After her star turn in the smart, sexy legal drama Suits, fans wondered where Sarah Rafferty would shine next. Roles soon followed in Grey’s Anatomy and Chicago Med. Now, the Greenwich native is bringing life to a new character, veterinarian Katherine Walter, in a heartwarming coming-of-age story. My Life with the Walter Boys, debuting Dec. 7, follows Manhattan teen Jackie Howard, who loses her family in a tragedy and moves to Colorado to be with her guardian — her mother’s best friend, Katherine. Already raising 10 kids on a ranch with her husband, Katherine is determined to be there for everyone.
We caught up with Rafferty, a Yale-trained actress and married mother of two who recently said she’d happily play her Suits character again if the opportunity arises (a spinoff is reportedly in development). She shared more about her new series and how her family and education influenced her career, including TV, stage and film.
What was your life like as a child in Greenwich?
It was beautiful. I’m the youngest of four girls. I grew up in Riverside. We used to love riding our bikes down to Tod’s Point, a very special place for us. Whenever I’m home at Christmas, I take my kids with my mom to the Holly Grove. My mom was an English teacher for 30 years. She was head of the English department at Sacred Heart private school and we love poetry, so we usually take a book of poetry by Mary Oliver and have my mom read to us. We read poetry and walk around the beach.
How did your parents cultivate your passion for the arts?
At least once a year, my parents would take us to a Broadway show. I remember sitting with my sisters, next to my sister Connie. We were in the mezzanine for Les Misérables. We both were riveted the entire time, but when the cast came out for curtain call, we burst into tears. I’ve reflected on that many times as this moment of really valuing the theater and performance as a means of communication, empathy … It can be cathartic. So, I think that’s when I fell in love with the theater.
Your parents encouraged your dream. How so?
I didn’t go to high school in Greenwich; I went to boarding school and that’s when I got really into acting. Then, in college, they supported me to do my junior year abroad in London. I was a double major in English and theater, and was able to go to London to study acting for spring semester of my junior year. Then I won a scholarship to go to Oxford for an acting program. I came home for about a month to work as a waitress at this restaurant, Bella Luna in Greenwich. I got all the spending money for my summer in Oxford. Then I came home and told them I wanted to audition for Yale Drama School, and I did. When I got in, they were incredibly supportive.
My Life with the Walter Boys is based on Ali Novak’s novel, a drama (including a teen love triangle), written when she was 15. The story begins after the crash that leaves 15-year-old Jackie an orphan, in Katherine’s care. Your character wants to do right by everyone, despite the chaos of raising nearly a dozen kids. What drew you to the role?
I would say this mother figure, the matriarch in a very large, boisterous family, drew me. She herself was an adopted child, and I believe the fact that she had such wonderful adoptive parents, and that she also had an ache to know her birth parents, is a driving force in her life to create a large, diverse family. There are many ways to define what is family. That family can be blood, but it can also be chosen, is what her relationship with Jackie hinges on. I thought that was a beautiful dynamic.
What can you share about the filming?
Gosh, definitely one of the reasons to tune in to the show is that we shot just outside of Calgary and the show is based in Colorado, so it’s just a gorgeous ranch setting. The skies are so preposterously blue. We have horses and a gigantic dog.
You’re best known for your role as sassy, savvy Donna Paulsen, the fashionable legal secretary on Suits, which ran nine seasons, ending in 2019. What sticks with you most?
I love my cast and I love who they are in my life today. I love being a part of a story that resonated with so many people. It was a really important decade of my life. I actually had my second child while I was on the show, so there was a very familial element behind the scenes, and in the Pearson Hardman family in front of the camera.
What about Donna and her razor-sharp wit?
I also loved having the opportunity to play a character who was both dramatic and comedic, and Donna’s journey was very gratifying from a feminist perspective. I think a lot of women enjoyed how competent Donna was, and it was certainly fun to play that kind of confidence, and that she had a superpower of having empathy and understanding for what makes people tick. And how fun were the clothes!
Did you keep anything from the set?
Yeah, of course I did! I have Donna’s couch from her apartment. And there are certainly some pieces of clothing that I thought were worthy of becoming family heirlooms.