Halfway through my conversation with actress Kennedy McMann, I feel compelled to ask her about… her hair. In my defense, the shiny, coppery locks are now somewhat of a signature for the young star. Plus, the burnished red look has quickly become one of the season’s biggest beauty trends. So of course I needed to know more! “I think I will keep this color for the rest of my life,” she professes when revealing how the gorgeous hue came to be. Hair aside, McMann has been on my radar for a minute thanks to her performance in the CW series Nancy Drew. It’s the 24-year-old’s first major role, but you wouldn’t know it watching her excellent portrayal of the infamous sleuth.
You could say McMann has been preparing for the part of Nancy Drew for most of her life. She grew up devouring the beloved mystery novels and was often likened to the tenacious titular character. But despite being a superfan, McMann has fully embraced the show’s modern-day take on the cultural icon. While Drew aficionados can spot the classic references, creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage—the minds behind The O.C. and Gossip Girl—have infused the show with a slightly more grown-up vibe and moodier look with the occasional romantic subplot for good measure. It’s deliciously fun and suspenseful, and McMann is perfect as the crime-solving Drew.
Gearing up for the season finale of the sophomore season (the show was renewed for a third), I caught up with McMann to talk all things Nancy Drew, from the character’s formidable influence to her noteworthy wardrobe (“I feel like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday”), and yes, her on-trend tresses.
I read you were a Nancy Drew superfan when you were younger. What are some of the character’s traits that really resonate with you?
Nancy has always had this really strong tenacity to accomplish whatever she puts her mind to. I was quite a motivated child, which has pros and cons. I could be really stubborn and a bit intense about things, but then at the same time, you get things done and you aren’t afraid to go after the things that you want. So that always really resonated with me. She also has a really strong sense of identity. She created a place in the world for herself. She never really waited for anyone to give that to her or make that space for her. That really stood out to me as a kid and has shaped how I developed into an adult as well.
Do you have a favorite Nancy Drew novel?
I think The Hidden Staircase is probably my favorite. We did an episode [based on it], which was really fun. It was different than how it was in the books, but it was really fun to reference that and play that out on-screen.
The series was adapted by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who are the brains behind The O.C. and Gossip Girl. What do you think is really appealing about their particular approach to the Nancy Drew story?
That’s a really great question. I mean, they’re incredible at what they do, and that is this young-adult drama romance [genre]. They have a respect for young people’s really large feelings. Everybody knows what it’s like to be a teenager and feel like the world is crashing in on you because of something that would be labeled as unimportant once you are an adult, but at that time, those feelings are so massive. I think something they are really phenomenal at capitalizing on is validating these feelings of young people. So you mix that in with what Nancy Drew inherently is, which is mystery and suspense and what I was touching on before, this quest for identity and justice. The infusion of what Josh and Stephanie bring and their expertise mixed with the mystery of Nancy Drew inherently I think is what makes this adaptation special. I feel super lucky to work with them. My little Gossip Girl fangirl heart just about lost my mind when this all worked out. I was like, “I can’t believe this!”
You landed the role of Nancy Drew right after graduating from college, and it is your first big leading part. What have been some of the rewarding moments to come out of working on this project?
What is the most rewarding, to me, is seeing people’s reactions. Whether it’s someone who has grown up with the books and is a superfan and is embracing this new adaptation or has grown up in the way that I have with Nancy Drew and is about the age that she is on the show and is seeing themselves in her and also seeing the human sides to her. That’s super satisfying. Or also people who have never interacted with Nancy Drew at all, in any capacity, and have found our show and found a love for all things Nancy Drew through that. That’s been extremely gratifying.
I’ve personally come a really long way and grown up a lot as a human being throughout the process of doing this [show]. You go to acting school and you move to New York and you’re hustling as all actors are doing, and to have something work out and to have someone give you a chance, it’s a really beautiful experience. The transition between “Oh, someone gave this to me,” and going through the process of embracing that “No, I have something that I have brought to this too.” This wasn’t just given to me, but it was finding my grounding in what I am capable of and what I bring to the table. It’s a really special experience as a young adult and as a woman in that kind of space. It’s just a really special experience, and I think that growth has been one of the greatest takeaways from this experience thus far.
What about challenges?
I work so much. Just an insane amount. I’m gone probably 16 hours a day during the week, and sometimes we work on weekends. The challenge to that is obviously there is fatigue and all of that stuff, but I have a lot of people now helping me to navigate that. The hardest part is a lot in my personal life. I have a husband. I have pets. I have friends that I miss terribly who live very far away from me. I have a family, my parents and brother, and people I don’t get to see very often. It’s more the personal side of things that can be really challenging in such an all-consuming job. I feel very lucky that I love it as much as I do and that I have the most supportive family in the world and a bunch of wonderful friends who have really supported me and held me up through the whole thing, and that’s been amazing. But it’s still definitely challenging.
You were in production on season one in Vancouver when filming was halted due to the pandemic. What was quarantine life like for you in Vancouver?
I spent the whole time in Vancouver. I didn’t end up going back to the States when we shut down production, mostly because we had a little place in Manhattan, and it didn’t sound great to go back. We were subletting it at the time, and so we thought, hey, may as well see what happens if we spend our time here! It was a lot of coming down from “Holy shit, I just finished a season of television, and that was insane.” I think I was doing a lot of processing of everything that had changed in my life, and it gave me a lot of time to reflect on that. We also got a puppy and spent a lot of time potty training a puppy. He just turned 1 recently, which was really cool. We were so lucky to spend the summer here in Vancouver. At that time, Vancouver was a really wonderful place to be, and I think British Columbia handled everything super well in regard to all of the COVID stuff. We were just happy to be here where we had access to nature and beautiful surroundings. It was a lot of that and watching every new thing that came out on Netflix, obviously. It was crazy going back into production being like, “Oh my god. We get to bring people new content. This is so cool.”
The series has been picked up for a third season. What do you hope to see for Nancy and the crew in the next chapter?
[Season two] is a huge time for Nancy to really work on confronting all of the things that happened to her in the first season and addressing a lot of the trauma that comes with finding out her heritage, dealing with her identity, coping with all of this new wild information about the supernatural, all the experiences that she and the crew have had, and the death of her mother. Nancy is a real shove-it-down-and-move-forward type of person, and I think this season, a big part of her journey is learning to unearth that and confront it and deal with it head-on. As we head into season three, she has addressed all of these things and knows herself a bit more and has learned what she really needs, so I think we will see her attacking that and going for it and moving forward with a clearer head. I think that will be a really beautiful experience because a lot of decisions she makes this season—and we’ll see as things move on—a lot of the decisions she makes are clouded by this lack of addressing the mental health aspect of all the things she’s experienced.
I have to ask you about your hair. Red hair is a big trend right now, especially with shows like WandaVision, The Queen’s Gambit, and of course Nancy Drew. Can you tell me a little about your gorgeous color?
I love that you brought this up because I really have been enjoying the trend myself. I went to Sally Hershberger in New York, and I worked with an incredible colorist, Kirsten Stuke, who created the color as it is now. That formula was then sent over to our team in Vancouver, and we have a colorist on the hair team, whose name is Glen, and he is incredible and has adopted the—I’m not super good with hair terms—but he has taken the formula for the color and infused it with different tones and different ways of applying it to keep my hair really healthy the whole time, which is wonderful. It has a lot of copper in it, which I really love because there is a nice warmth to it. In different lights, it can read as blonde, which is nice. It rides that nice line of staying very coppery, but it has some honey tones. I think that keeps the warmth to it and looks natural as opposed to dyed. I think I will keep this color for the rest of my life. I love it!
Let’s talk about the fashion on the show because there is so much to love. Tell me about building out the look for Nancy?
So this has been a very interesting journey. We’ve had four costume designers on the show up until this point. We had a costume designer on the pilot who really carved out very specific looks for these characters. And the idea was always to stick to the vintage inspiration. Nancy has always drawn from the ’70s and the ’30s. She draws from some other places too, but those two eras really make up a lot of the inspiration for her looks. Nancy has always had a reputation for being a bit of a fashionista alongside all of her crime solving. So we started off there, and then in the first season, we had a few different costume designers, and things were shifting a lot. I feel like we kind of lost our footing there for a while, but this season we started off with a new costume designer. She came over from Supernatural and has totally brought us back to the original intention along with so much more of her own inventiveness and has really carved out the style that all of these characters have. I am her biggest fan. She is incredible.
As the season goes on, you will see how amazing all of these outfits get, but what I think she has really honed in on for Nancy is a combination of masculinity, a bit of androgyny in some of her choices, but always a dash of femininity in there. Stuff that is practical because, you know, Nancy is a practical gal. She’s got stuff to do. But also stuff that looks thrifted and unique that has a special kind of feel to it. It feels very real to me.
There is also something that is really starting to emerge in this second half of the season where she almost rides the line of—and I see this popping up a lot right now, like everything Emma Chamberlain is wearing right now—there is almost this kitschiness that Nancy has started incorporating. It adds a sense of fun, which I think is coming out of the character and really hones back to those ’70s and ’30s time periods. We’ve also incorporated a neck scarf that has become Nancy’s signature accessory, which I am obsessed with. I feel like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. All I need is a Vespa. Also, we have the best jackets on our show. The jackets are the stars of the show.
How would you describe your own relationship with fashion?
It’s been an interesting evolution, especially in the last year and half. It’s like, what is clothing? What is fashion in a time when you don’t have anywhere to go? It’s been an interesting thing because I feel like I’ve been the type of person to really want to pursue fashion, but I’ve always fallen back on comfort. And I think that will always take the lead for me, but it’s really cool to watch as fashion develops with everybody’s desire to incorporate more comfort and see where that goes. I always need to feel like I can go out and do anything and that what I’m wearing isn’t going to restrict me. I really like incorporating a lot of menswear into my style. I feel my truest self in an oversize suit jacket, that power mixed with a feminine silhouette underneath. I think emphasizing a feminine silhouette and then layering over a more masculine piece is my perfect comfort zone.
Now that it’s officially spring, what are some of the pieces on your radar right now?
As much as I love sweaters, I’m excited to move away from sweaters and into some more warm-weather things. I’m excited to get into some nice skirts and dresses and really enhance my femininity in these warmer months. That’s always been my favorite way to transition into the warmer months in regard to fashion. And also, wearing some more color every once in a while would be nice. I’m a real neutrals person, but I’m trying to expand the boundaries.
Nancy Drew is a big moment in your career, but what other goals do you have on the horizon?
I would love to do theater someday, whenever that’s available again. That’s where I came from as an actor and always what I thought I would be doing. And as much as I have absolutely fallen in love with film and television and I think it’s probably my favorite medium, I really do miss theater and would love to do some classic work. I love Chekhov. I love Shakespeare. That kind of stuff is a big part of what I trained in, and I really would love to get back to that. I think it would be fun. And I’ve never done a film, so I would love to see what that’s like.
Catch Nancy Drew Wednesdays on The CW at 9 p.m. PT.