Anna Chlumsky, who plays Dr. Katie Herman on AMC's Halt and Catch Fire, discusses joining the cast for the final season, what it's like to play a "badass" librarian, and how the show explores new sides of Silicon Valley.
Q: What was your exposure to Halt and Catch Fire before you were cast in the show?
A: I am one of the shamed criminals [who had] not watched a criminally under-watched show. It’s so sad. I had actually watched the pilot and I liked it, but I always intended to continue it and didn’t get to – probably for many reasons, such as being a mother who only gets one hour of television a night. I hadn’t gotten back to it until reading these scripts, and when I read these scripts, I was like, “Oh man! These are well-written.” So then I hurried up and binged the whole thing in like a week.
Q: What was it about the show or this character that drew your interest?
A: It’s such pure storytelling. Nothing is wrapped up in a package for the audience. They assume that the audience is intelligent enough to just go along with the characters’ lives. It’s really mature storytelling in that sense. There’s no gimmick. It’s just exploring these human beings for exactly what they are in a really interesting and vastly important industry that runs all of our lives. We have some programs out there that delve into Silicon Valley, but it’s kind of like what we deal with in politics – it’s very easy to objectify people in that industry as gods and monsters or geniuses [but] we don’t understand what they do as laymen. We objectify them as superhuman or untouchable or robots and not look at who they are inside and what it takes to be a person who has actually been there building this industry for us. What this show does is take all of that into account. There are many types of people who shaped this industry, and it’s worth looking into their lives. I just find it to be so rich and grown-up and beautiful.
Q: Joining an established show can always be daunting, but what was it like coming in for the final season? Were there any added challenges because of it being the last chapter?
A: The extra challenge for me was that because I had binged the show and fallen deeply in love with it, I came on being a fan. It was surreal because it was like stepping into the set of this show that felt so akin to my own tastes and yet, it definitely felt untouchable to me because I was already into it just as a viewer. It definitely took a lot of faith just jumping in.
Q: Tell us about your character, Dr. Katie Herman. How would you describe her?
A: She is a library scientist and archivist. She’s a fun-loving gal, and I think there is a lot more to her in the sense that she has darker tastes in music and probably has a tattoo underneath everything. [Laughs] She’s got a badass quality to her, but she doesn’t necessarily let that run her. She’s got this other part of herself that loves order and to delve into relationships and categorizing, which makes her perfect for this brand new position of ontologist, which is like an invented position that Silicon Valley introduced back in the day. It’s someone who really specializes in categorization. She’s one of these yin-yang type people who is vastly educated and has a mind like a steel trap but is also a “carpe diem” believer. Every day is a balance for her – taking life by the seat of its pants and at the same time, creating order in it.
Q: Were you familiar at all with ontology before taking on this character? How technical was your research?
A: I was not. And even still, it’s so hyper-theoretical. If you look up a job description for an ontologist even today, it’s very ephemeral. I have several people in my life who are librarians and are the same age as myself. They have a lot in common with Katie, and I feel like they’re all in the same tribe as one another. So, I drew a lot from those people. I definitely looked up what ontology was, but the interesting thing is she’s kind of one of the first ones, so it wasn’t a sense of this position being something that was already figured out. There wasn’t an enormous amount of technical research to do because she was making it up as she went along. I looked more at how they wrote her character. From day one, she jumps right in, and she’s not afraid to take control. She’s confident in her abilities, and that’s where I took her.
Q: You're a five-time Emmy-nominated actress for comedy. What was it like going from that world to this one?
A: It was certainly different. When working on a drama instead of a comedy, you really get to embrace the story and you get to take your time. Comedy is so difficult because you’re doing all those things and you have the added pressure of giving people a laugh every five seconds. [Laughs] With drama, you don’t have that pressure, but instead, what you have is the pressure to make sure that your story is conveyed as truthfully as possible. You do that with comedy as well, but it’s a different priority. It was a step away from what I’ve been doing and it was a welcomed one. I’m a big believer in practicing with both sides of the coins – tragedy and comedy. I think that makes for a whole artist.
Halt and Catch Fire‘s final season kicks off with a two-hour premiere on Saturday, August 19 at 9/8c. Watch the latest teaser and check out more first-look photos from the new season. To stay up-to-date with all the latest Halt and Catch Fire news, sign up for the Members Only Club.