Kathryn Newton (Halt and Catch Fire, Big Little Lies) has a hard time imagining life without acting — unsurprising considering she’s been doing it since the age of 4.”It’s always just been part of me,” says the 20-year-old California native. Thankfully, she won’t have to worry about what possibility anytime soon given her jam-packed to-do list of television and film projects.
Hot on the heels of HBO’s buzzy, Emmy-nominated hit Big Little Lies, on which she played Reese Witherspoon‘s strong-willed daughter Abigail, Newton can be seen portraying another rebellious teen in the final season of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire — Joanie, the pot-smoking offspring of divorced computer engineers Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Donna (Kerry Bishé). Furthermore, she will also appear in the upcoming backdoor pilot for a potential Supernatural spin-off (titled Wayward Sisters) as a monster-hunting teen with attitude, Claire Novak.
EW chatted with the actress, who was in Ireland shooting BBC’s forthcoming adaptation of Little Women at the time of the interview, about Big Little Lies, how Halt and Catch Fire challenged her and what the Supernatural spin-off means to her.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s been a busy year for you with Halt and Catch Fire, Supernatural, and Big Little Lies. How are you handling it all?
KATHRYN NEWTON: I’ve been really lucky that I’ve kind of gotten to flow from project to project, because I find it’s very important that when you’re on a project, you are so invested in it. I’m in Ireland right now on Little Women and this is all I think about. I’m surrounded by my cast all the time and I’m just in it, thinking about it every second. So, it hasn’t been a matter of handling but more just fully immersing myself and being able to be that free. I’m only 20, so I don’t really think about the big picture. I’m so in the moment. That’s really all I can handle, so I just take it one step at a time and I try to make each day my best acting day. Whatever challenges I’m facing, I take it that day. And they’re all very different — Halt and Catch Fire to Big Little Lies to Supernatural — and I approach each character differently, but there’s definitely a foundation that I’ve laid in my work ethic to help me stay grounded in each role. It’s really just been a lot of fun that I’ve gotten to go from project to project.
Angela Lansbury’s in Little Women, right? What’s it been like working with her?
She’s just a legend and I have so many questions for her because I’m so fascinated by film, and especially films from when she was 19. I’ve been asking her so many questions about what it was like to be a contract actress at such a young age, and she told me stories about being signed to MGM and just how different movie-making was and how shocked she was when we were on set and the director asked her how she felt, because it was a different kind of thing back then. It’s not that actors were any less or any more, but it was just a different process. They came out with the same product, but it was just a different process of getting there. I’ve learned a lot from her. She’s lovely!
Did she have any advice for you?
Yes, she said, “Don’t give up.” That was very simple, but she actually said that. It’s so weird. She’s just that kind of lady. She was like, “If I could give you some advice, just don’t ever give up.” I’m like, “Okay, thank you!” People ask that question a lot. They’re like, “Can you tell us what advice this person has given you?” And no one has ever actually given me a solid piece of advice like that — you know, a very definitive “that’s what she said to me.”
What was it like working on Big Little Lies? How did you land the role?
When I got the audition for Big Little Lies, I knew this project was going to be different than anything I’d ever done. That didn’t change the way I approached the role. I just [knew] it was a bigger than me. It was a project full of powerful women. It changed the game. If you look at Reese and Nicole [Kidman], they were just women who decided, “Let’s create something together for women” basically. Now, they both are nominated for Emmys and they’re being recognized for their work. I’m happy for them and I’m so grateful to have been part of a project that has kind of broken down some boundaries and walls and made me a better person and a better actor. It was a big deal, but you never think about it like, “Oh my gosh, this is the biggest thing. This is gonna change my life,” because my life is the same. I still have to go home and, like, hang out with my parents. It’s not like my world has flipped or anything. It was really just a great acting piece for me.
What have you loved about doing Halt and Catch Fire?
I worked with the best actors I’ve ever worked with. We come from a different background. A lot of them have done theatre, so I learned a lot about their process, which is different from mine because I never really studied acting. My school would be movies. I see movies all the time. That’s where I study.
The character, I had to develop mostly on my own. I was so deeply connected to her and it was so easy to play her and feel free in her. On the day, it was just about playing and taking risks and being fearless. The character Joanie is way more fearless than I am and way more intense and edgy and not afraid of being, like, ugly or making anybody angry. I’m always nervous about hurting somebody’s feelings and Joanie is nothing like that. I had a lot of fun with her because she brought a lot out in me. I don’t usually care about watching my projects, but I cannot wait to watch Halt and Catch Fire just because I feel like she’s so not like me that it might be really surprising.
Is there anything you can share about where Joanie is heading this season? How does she feel about watching Gordon and her sister Haley [Susanna Skaggs] grow closer over this new project?
There’s a lot of twists that happen this season, specifically for Joanie. There’s a huge complex dynamic with her and her mother that we really get to explore this season. A lot of things come to the surface that really surprised me. Kerry Bishé, she’s incredible. I got to work with every actor on the series as well, which I was very excited about because they’re such a talented ensemble cast and that was kind of my goal: I really hope I get to work with all of them, and I did. Just as an actor, it was a very fun exercise.
Finally, how did you feel when you found out about the Supernatural spin-off?
I was kind of shocked when I first found out about the spin-off, just because Supernatural kind of felt like it was never going to end. I fell in love with the fans. I didn’t know that that was such a big deal. I knew that the fans were a big deal, but I didn’t realize how much the show was motivated by the fans. This is going happen because the fans asked for it. To see that come to life is really validating.
Halt and Catch Fire airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC, and Supernatural returns Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.