Darrow & Darrow is back Sunday night with its second film, In the Key of Murder. Starring alongside franchise regulars Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Tom Cavanagh, and Wendie Malick are few fun guest stars, including Signed, Sealed Delivered‘s Geoff Gustafson, Flashpoint‘s David Paetkau and Travelers‘ cast members MacKenzie Porter and Leah Cairns. I spoke to Porter this week during a break from filming Season 3 of that Netflix hit.
A multi-hyphenate actress, singer, and songwriter with an album due next year, Porter was excited about the opportunity to merge her talents into the role of rising musician Phoebe, the half-sister of Cavanagh’s character, Miles. When she finds herself the prime suspect in the murder of the music producer she just fired, Miles asks Claire (Williams-Paisley) to jump in and help.
“[The] offer just came into my agent and they [asked] if I’d be interested in playing a music-based role. I’d never really done that before, even though music is such a huge part of my life, so I was interested in that right away,” she explains.
Porter sings in the movie, and wrote the song that Phoebe sings throughout. “Before I signed on, I had talked to the producers about writing something specifically for the film or using one of my songs,” she says. “It was perfect timing. I had a month off right before Christmas.”
“Kimberly is from Nashville and I live in Nashville and I was big fan of her and Tom. It seemed like a cool project and something I’d like to be involved in. I wrote [the song] for the show with my boyfriend [Jake Etheridge], who’s a songwriter.”
“They gave me a rough idea of what they wanted it to be about and the tempo and how long it needed to be. One afternoon, we sat down and wrote that and they were happy. It’s kind of natural how it all came to be. I’ve always kept [music and acting] separate because I wanted to be taken seriously in both careers. I’m not sure that I’d do that on something with a longer term commitment, I thought [this] would be fun and it was fun…to do both at the same time.”
Porter enjoyed having Cairns on set, at well as working with Cavanagh and Paisley-Williams. “I didn’t know Leah was going to be in it until her first day of work and I was so happy to see her. I love her,” she shares. “Anything with Tom or Kimberly [was great]. His energy onset is so amazing. He’s a hilarious guy. Even though our scenes together are serious, we had an amazing time off set. They were both sweethearts.”
On Travelers, which has two seasons available now on Netflix, Porter has played multiple iterations of Marcy Wharton, a young woman who was mentally challenged until one of the titular Travelers arrived and took over her consciousness. It’s a role that’s allowed her to demonstrate an extraordinary dramatic range. When she signed on, she had no idea of the eventual scope of the role.
“I landed that role so fast. I initially auditioned for Carly. I sent an audition tape from Nashville. I was about to sign a contract for another show, and they asked me to give them another day and read for Marcy [instead],” she recalls.
“The booked me the next day. I wasn’t really aware of the character until Episode 1 came around. I knew Eric McCormick was in it and Brad Wright was running it and I knew the rough premise. I feel so blessed with all the challenging work I get to do on a daily basis. I’m really grateful.”
“It’s so interesting playing a character, especially on a TV show, because a lot of it is not written before. [Season 2’s episode 10, “21C”] was my favorite. It was shocking and heartbreaking, but I was excited to play it because it’s another layer of Marcy. Every time I get a script and something horrible happens, I’m excited to get to play it. I was more excited than anything because it added depth to the character and was more to play with.”
“I worked 10 days in a row and it was so draining but also so fulfilling. Every single scene was emotional and I was switching between Marcy 2.0 and 1 and original Marcy and it was a lot of mental work for me. At the end of that week, I felt a fulfillment I hadn’t felt before from acting. I was really happy with how they cut it together and how it turned out.”
Porter says Season 3 stays with that emotional storytelling. “It doesn’t get any easier. There’s some really heartbreaking stuff. We’re only on Episode 4 but I have a rough idea where the season going,” she says. “There are several storylines that are just super sad and beautiful at the same time. I think people will be kind of in shock this season. It takes it even further from where we went in Season 2. I always feel like a sad ending is better. I feel like a little cheated when it gets happy. I think this is realistic and not sugar-coated at all.”
Before Travelers, Porter recurred on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, where she played Naomi Bohannon. Moving from drama to drama has been fruitful for the actress, but she’d love to expand into other territory. “I think I’ve had more success in drama, and I love drama, but I’d love to do a comedy or dramedy,” she explains.
“I’m always drawn to a darker, more realistic storyline. One of my favorite shows is New Girl, so at some point I want to do something lighter. Right now, [more people] seem to be reacting to my work in drama. I’m happy to be doing anything.”
If you’re a fan of country music, you’ve no doubt heard “I Was Jack (You Were Diane”), Jake Owen’s homage to John Mellencamp’s 80s classic, “Jack & Diane.” Porter and Etheridge appear in the extended nine-minute short film that’s the music video for the song.
“I live in Nashville and I’m signed to a record deal and Jake Owen is on the same label and we have the same team, pretty much. I came in to see my producer and met [Owen] and we hit it off,” she says.
“I was asked if I would ever do a music video. They wanted actors because it would have [a scripted story]. I read it and they were also asking my boyfriend. We liked the script and hadn’t done anything together. I had a couple of days off and it worked out timing-wise. It’s nice for us since we’ve been dating for a while…to have a project like that.”
Darrow & Darrow: In the Key of Murder airs Sunday night at 7 pm/6c on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Here’s a sneak peek.
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