Suits‘ eighth season is not only a big one for the show, but one for Sarah Rafferty, who has had a surprising number of firsts in the new batch of episodes.
When the long-running USA Network legal drama returns, we’ll dive right into the aftermath of Mike (Patrick J. Adams) and Rachel’s (Meghan Markle) departure and the firm’s decision to merge with Robert Zane (Wendell Pierce). Although this period of upheaval creates some new problems for Harvey (Gabriel Macht), Louis (Rick Hoffman), and Donna (Rafferty) — namely in the arrival of Katherine Heigl’s antagonistic character Samantha Wheeler — it also presented Rafferty with some new opportunities: the actress had her first scenes ever with Pierce and Dulé Hill, who plays Alex Williams and was promoted to series regular in the new season.
Ahead of the season 8 premiere, EW hopped on the phone with Rafferty to discuss Donna’s new dynamic with Robert, the future of Darvey, and more. Read on below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like coming back for the new season without Patrick and Meghan there?
SARAH RAFFERTY: We really miss them, but the show feels like they’re still there in a lot of ways [because] we invoke their characters a lot. They’re totally woven into the fabric of who our characters are [and inform] the choices that we make. So, their presence was really felt. I was excited coming back for season 8 because Donna gets to have scenes with Robert Zane [Wendell Pierce]. I can’t believe in as many years as we’ve been on the air, I haven’t had any scenes with Rachel’s dad. We bond over our mutual love of Rachel early on in the season and start a new relationship.
That’s funny because I was going to ask what Donna’s dynamic with Robert is like since I’m sure he’s never met anyone like her.
I think what’s interesting is that they both know each other through Rachel. They have that sort of deep window into the other, but of course, they have to navigate that relationship and it’s not always going to go smoothly. I love how Donna, with everybody in her life, frequently needs her moment to express to them what makes her special and what her superpowers are and what her position is in the firm, and why she is indispensable. She will not be underestimated, that’s for sure, and it’s fun to see her school people on that.
How’s the firm adjusting to the merger?
It’s a lot of trying to figure out what the new power dynamic is going to be. There’s new energy in the firm, and the balance of power has been shaken up. It still remains to be seen how those chips are going to fall. It’s really exciting. It also echoes what’s going on for us going into our eighth season, because we have these new characters coming in — and characters we’ve known who are moving up to having more time with us — and it gives the show a fresh start while at the same time really remaining true to itself. Our fans that have been up with us all along are going to have to be able to continue to invest in their Suits, and new viewers can come and have a fresh show.
How is Donna handling the fact that her best friend moved away?
Her handling of it is happening mostly off-screen, to just be quite honest with you. I think Donna is very busy, as she often is, helping Harvey navigate his feelings and his reality, and finding the clarity of what his truth is. So, she’s swept up in that for the first few episodes.
The past few seasons have been about Donna figuring out what she wants out of life. What’s she dealing personally with this season?
When we left season 7, it seemed like Donna and Harvey [Gabriel Macht] had really ironed out their conflict, a conflict that came out of her kissing him. She seems pretty clear about how she felt about it moving forward. When we come back, we see them as solid partners moving into this new dynamic and, [professionally,] she’s just trying to figure out how to marry the new guard with the old guard and guide the firm through that. I think we leave it up to the viewer as we often do on Suits to infer what it is going on in her personal life as she works through that.
In your mind, do you think what happened in season 7 has put a period on Darvey for the time being?
I don’t think it’s done. I don’t think there’s an end date to the Darvey piece of it all. I think it’s always there. I think it ebbs and flows on our show. There are times when the scenes are really geared toward exploring their tension, and there are times when it’s just there and unspoken, and other times when they’re just business partners. I think that makes sense. There’s always that question of what is their relationship, and I think they’re very unclear about who they are to each other. Or they think one thing consciously and they’re completely unaware of their subconscious.
One of the biggest changes in season 8 is that you have Katherine Heigl joining. How does Donna react Samantha muscling her way into the firm?
Well, Donna is cautiously curious about Samantha Wheeler. She needs to take a beat and figure out what makes this woman tick. She’s treading lightly.
She has to switch her game with this one, I guess?
Absolutely, sure. She’s a different animal. We haven’t seen anyone like Samantha Wheeler come into the Pearson Specter Litt world yet. It’s very exciting. I’m just coming from work and I just had a scene with Katherine, and it’s so fun to work with her. I’m really eager to explore the dynamic between the two of them more as they move into the next few episodes.
What was your first scene with Katherine like?
It was fun, it was exciting. Any time you get to work with someone new who you admire, who’s awesome, it’s great, you’re excited to be there.
You’ve had a bunch of characters who were recurring in the past. What has it been like having more of Dulé Hill and more Amanda Schull?
I’m so excited because these are characters that we know quite well, but we can then go deeper with them. I love Katrina and Donna’s relationship. Donna and Katrina had some stuff work out in this very first episode coming back, and that was great. Finally, I had my first scene with Dulé, so no complaints here.
Wait, you never had a scene together before?
No, I’ve never had just a scene with Dulé just alone. You know, it’s just so great because we’ve been working on this show for a long time, but everybody brings a fresh energy so it feels like the first time eight years later. It’s really great. It’s an incredible work environment. I can’t say enough about it.
Suits returns Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on USA Network.