AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire is not just a drama about computers. This season, relationships have been put at the forefront of the series, which has given the show more depth and created higher stakes.
No one knows more about these high stakes than Kerry Bishé, who plays Donna Clark, a woman at the center of nearly every conflict on the 1980s-set show. Donna has a husband, children, a secret baby as well as an unpredictable business partner to juggle, and in a recent episode she made the difficult choice to get an abortion without telling her husband she was pregnant.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Bishé about the unlikely friendship between Donna and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), the surprising abortion and the most heartbreaking scene the actress has ever filmed.
What’s the best part about playing Donna? What do you admire about her?
I find her to be very practical. She’s a problem solver and she mostly, with some notable exceptions, doesn’t let her emotions get in the way of what really needs to get done and that’s something that I could use a little more of in my actual life.
What’s the most challenging part about playing Donna?
This is the longest time I’ve ever played the same role, and I don’t know how much of this is playing this particular woman, but there’s something that feels a little claustrophobic and confining about it. She keeps trying to be creative while penned in on a lot of sides. She does her best to work within some pretty strict limitations, like her family, the requirements that Gordon (Scoot McNairy) places on her being the way he is, and the landscape of being a professional person in computer technology in the ‘80s who happens to be a woman.
Who do you think is committing the worse offense here: Donna for not telling Gordon about her pregnancy or Gordon for waiting so long to tell Donna about his condition?
What’s so sweet about these two this season is that Gordon and Donna are both trying to do what’s best for the other person. He doesn’t want to rain on her parade. He wants to give her the opportunity she’s wanted so badly. Donna is withholding the information out of a desire to keep this tenuous balance on track. Their lack of communication is astonishing and doesn’t bode well for their relationship, but I do think it comes from a loving place.
Were you surprised by Donna’s choice to get an abortion? Do you agree with Donna’s choice?
That’s complicated. It’s a complicated decision for any woman to make. To have a child, that’s an enormous responsibility and it’s also a huge decision not to have a child. There were some things I really struggled with in reading the episode. Donna is a person who loves her family and she’s trying hard to balance her work life. She’s not happy to miss out on all the stuff at home. There’s a real loss there and the prospect of adding another human to the mix complicates that picture even more. So if you’re already in a situation where you don’t have enough time for the children you already have in your family, I could see why a person might go in that direction.
Cameron and Donna have an unlikely friendship. What does Donna see in Cameron that allows Donna to confide in her?
These two women have a really deep respect for each other as intellectuals, partners and as the ultimate teammates. I think Donna has a teammate in Cameron that she doesn’t always find in Gordon. She counts on Cameron to come through in the clutch when it has to do with a personal issue, which she doesn’t — in this moment — lean on her own husband for. It’s also notable that Donna probably doesn’t have anyone else to confide in. She can’t tell her mother. She can’t tell her husband. There’s no one in her world that she can really tell. It may not be because Cameron is the best person to tell—she may be the only person to tell.
I was really arrested when your character sang to your children over the phone. Were you deeply affected by that scene?
That’s one of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve ever gotten to be a part of in any work that I’ve done. We did my coverage on the phone in the kitchen by myself. Then I came to set the day they filmed their part in the hotel room, so I could be there and sing it for them. It was a real gift to be there and with those girls who are so lovely. It was one of those moments where you don’t have to do a lot of acting and you just let what’s happening happen.
There have been so many wonderful scenes for you this season — what’s stuck out to you as one of your most difficult to shoot? What were some of your favorite scenes to shoot?
I can’t tell you too much about it, but the very last scene of the season was something I did by myself. I’m the only one in the scene and it was the middle of the night on the last day of filming. It has high emotional content and all of the coder boys are waiting at the monitors with champagne to pop because once I finished, we were done with the season, and I have to do one last pretty emotional moment alone. I was really relieved when all the pieces came together and we were able to get it done.
As for some of my favorites to shoot, I had so much fun in the Mutiny house. Working with Mackenzie is a real dream. We have a real mutual respect for each other and there are far fewer fireworks between us in real life. We have a very collaborative, copacetic partnership that I’ve come to love and enjoy. It’s been so fun to do those meaty scenes together. I’m so happy to have her as a partner.
Halt and Catch Fire airs Sundays on AMC.