‘Nancy Drew’ gets modern makeover with CMU grad Kennedy McMann
Nancy Drew was a spunky 16-year-old with a nose for detective work when the character debuted in 1930 with the first of a series of novels. Numerous incarnations of the character have appeared in television shows and films, with many changing Nancy’s age to 18.
The CW offers the latest transformation when “Nancy Drew” launches Wednesday. Just like the gang in “Riverdale,” given a more updated direction from the malt-drinking kids in the original comics, the new Nancy Drew is definitely a sleuth for the 21st century from the dark tone to Nancy’s grown-up actions.
Executive producer Stephanie Savage stresses this “Nancy Drew” isn’t aimed at 12-year-olds.
“We’re making the show for The CW and that audience. I have nieces that are 7 and 5 and goddaughters that are in high school and college who we’ve read the books together and watched the ’70s series together,” Savage says. “And the little ones know that this show isn’t for them, and they’re going to have to wait till they’re older.
“Kids today are very comfortable with understanding that there are multiple iterations, that you can read a book, that you can watch a DVD, that you can see a movie, that there’s going to be different actors playing the characters. And what they love is the world of the story and the core character of Nancy Drew and the traits that she embodies of being smart and brave and curious and wanting to set the world right by figuring out what went wrong.”
Pretty well versed
The challenge of playing the new version falls to newcomer Kennedy McMann, who is certain she’s ready for the role because of her familiarity with the crime solver.
“I come from a super literary family. My mom’s an author. I grew up reading the books. I played the computer games all through college. I was hogging the family computer when I was a kid, and then it just became my laptop, when I was 19, (with) different ‘Nancy Drew’ games on it,” McMann says. “So I was pretty well versed. When it came about I was, like, ‘Ah, ah, I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’m ready to go.’
“But then when I got the part, it had been a while since I read the books. And I intentionally did not reread them because I was confident in the history that I had with the character, and I felt like I knew her really well. And I feel like I wanted to just be true and dedicate myself to the Nancy that we were creating, with all the knowledge that I already had to back up the historical relevance of her traits and things like that.”
Nancy Drew continues to be a brilliant teenage detective who made a name for herself through solving local mysteries in her hometown of Horseshoe Bay, Maine. Her mother’s death not only kills Nancy’s college plans but makes her swear off crime-solving.
Plans change when a socialite is murdered outside the diner where Nancy is working. She becomes a prime suspect in the crime, along with other teens present at the scene: Nancy’s high school nemesis, George Fan (Leah Lewis); a rich girl with a mysterious past, Bess Marvin (Maddison Jaizani); Nancy’s secret boyfriend, Ned “Nick” Nickerson (Tunji Kasim); and burnout Ace (Alex Saxon).
The murder will be a continuing story through the first season, but each week will feature a mini-mystery for her to tackle. One thing being held over from the original books is there seems to be a supernatural element to the mysteries.
McMann has worked on only a few projects — “Gone” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” — since graduating from Carnegie Mellon University with a BFA in Acting in 2018. She was working as a nanny in New York and would often have the children help her with lines before an audition.
As for making Nancy Drew more mature, McMann sees it as just a sign of the changing times.
“I think there is just a little more risk now. It’s something where now I feel like it’s so much less taboo to be showing women, how they actually are, and how they actually want to live their lives and pursue things,” McMann says. “So in that way though, with Nancy Drew, that’s sort of always been there. I mean, she’s very prim and proper in the 1930s editions of the books, and we’re showing her in a more modern context. But, yeah, I think that there is just a broader market for a lot riskier material.”