In Katie Findlay’s mind, submitting to an interview about ABC’s freshman smash How to Get Away With Murder is almost as stressful as watching the show itself.
“I’ve got the Shondaland FBI undercover flower van in the back of my head all the time — watching me and making sure that I don’t ruin plot lines,” the actress says with a chuckle, while trying not to give away too much intel about tonight’s pre-winter finale installment (10/9c on ABC).
Findlay plays the enigmatic drug dealer being defended by Viola Davis’ Annalise Keating for the murder of coed Lila Stangard. You’d think that would put her in the know, but the actress explains that, like viewers, she only learns how her character factors into the twisty drama’s two central homicides when she receives her scripts each week.
While not being privy to Rebecca’s ultimate end game can be challenging, Findlay says it also frees her to be more present in every scene she shoots. “In real life, you don’t always know what’s going to happen, and you’re not constantly prepared,” she explains. “So, I decided that Rebecca moves through the world solely for herself — not selfishly or maliciously or out of cruelty — but just because that is the way that she learned to survive.”
Does that mean the character is capable of strangling a pretty young student and dumping her body in a water tank? Or bashing the dead student’s married lover (aka Annalise’s hubby) over the head with a bronze statue? “When I think about whether or not she could’ve done these things, I think about a person who was taught that the world is out to get her,” reasons Findlay. “I think about what you could be capable of if you’re a highly emotional person who also is used to being victimized and hurt and shut out. There’s a really wide range of possibility in terms of that.”
TVLine caught up with Findlay to dish Rebecca’s twisted romance with law student Wes, her unlikely friendship with Lila, her recent showdown with disgraced cop Nate and a possible, unexpected connection with Annalise’s right-hand woman Bonnie.
TVLINE | ABC’s promos have already warned us that this week’s episode will offer a version of events “straight from the dead, pregnant, sorority girl’s mouth.” And we know Lila was friends with Rebecca. How much interaction can we expect to see between the two?
You will definitely see some — not a small amount for sure. And as the person playing Rebecca, I was very surprised by what the dynamic revealed itself to be. I did not expect it to feel or play out quite the way that it did.
TVLINE | When Lila’s mother took the stand in last week’s episode and raged against Rebecca and Griffin, believing they’d murdered her little girl, your character seemed genuinely upset. Did this drug-dealing bartender with the checkered past really care about this privileged college student?
Rebecca’s a really emotional person. I find it interesting watching the audience’s response to her because, you know, I read the interwebs from time to time, and I see what people say — “She’s such a bitch. She’s so bad for Wes. She’s lying all the time!” — and sometimes I wonder what it would take to show people emotion from Rebecca that they’d believe. I’m a very emotional person, and I bring that into her, and I think Rebecca genuinely feels whatever is happening at the moment 100 percent. So I believe that her reaction to Lila’s mother was incredibly genuine.
Now, whether or not Rebecca can run a couple different sets of feelings at once has yet to be seen, because some people can do that and honestly believe them both. But in this episode, we see flashbacks of Rebecca, so you do see a side of her that was more of the normal person that she was before the pilot, before she was already in the middle of crisis.
TVLINE | Does Griffin the Quarterback factor into the flashbacks? He’s been this shadowy character that we don’t know that much about…
He’s not in the actual episode with Lila and I, but he is talked about, and you do start to get an idea of where he’d fit into Lila’s life and where he’d fit into Rebecca’s life, and that’s all I can say.
TVLINE | It’s funny how you mention people say “Poor Wes.” In last week’s flash-forwards, when he’s cleaning the blood off Rebecca in the aftermath of Sam’s murder, he is the calmest person in the room — which strikes me as just a little scary. He takes control of the situation, convinces his fellow students to help out Rebecca for whatever reason. He convinces Rebecca to sequester herself in a hotel room. Should we be a little worried about Wes?
Yes, in general, people should be a little bit worried about Wes because the boy’s messed up. Everyone reacts to crises very differently. The way that I react to crisis in real life is like Michaela — so that’s not good. But we actually had a talk with our beautiful, life-giving creator, Pete Nowalk, about the tone of Wes and Rebecca during this crisis, and he made a good point. He said, “They should be the calm in the storm, because they are both really the outsiders of the group, and they are the people who have really seen bad stuff go down before in their lives.” And Wes is truly, I think, a much darker character than Rebecca. Rebecca just wears it on the outside more.
So, getting back to your question. Absolutely, be a little bit worried about Wes — because there are some deep, deep unsettling issues at play there. Also, I mean, Rebecca and Wes are sort of madly in love and don’t know how to say it to each other because they’re screwed up. So him willingly sitting there and patiently cleaning her until the blood is gone from her skin, her hair, her eyelashes — and her sitting there and letting him to do it — is the closest thing to an expression of actual intimacy, other than having sex, that they have, which is creepy and fun.
TVLINE | I don’t know if you can answer this, but was that a glimmer of a smile on Rebecca’s face at the end of the bathroom scene last week? I thought there was just a hint of a grin as they turn and walk out of the room. And if so, what does it mean? Is she just pleased that someone cares this much to help her in such a huge way, or is something more sinister at play?
[Exaggerates voice] “I don’t know! I actually don’t even know what you’re talking about. I didn’t smile. That’s crazy talk,” she said in the most believable and guileful voice ever. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Alrighty then! [Laughs] So, the other whopper last week came as Rebecca went out to get some mint chocolate-chip, and there’s Annalise’s ex-lover and former detective Nate popping up out of nowhere. He tells Rebecca he knows she didn’t kill Lila, and then straight-up says they both know who did, clearly referring to Sam. How long will we have to wait to hear how that conversation plays out?
Oh, that’s coming right back. That’s immediate. Episode 7 really started to solidify Wes and Rebecca as a unit, and Rebecca has never, ever had anyone else on her island before. Or, well, if she ever has, it went very badly. So she’s the kind of person that, if she thinks she can find a way to make this work out better for [Wes] and then also save her own skin in the process, she will absolutely pursue it. But there’s a lot of conflict there because she’s also self-protective. She doesn’t know [Nate], and no one so far in the world, especially in this situation, except for Wes, has done right by her. She’s been lied to and turned around in every possible way — every turn of the situation has not ended up where she wanted it to be. So I don’t know how easily she’s going to trust Nate or how completely, but that interaction will come back around very quickly.
TVLINE | So we know at least that she’s not going to run in the other direction.
Rebecca doesn’t run from s–t. [Laughs]
TVLINE | This week’s official episode description also says that there’s “a shocking discovery that could change Rebecca and Bonnie’s loyalty to Annalise.” Are we getting some Rebecca-Bonnie stuff? Those are two characters I didn’t expect to really intersect.
Not so much. What I’ve learned on this show is that it’s a big-ass house, and it’s full of people doing all kinds of duplicitous things. And it is not difficult to imagine that something could’ve been misrepresented that could affect a couple different people on opposite sides of the big, scary house — and that is, in fact, what happens. A puzzle piece falls into the middle that, without either of them ever really connecting over it, affects Bonnie and Rebecca both equally.
TVLINE | Earlier, you mentioned the solidifying of Wes and Rebecca as a couple… which leads me to a question about their big sex scene. I mean, every major character on the show has had at least one big hookup, but yours was the only one where the sex was interspersed with a very gory autopsy of an exhumed corpse. How did you feel about that?
I had a different experience with it because, as an actor, you’re really going, “Can they see my butt? And if they can, does my butt look good?” And then you have a couple minutes thinking about how, for me, personally, my little brother will probably watch this. Poor guy. So I don’t think I was affected quite the way that a normal viewer would be affected. But I thought it was really cool. I’m a weirdo. I thought it was neat. I thought it was a little bit gross and disturbing. Every time I started connecting to the sexual side of the scene, they would flash back [to the autopsy], which jolted me out of it just a little bit, but not enough for me to feel affronted or offended. I’m really easily grossed out, but the scene was just creepy enough that it got to me and just light enough that I kept watching. I like that my sex scene was the weird one. [Laughs] I’m into it. I’m not mad at that at all.
TVLINE | So, at this point, Rebecca confessed to the police that she killed Lila. And she confessed to Wes in the hotel room that she killed Sam — although to me, the latter example felt like she was just practicing what she wanted to say to the police to make sure Wes didn’t get in trouble. But what’s the deal with her need to take the blame for felony murder?
Rebecca’s need to confess…I actually did a little bit of research on this, and it’s not uncommon for someone under interrogation to falsely confess after a certain amount of time — if a certain amount of mental trauma has taken place, and exhaustion, and sleep deprivation. People confess in order to take away the negative stimulus; they’ll just end up saying whatever it is that they think they’re supposed to say, because they’re tired, they’re hurting, and their brain just isn’t functioning correctly.
As for the hotel room confession, there’s a lot of stuff going on there, and I’m actually not going to say anything because people should be confused. [Laughs]
TVLINE | We’re getting close now to the Nov. 20 winter finale. On a scale of one to crazy, how shocked are we going to be by the end of that episode?
The situation is really entertaining and intense and interesting, but I think, regardless of whether or not you wind up being right about who the killer is, the episode itself is really shocking and unsettling, and we had a great time shooting it.