It’s nearly impossible to write this story without hearing Kennedy McMann’s voice, slowly and quietly narrating each sentence, the same way she would an episode of Nancy Drew. Much like the theme of the CW series, the actress playing the title character is still a mystery herself. At 23, she’s a newcomer, a fresh face, who just so happened to land the role of a lifetime shortly after graduating college.
“It's been crazy,” McMann agrees, speaking with me over the phone following InStyle’s photo shoot. Originally, she says, her goal was simply to get a callback during pilot season. “You just never expect it. So many stars have to align, and I feel extraordinarily fortunate that it all came together in the way that it has. It doesn't happen every day.”
But McMann isn’t exactly an overnight success story. Acting is something she’s been doing since childhood as a way to cope with OCD, something she’s spoken about at length, and she went on to study drama at Carnegie Mellon. Add in the fact that Nancy Drew has been a staple in McMann’s life for years (she devoured the novels growing up, played Nancy Drew computer games, and has even been compared to the character a few times IRL) and, well, it almost would have been weird if she didn’t land the role.
“I think I have it in a text to one of my dearest friends that once I got an audition in New York, I said, ‘I will be Nancy Drew,’” she says. “It was something that I felt, after how she's weaved through my life in different areas. People have even commented on this sort of likeness in the past. I never expected anyone else to trust that I could do it. I knew that I might be capable of it, but it felt very cosmic that other people agreed.”
McMann’s version of Nancy Drew differs a bit from the original. This particular Nancy is a modern one — someone who’s taking a gap year ahead of college following the death of her mother. Sure, she still solves mysteries, but at the same time, she works at a diner with her friends and shares sexy scenes with a mechanic.
“A major theme of our show is all of these kids messily finding out who they are and what their place is in the world, and how their identities are shifting,” McMann explains. “Nancy has lived as this perfect student, perfect daughter, perfect friend, perfect girlfriend throughout high school and then she watches her whole world fall apart. It’s sort of, ‘I put in all this effort to be perfect for so long and look where it's gotten me.’ I think there's a rebellion in her, and she just wants to finally, for the first time, stop trying to please everybody.”
McMann can relate to that, since she, too, was focused on pleasing people in high school. There’s also a slightly spookier similarity between the two women: they’ve both had experiences with ghosts.
“We started filming in this abandoned mental institution, and there was a time in which Leah Lewis, my co-star who plays George, and I got trapped in our cast room during a fire alarm, because all the doors shut with no prompting and locked,” McMann tells me, admitting that she was never big believer in the supernatural beforehand. “From that point on, I do believe in ghosts.”
If you follow McMann on Instagram, it’s easy to uncover more about the star’s personal life. Her likes indicate that she’s a fan of Love Island UK (“I am a ginormous Love Island fan,” she squeals when I tell her I've noticed. “I've been watching that show for years and years and years!”), and she also has a fiancé, who she posts about on occasion.
“He's up here in Vancouver with me full time, which is really awesome and really helpful. I truly don't know how I would be doing this if he wasn't here,” she says. The two met during college and, in some weird CW synergy, he was once roommates with Riverdale’s Casey Cott. Despite having a ring on her finger, McMan says she’s in no rush to walk down the aisle. “We don't really know what life looks like at all for the next few years,” she explains. “We have a long, long time.”
It makes sense considering that Nancy Drew films Monday through Friday, and days can exceed 16 hours. With a schedule like that, it might be hard to look at venues or plan seating charts. But the actress does make sure to carve out time for her mental health and says that finding a moment to decompress or disconnect is important to her.
“It’s something that I have to be active about because I'm prone to anxiety,” she tells me. “I just have to keep as many quiet moments to myself as I possibly can. Just re-center. I'm also very dedicated to my yoga practice, which I think helps my body, my mind, and my emotional state, and really helps me keep my head on straight. And just sleeping as much as I possibly can — that'll do a lot for a healthy mind.”
Spending so much time as Nancy does come with a few unexpected benefits. McMann says she’s become a big fan of her character’s ‘60s and ‘70s style, and Nancy’s fashion sense has rubbed off on her.
“I go into costume fittings and try on 75 things. If I could just take Nancy's closet, I would. I would replace my stuff with her stuff. She's got some good, fashionable clothing choices.”
When she isn’t working, McMann prefers to wear oversize, menswear-inspired clothing, and comfort is key for her, since Nancy's looks are usually form-fitting.
“I'm always in pursuit of what is the most comfortable, but also looks really cool,” she tells me before describing the perfect outfit. “I'd say it’s a pair of tailored pants, maybe in plaid; a really cozy, soft sweater; and a jacket on top, whether that's a blazer or an oversize, structured jacket.”
Right before we hang up, I wonder if McMann has any words for hardcore Nancy Drew fans — the ones who might be upset that 2019’s version deviates from the girl they grew up with.
“I understand,” she starts, choosing her words carefully, sounding similar to her narrator voice. “I am a superfan. But we've created a modern version of this character, and a show that’s exciting, and entertaining, and addictive, and fun, and a great way to bring other people to the Nancy Drew franchise. The core of our show is the core of what Nancy Drew has always been — and there are a lot of really fun Easter eggs throughout the series that I think will please hardcore fans.”
Nancy Drew airs every Wednesday night at 9 p.m. E.T. on The CW.
Photographs by Emma Anderson, assisted by Katie Tucker and Jeremy Gould. Styled by Laurel Pantin. Hair by Mia Santiago using fatboy. Makeup by Desirae Cherman for Exclusive Artists using Chanel Beauty. Art direction and production by Erin Glover and Kelly Chiello.