen in the future but it hasn’t yet.
And obviously like I’m just kind of pleasantly surprised and you know, I read the scripts when they come in with kind of an excitement to see where it’s going without trying to control it, you know.
Because we – I mean personally I would love to see Donna in a better position where she can control everything. She has that quality to control everything and she knows what’s going on and she’s just on top of everything.
So that’s why I thought you might have some conversations with the writers.
Rafferty: Well I am happy to pass that on your behalf.
You’re actually one of the most searched terms on my site and have been for over a year now.
Rafferty: Are you serious?
Seriously, since the very first Suit set visit.
Rafferty: Oh my gosh, is Donna (unintelligible) on the Televixen?
I don’t know, I think that everyone loves your character and wants to find anything they can about you.
Rafferty: Oh my gosh, that’s so funny, wow. I’m very flattered.
I found that the second season definitely has a darker tone. And not so much that it felt like a different series but there was a – because at the heart it was still the same but there was definitely a different tone. Have you enjoyed the intensity of this season versus the first season?
Rafferty: Yes that’s a great question. Yes you’re absolutely right. It did get darker this season. And I have enjoyed it, I think we all have. I think because the nature of being in the second season there was the time and the luxury to really dig in with these people. And, you know, as an actor I was totally psyched that Donna got fired and all that messy stuff that was going to come out of that.
And what pops in my mind right now is kind of one of the first big blowout scenes for Donna was the scene in – I don’t know if you remember in I think it was episode 205 when Harvey comes into the bathroom and they have it out. And she admits that she destroyed the document and then realizes what a mistake that was.
And he says I’m not going to fire you, I might kill you but I’m not going to fire you. And, you know, that was exciting, you know, when the material took that kind of turn. I had fun with it and hopefully the fans too.
Do you stay in character when you’re filming and when you go home do you leave Donna behind?
Rafferty: Yes I can say I definitely leave Donna behind because my life as a mom is decidedly less glamorous than Donna’s life. The outfits are much different.
Donna getting fired was one of the biggest moments of the first part of season two, it was jaw-dropping. What was that like for you to play it out especially with Gabriel Macht?
Rafferty: It was really exciting. Gosh it was really exciting because like I said before, you know, taking that kind of turn into the relationship getting very messy was fun to play as an actor. So just how much it complicated their relationship in the episodes that followed was great.
And also what was really fun was that the flashback episode came after that so we got to flash back to a time when things were – when they were younger and, you know, more energized and more lighthearted. We got to flash back to that too which I felt was kind of perfectly timed considering all the heaviness that was going on in their situation.
And also, you know, as I mentioned Gabriel and I are old friends so some of it was – sometimes when the scenes are very serious it can be – we need to take a minute to pull it together because it’s just – it can be funny to us as people when it’s 4:00 in the morning and we’re really tired and challenged.
That’s funny. Well we saw Donna kind of struggle over the fact that she may have lost that file. Is – do you think, you know, because she’s always so good at her job. Do you think there is anything else that would shake the core of her – of your character that would cause her to lose her cool? Because she is always so perfect.
Rafferty: Well yes no, it would be things like that, like I think she was so shocked that she could have possibly made a mistake. I mean, even Harvey says Donna never makes a mistake. She is cocky and confident and she has kind of earned that confidence. So I think that really sent her reeling.
So yes, I don’t know what might lie ahead if that’s what you’re asking in terms of what, you know, could shake her. I think messing up that bad shook her though.
Finally just are we going to get any more casual yoga-going Donna, we’d kind of like to see that.
Rafferty: I don’t know, the Donna at home version, the Donna at home action figure. I also – I would love to visit her more at home. I can pass that along to the powers that be too on your behalf if it’s a request.
I just need to know if you could give advice to young actors what advice would you give them?
Rafferty: I think I would say something that has been said which is just is to keep studying, like keep going back to class and keep working, keep working on your craft and keep digging. And I think I’d also just say that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Like, you know, don’t give up, keep going. I would say that.
It’s a tough business, it’s a really tough business so persistence is a big, important quality to hone.
Photos by Robert Ascroft and Christos Kalohoridos/Courtesy USA Network