Coming off the mid-season finale of one of summer’s highest-rated shows, our feisty new Femme on Fire has won over audiences with her flaming red locks, witty personality and ability to steal a scene with a mere raise of an eyebrow.
After spending years onstage and on hit primetime staples such as CSI, The Practice and Third Watch, our latest woman to watch, the stunning Sarah Rafferty, landed the role of Manhattan’s top legal secretary, Donna Paulsen, on USA’s Suits.
On the hit dramedy, Donna plays the somewhat platonic better half of fearless senior partner Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) at the prestigious firm of Pearson Hardman. While navigating the legal world of lawsuits, takeovers and pro bono, Harvey and Donna are mentors to rookie associate Mike and paralegal Rachel (Meghan Markle), who have come to realize the high stakes required to stay on top in such a highly competitive environment.
We checked in with Rafferty about the crazy world of Suits and Donna’s superpowers, and had a quick Playboy three-way (chat) with former Femme Markle.
Playboy.com: We saw Donna’s relationship with Harvey tested this season; where are we going to see this go in the winter premiere?
Rafferty: I don’t know where it’s going to go in winter, but with any relationship, when you weather a storm you come back stronger. Harvey and Donna going through the ringer helped them feel more like a team than ever.
*Playboy.com: *One of the scenes that were cut from the finale was a celebration dance between Harvey, Donna and Jessica. What can you tell us about it?
Rafferty: When Donna does come back and discovers that she didn’t make the mistake she was afraid she made, she’s relieved enough to dance a little jig.
*Playboy.com: *What would a managing partner, senior partner and a legal secretary dance to in that mood?
Rafferty: Oh god. It’s definitely vinyl, because Harvey’s entire collection is on vinyl. It would be a soulful, jazzy, R&B sexy thing for sure. Not pop — we’re not dancing to “Call Me Maybe.”
Playboy.com: What got you on board with the character of Donna?
Rafferty: The script. I feel all the characters are so specific — the whole show has interesting plotlines. But you care about these characters because they are deeply drawn. Donna is really fun to play because she’s indispensable to Harvey, and she’s totally confident in her role in the world of Pearson Hardman. She’s whip smart, really witty and has a big heart, which makes it so fun; they’re sexy things to play.
Playboy.com: Donna easily has the show’s best one-liners — what has been your favorite?
Rafferty: [Laughs] My favorite line so far this season is “I’m not apologizing for who I am,” which I believe was in the flashback episode. I think that’s kind of Donna’s mantra — if I could feel that way a tenth of the time Donna does, life would be that much easier.
Playboy.com: If Donna were a managing partner at the law firm, what would the law of the land be?
Rafferty: She would have her loyal subjects do a silly ritual every day to have a little bit of fun and not take themselves too seriously. Donna would also have a barista at work, a very fancy barista. Maybe even a mixologist after five P.M.; she likes Margaritas.
Playboy.com: Can you give us any details on that other night Harvey came by Donna’s place?
*Rafferty: *It’s going to be so much more fun wondering what went on than discussing it.
Playboy.com: It’s Playboy; we wouldn’t be doing our job not asking.
*Rafferty: *Absolutely, but isn’t mystery so much more fun?
Playboy.com: We just thought an office desk would be much more their style than a bedroom. Where will this lead to down the road?
*Rafferty: *[Laughs] See, it’s much more fun wondering. I’m open on hearing them all. Who knows if what happened that mysterious night got out of their system, or what remains to get out of their system. [laughs]
Playboy.com: Now, serious question: is Donna psychic? How does she know what’s going on at all times?
Rafferty: She has a superpower [laughs]: the Donna superpower. I think we should make t-shirts. More seriously, she’s very intuitive, almost a student of people’s behavior.
Playboy.com: You’ve been on everything from CSI to Law & Order to Without a Trace; what has been the most challenging role for you so far?
Rafferty: That’s interesting; I would actually say my most challenging roles have been on stage. I’ve been in a lot of plays: I really enjoyed playing Rosalind in As You Like It, which is a Shakespeare play. Funny enough, it has more lines than Hamlet!
Playboy.com: Tell us about your film, Small, Beautifully Moving Parts.
Rafferty: That was a great independent film that debuted at SXSW. It’s about a young woman who’s pregnant; she’s somebody who had all her life connected more with technology than people. She reconnects with her sister, who I play, and her mother before the baby is born.
Playboy.com: Lightning Round:
Favorite City? New York.
Drink? Martini — vodka up and twist.
Shot? All of them. That’s going to sound like I’m a big drinker…so Aquavit.
Pickup Line? I can’t think of one. I can just think of the funniest thing a homeless man told me: “You look like a million dollars, can you spare one?”
Playboy.com: Did it work?
Rafferty: Yes. I handed him a dollar.
Guilty Pleasure Song? “Sara Smile” by Hall & Oates.
Secret Talent? [Laughs] Synchronized swimming?
Playboy.com: But doesn’t having another person there make it no longer secret?
Rafferty: But I can do the moves — and the kicks!
Dream Car? Tesla — I test drove it today, the electric one that’s coming out. But I can’t decide between the dolphin gray and the deep brown. Hmm. I think the brown goes with my skin tone.
Embarrassing moment? Too many to name. I’m happy to embarrass myself.
Playboy.com: Our other Suits Femme on Fire, Meghan Markle, is there with you; feel like answering a question together?
Playboy.com: You could see a big parallel between Mike losing his grandmother and Harvey losing his father; how would you say your characters balance out the guys in the show?
Markle: When I first read that scene, I called (Sarah) and was like, “I have never seen that parallel in their relationships before.”
Rafferty: I first noticed it when Donna tells Mike that the feelings go away.
Markle: Maybe Rachel and Mike will end up like Harvey and Donna down the road.
Playboy.com: So would you say without your characters this show would fall flat?
Markle: We would agree with that statement if it was italicized and in gold and rainbow font!
Markle: You mentioned the flashback episode to Sarah; my favorite part of that episode was when Donna meets Rachel and Donna’s like, “You’re weird, I like you — we’ll be friends.”
Playboy.com: Sarah, what was your first Playboy?
Rafferty: I grew up with four girls…so I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read a Playboy. I lacked the brother whose Playboys I could steal. Can you send me one? [laughs]
Suits will return this January on USA. Follow Sarah or Twitter @SarahGRafferty