Kerry Bishé, who plays Donna Clark on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, talks about her favorite ’80s fashion and living with Scoot McNairy.
Q: Halt and Catch Fire takes place before you were born. Was that difficult for you?
A: You really have to think about it like a period piece. I know it’s in recent memory for a lot of people on the planet, but it really was a different political landscape, the technology was very different and growing up in the time that I did was a vastly different landscape in that way.
Q: How did you prepare for your role on the show?
A: We all did a lot of research actually, there were a bunch of documentaries and DVDs; and we all read the Steve Jobs biography which was fascinating. Also, my brother is a scientist and set me up with a friend who is a computer engineer. I went out to his garage and we took apart some Speak & Spells that we ordered from eBay. So I had a clear understanding of what I was supposed to be doing during that pilot episode when I take apart the kids’ toy. That was really fascinating more from a human perspective — trying to understand what kind of people get into this business — as opposed to the technological perspective. I could never understand how to build a computer, but the best I could hope for is to understand the people that do.
Q: How would you describe Donna Clark?
A: Well, I think Donna is pretty surprising. She’s got an array of qualities and personality traits. I think what’s so thrilling about playing a character like this is she feels like a complete person. She’s not there to reveal other characters’ traits or move the plot forward. She’s struggling with her ambitions, she’s fallible, she’s a hard-worker and she’s pretty brilliant. She’s a lot of different things and it’s fun to play. It’s true to life. People aren’t just one thing.
Q: What do you think is her best quality?
A: I love smart and curious people. I value intelligence in my friends and relationships. I think Donna’s brilliant and I love that about her.
Q: Are you similar to Donna at all?
A: Being an actor is about finding a way to empathize with people who are not necessarily like you and, of course, in a new show like this, we’re all learning and developing it together. I think there are a lot of things I can relate to about her, but I really love that she’s very much a character and I enjoy the things that are different about her even more than I enjoy the similarities.
Q: Let’s talk about Donna’s ‘80s attire. Did you work with the Costume Designer to find period-appropriate wardrobe?
A: Kimberly is phenomenal. She’s just brilliant and super committed to making it feel real. There’s a way to do the ’80s so that it looks and feels like a cartoon which is sort of how we remember it — with big hair and shoulder pads and neon colors — but I’m sure it didn’t feel like that for the people that were living it. I think part of the show is about trying to investigate these people in a serious way and I think the clothes look real, lived in, and they make me feel grounded in that world. Not to mention the fact that they’re super cool.
Q: What’s your favorite item she wears?
A: There was this one outfit that was a pair of high-waisted jeans and a blue button-down with a cardigan. It was the outfit where I felt like, “I would totally wear this!”
Q: Both you and Scoot McNairy appeared in Argo. Did you meet on that movie?
A: We actually met because Ben Affleck had the six people who play the hostages in Argo live in a house together for a week. We had no cell phones, no computers, no email. I took my Polaroid camera so I have a bunch of these charming polaroids of Scoot and I dressed like we’re in the ‘70s. So, going into this show, it was nice to have these actual objects that feel like they’re a part of a personal history between these two people. It’s such a cool coincidence.
Q: In the pilot, Donna mentions building a computer with Gordon called The Symphonic. What would you name your computer if you built one?
A: That’s a tough question! I’d probably just call it a typewriter because I love them and I collect them.