Kathryn Newton, who plays Joanie Clark on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, discusses her character’s independent spirit, how Joanie grieves for Gordon in her own way, and how the New York Times crossword became a staple on the set.
Q: When you were cast for the finale episode last season, did you know you would be back in such a major way for the final season?
A: Going in, I didn’t really know about the show until I started researching and watching it myself. It was so good and I was excited to be a part of such a quality piece of work that mattered so much to everyone. I was so excited to be asked to come back. I fell in love with all of the characters and the project as a whole. To have such great, truthful material to work with was a dream as an actor. I grew a lot.
Q: Since you had already gone through working your way into the established cast, did you have any advice for Susanna, who plays your sister Haley?
A: As soon as I saw her, I grabbed her and gave her a hug. We got Polaroid cameras as a welcome gift and we had a lot of fun taking pictures on set. I wanted her to be like my little sister and she totally was. The whole cast really took me under their wings. They taught me so much and made me feel like I was supposed to be there. Particularly in this episode, they’re all present when we’re going through this loss of Gordon. It was a huge day and everyone gave 120 percent.
Q: Since Joanie is older, do you think she’s handling Gordon and Donna‘s divorce differently? How does it impact her?
A: I think Joanie is struggling with her independence and when her parents divorce, she goes inward and tries to act like it doesn’t affect her. She goes deeper into herself and becomes secluded from her family so she doesn’t have a breakdown. Sometimes it’s easier to ignore – like a teenager would – than to face the feelings and explode. I think in this episode, she breaks down and it’s okay. She’s so lucky to have her mom and sister to build her back up. She’s a very vulnerable and artistic girl who’s extremely smart. She doesn’t have time to be the weak one in the family because her mom is dealing with her failing business and her sister’s doing so well.
Q: In Episode 6, Joanie is perhaps the most aware that Donna’s drinking has become a problem. What does she make of that? Does she know she needs help?
A: I don’t think Joanie feels she can help her mom. It makes her feel very alone and gives her more of a reason to do her own thing. It all leads to Joanie getting away. There’s no reason for her to stay and she just accepts it. She thinks she doesn’t need her mom. A good thing that comes from her dad’s death is it forces them all together. Those walls that Joanie built up are broken down.
Q: In Episode 8, we see how everyone reacts to Gordon’s sudden death. How did you approach playing Joanie’s grief in that moment?
A: I knew when I read the script that this was finally something that would show her vulnerability and how much of a scared little girl she is. I knew how big this scene was. It was so intense and so truthful and so beautiful. We did it over and over and each time, everyone gave such a performance. I was very excited to show a real side of Joanie. Joanie had a plan and this was not a part of it. It messed things up for her. She feels guilty and it’s even harder to leave home. She wants to be there for her family and she’s really angry that her dad left her like this. She wants to be strong and she just can’t.
Q: Episode 8 also features a huge blowout between Donna and Joanie about the college application. Do you think Joanie regrets any of the things she says to/about Donna in anger?
A: That’s a reality check. They’re acting like everything is OK. Their life is going by so fast and they’re all lying to each other and now they can’t. Because she’s young, I’m going to excuse her behavior. I think when you’re a teenager, you’re very selfish and you want what’s best for you. She’s just exploding and Donna is in the same room. It’s not on purpose. She’s letting her mom know what she’s feeling inside and she needs help. I don’t think she regrets it because it was her truth and she needed her mom to hear it.
Q: Why do you think Joanie doesn’t want to go to college? What drives her wanting to just be free to roam?
A: Joanie’s so smart. She’s probably a genius like her parents, but she doesn’t see value in a structured system. She’s not a rule-follower. She’s a rebel and she’s going to make her own way and she’s on the road to find out. There’s something bigger out there in life and she wants to find it. She wants to make a difference in a big way.
Q: Although Donna and Cameron try, Haley is the only one who really gets through to Joanie. What does that say about the relationship they have as sisters?
A: I think Haley gives Joanie a reason to be a better person. She wants to be a good example for her sister. They might not have anything in common, they might not dress the same or like the same music, but Joanie knows her little sister looks up to her and she wants to be something great for her. That’s who she wants to be strong for and give love to. That was a surprise because you see them bicker a lot, but their bond is strong and very real and deep. They get a lot closer and the death of their dad does that. When we had our scene together, I really felt like I wanted to be big for her and protect her. I’m an only child, so this is a new thing for me, but Joanie really felt that.
Q: What were the last days like on set as everyone prepared for the show to end?
A: In the last episode, I have a scene with just Donna. When we ended the day, I stayed on set for a little while and hung out. I felt like, “This is what it should always be like.” It wasn’t a sad goodbye, but more like a “Thank you for this perfect experience.” When I was in Ireland working on another project, I had to do ADR and I got to watch that last scene I did and by the end, I was in tears. It’s so beautiful and I was so proud. The girl running ADR, who has no idea what this show is about, was crying. This is what we worked so hard for and it was so beautiful to see. I can’t wait to watch the episode.
Q: What’s your favorite memory from set? What will you take away from this experience?
A: Something that meant so much to me was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle every day on set with Kerry [Bishé]. Everyone got involved as a team and now, that’s what I do on set. She’s been so wonderful to work with and we had a lot of fun. That was probably one of my favorite things. Also, here’s a little secret that nobody knows: I always ate the food! Joanie eats a lot and I’m actually always eating that pizza. [Laughs] Pizza and cereal are her thing.
Read a Q&A with Scoot McNairy, who plays Gordon Clark.
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