'Suits': Sarah Rafferty on Harvey/Donna's Complicated Past and Revealing Flashbacks

The actress previews Donna and Harvey's origins, which take shape in an Aug. 20 episode: "We get a chance to understand why they have the character traits that they do and why their relationship is the way it is."
Ian Watson/USA Network

"I'm in trouble."

Suits hit the ground running when Donna (Sarah Rafferty) took Stephen Huntley (Max Beesley), the U.K. equivalent of power lawyer Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), up on his offer to catch Daniel Day-Lewis in Macbeth. But when Stephen charmingly revealed that a dinner with Day-Lewis was also part of the evening's plans, Harvey's loyal secretary opted for a more private affair. To say their late-night rendezvous complicates matters at the newly-named Pearson Darby law firm is an understatement as Tuesday's episode, "The Shadow of a Doubt," deals directly with a glowing Donna. How will Harvey react when he finds out the truth?

In a chat with The Hollywood Reporter, Rafferty previews the aftermath following Donna and Stephen's hookup, what it could mean for Donna's working relationship with Harvey and how their past shines a light on their future.

The Hollywood Reporter: How has it been playing a different dynamic on the show with British Harvey, Stephen Huntley?

Sarah Rafferty: It's so fun. Any time you get to dig into the characters' personal lives is really fun for us. It brings up a whole other side of Donna that is particularly amusing.

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THR: The Stephen and Donna dynamic is quite unique. How would you describe their burgeoning relationship and what the future holds?

Rafferty: What's been really interesting and will continue to be this season is the introduction of all the new British characters -- the British invasion -- and how these characters change the dynamic among the regular Pearson Darby gang. What's particularly fun about the introduction of Stephen into Donna's life is what that does to Donna's relationship with Rachel; they can now have more fun girly moments because they need each other in that way. Or how Harvey and Donna have to dance around each other as a result of all of this -- and the things that come up that they'll need to address.

THR: How does the Stephen-Donna pairing affect Harvey specifically?

Rafferty: I have sort of a two-part answer to that. I think both Harvey and Donna might be surprised by what it brings up for them, the issues in their relationship that they need to address and ultimately that they are incredibly loyal to each other and have a really solid foundation — and we learn more about that in the flashback episode, which is perfectly placed as the sixth episode ["The Other Time," airing on Aug. 20]. 

THR: Suits is in the thick of its third season and yet there is still so much mystery surrounding Harvey and Donna in particular. 

Rafferty: It should be dragged out, our knowledge of them, of why they are the way they are, right? You should not be able to figure it out for a long time. Also, I think they're two complicated people who don't know themselves. 

THR: This season, even more so than in the past, there has been much more interaction between Donna and Rachel (Meghan Markle) in non-work situations. Can we expect more of that?

Rafferty: I know, and it's such a relief and it's so fun for us to play these two girlfriends having their ups and downs, needing each other and having boyfriends, so to speak. Especially now that we've seen that they made up -- they overcame their hurdle at the beginning of the season -- and they're going to need each other moving forward. Everybody needs that office BFF.

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THR: When I spoke to Aaron Korsh prior to the start of the season, he alluded to a big moment between Donna and Stephen that he felt could divide fans. (In last week's episode, the two end up skipping the theater and sleep together.) Were you surprised when you read that in the script?

Rafferty: When I read that interview, I called Aaron and I was like, "What are you talking about?!" [Laughs] I was kind of worried and I hadn't thought about it. The upshot about our discussion about it was, the great thing about our Suits viewers is that they're awesomely invested viewers and there are moments that can be polarizing. "I hate that!" or "I love that!" I get tweets all the time that "I ship Harvey/Donna so hard" and then I get people responding those tweets saying "No, no, no, their relationship is perfect the way it is!" It's so interesting. I hadn't thought about the response to some revelatory moment that might come. 

THR: Do you fully buy that Stephen is there to help Harvey topple Jessica (Gina Torres)?

Rafferty: Donna's take on it is that he is there to help Harvey. Look, Harvey, Jessica, Donna live in a world where there is a lot of shady stuff going on, so they're not blind to the fact that they have to be cautious about who people are. But Donna quickly believes that [Stephen]'s there to help Harvey. She certainly wouldn't be flirting with a guy who is there to undermine Harvey. She's too loyal to him. Her friendship and business relationship runs way too deep for her to tolerate anybody who would not be there to help Harvey.

THR: What can you tease about the upcoming flashback episode?

Rafferty: I'm eager to see the flashback. I'm eager to see how that weaves into the season. I thought the flashback was so brilliantly placed in season two -- it was just the perfect moment to go back in time, and I think it will be interesting to see them go back even further in time. The way it juxtaposes the present to the past is intriguing. Gabriel and I had fun playing 10 years in the past for Harvey and Donna. It was a good time.

THR: How different were they back then?

Rafferty: Their fundamentals are still there. They're not completely different people, but we get a chance to understand why they have the character traits that they do and why their relationship is the way it is. We go to the root of that. But ultimately they're still the same people. They're confident, sort of arrogant, ambitious people but they're not swept up in the high stakes [like] in the present time. Simpler times.

THR: What about the ongoing mystery of the can opener?

Rafferty: We get to meet the can opener! [Donna] has her first moment with the can opener. We go back to the origins. All is not revealed but [the can opener] makes an appearance in the past. Obviously it's been around for a long time.

THR: The can opener has become bigger than the show.

Rafferty: I'm not a big Facebooker, but I heard it has its own Facebook page. The can opener is its own thing. I think that there might be [a Twitter page, too]. 

Suits airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network.

E-mail: Philiana.Ng@THR.com
Twitter: @insidethetube