Suits may focus on two male leads, but it’s a core group of women who round out the cast and keep things running smoothly at Pearson Hardman law firm on the USA show.
Donna Paulsen (Sarah Rafferty) plays senior partner Harvey Spector’s (Gabriel Macht) right-hand woman with wit and a little sass. EW chatted with her shortly before the Suits season 2 premiere event, which brought her from the Toronto set to New York City (the setting for the show). She shed some light on what’s to come in the second season (which premieres this Thursday), revealed Donna’s “superpower” and talked a bit about that mysterious can opener.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So is it weird to travel from one city where you shoot the show to the city where the show takes place?
SARAH RAFFERTY: It’s funny because I’ll get [texts with] pictures from friends of “look at the bus” or shots of Times Square. There’s posters [for Suits] on Doheny and Sunset [in Los Angeles] or whatever. And there we are in Toronto kind of just doing our thing, sort of out of it all. But it’s exciting. We were in New York about three and a half weeks ago for upfronts, and I was walking into Saks Fifth Avenue to buy shoes for the event, and there were five pedicabs lined up with Suits posters on them. I thought, “Oh my God, right, wow. This is happening.” There’s a good bit of energy around it.
What appealed to you about your character when you first signed on to the show?
I love Donna. I really respect her wit and her loyalty. She doesn’t suffer fools. I think what’s so fascinating about her as a functional character is that she shows a side of Harvey that you wouldn’t see otherwise because of their backstory and they go back so far. He can be a different person with her than with anybody else in his life.
You and Gabriel also go back pretty far — you’ve known each other for about 20 years. How do you bring that relationship to your performances?
I think we don’t really think about it. It just kind of happens ’cause we have so much fun with each other. In some ways it can be totally problematic because we giggle a lot. Especially when we have to be serious, it’s really hard. We had to shoot a scene two nights ago at, like, 2:30 in the morning. We were really tired, and we had to shoot a really serious scene, and we were kind of cracking up when we had to be serious with each other, so it was like the kindergarten teacher in us separated us. We were like, “We can’t hang out right now. We need to go to separate corners and just sit and not talk to each other, ’cause otherwise we’re gonna be here all night.” But I think our relationship just brings the ease to it.
Last season we saw a moment where Harvey thought Donna had betrayed his trust, but really she was trying to help him and do what was best for him. What do you think it would take to really shake her loyalty to him?
You know, that’s a great question. It’s like her superpower’s almost her loyalty. I can tell you this about the second season: She is pushed into a situation where she chooses to be really loyal to him again, to protect him. And unlike last season when she was right, this time she’s wrong. We’ll see what the fallout of that is, but it’s not going to be easy. So I think that that loyalty will be really challenged. And not resolved in one episode at all.
Creator Aaron Korsh tweeted that writing Donna makes him feel superior. Why do you think he said that?
Oh, that’s so funny. I think he was just trying to mess around with everybody else [in the cast], but I think it probably has to do with the fact that the thing that is superior about Donna is she’s kind of more quick-witted than anybody. Obviously Mike’s a genius, Harvey’s a genius, but Donna’s just quick. She’s gonna win the little wordplay games. She’s just really fast, so I think Aaron would feel superior, because he can come up with that stuff. [Laughs]
As the second season begins, the big question is whether Mike’s secret is safe. Donna is one of the very few people who know he didn’t go to law school, so where does she come into play here?
You find out in [the season 2 premiere] whether or not the cat’s out of the bag. True to Donna’s character, and, again, going back to why Aaron feels superior, is that she knows everything. She knows everything before anybody else knows it. It’s just established that she listens to all the conversations. And I think Aaron has a lot of fun with this person just being somebody who is the mother hen of the whole place. So that being said, Donna wants to take care of Mike. That side of her comes out. As much as she gives Mike a tough time, she definitely nurses him and adores him, and so she’s right in the thick of that concern and knows right away what’s going on and is in on it all.
Okay, really important question now: Do you know what the can opener is?
I know what the can opener is, but I’m not going to tell what the can opener is because I think the most fun thing about the can opener is everyone wondering what the can opener is and what people think it is. But yeah, we just shot episode 5, and the can opener was in a shot.
Were you in on what it was from its first mention last season, or did you find out later?
No, just like a typical actor, I had to make it up — sort of just create what the backstory was, and I’m sure Gabriel made up what it was for him. I think Aaron had to answer this question, maybe on the DVD, and I think he might have said that it probably will be revealed by the end of season 2 but that he wasn’t gonna answer the question because it’s sort of like I said: The wanting to know is probably more fun than the knowing. But it is just part of a [pre-trial] good luck ritual that they’ve had for maybe 15 years because they were total goofballs.
There are still fans who root for a Harvey/Donna relationship even though Donna told Rachel they’ve never gone there and never will. What’s your take on the possibility of anything romantic ever happening between the two of them?
I talked to Aaron about this actually a couple days ago, and he was like, “Look, anything can happen.” I sort of think that in the past, there was some energy around that topic in their life, and they made a conscious decision to not have a relationship. I think Harvey and Donna know that it would never work between them. There are some things that would really have to change about Harvey for her to want to have that kind of relationship with him. But there was that moment of looking back and thinking you’ve closed the door on that. Neither of them have found somebody. I think it’s fun that people root for that, or I also hear people saying, “Here’s why it would be horrible.”
Is there anything else you can tell us about what you’re looking forward to fans seeing this season?
This whole season – I’ve only read up to episode 7 – but it’s just so good. Things are so complicated, and the writers aren’t pulling any punches. They’re completely going for it. I think what initially attracted me to the pilot script was that it’s a law show, but it’s completely a character-based, relationship show. It’s not an episodic-case-every-week type of thing. This season goes deep into that, and it just seems like it has the opportunity to get darker and more complicated. There’s still the light, funny moments, but I’d say all the relationships aren’t as easy.
We had a dinner with the writers and the producers right before we went up to Toronto to start shooting, and I made some joke about Donna always being right, and all the writers started laughing. And I kind of got defensive on behalf of Donna. Like, “What are you talking about? She’s always right.” And they said, “No, she’s gonna be really wrong this season about something.” And she is. There’s gonna be a lot of repercussions relationship-wise around that. So that’s kind of fun.
The second season premiere of Suits airs Thursday, June 14 at 10 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. CT on USA.