Sarah Rafferty on the Resurgence of ‘Suits’ and Life After Donna: ‘I Really Do Miss Her’

Sarah Rafferty on the Resurgence of ‘Suits’ and Life After Donna: ‘I Really Do Miss Her’ featured image

Sarah Rafferty is a force. Beloved for her iconic portrayal of Donna Paulsen in the hit series Suits, and more recently as Katherine Walter of Netflix’s My Life With the Walter Boys, Rafferty is hitting the screen yet again—this time, starring in e.l.f. Cosmetics’ Super Bowl ad spot alongside some familiar courtroom faces. 

In a conversation with Rafferty, the star reflects on the unexpected resurgence of Suits and its profound impact on viewers’ lives, insights into her connection with her character, and how her real life intersects with her role as Donna.

From her most cherished moments with Harvey to beauty tips from her daughters, Rafferty offers a glimpse into her world post-Suits, including her secrets to her most radiant skin yet. 

Suits experienced quite a resurgence in 2023. It was the most-watched show in streaming for the year. How does that feel? 

Well, it doesn’t compute. I can’t figure out how to make that work in any way that’s digestible. It doesn’t make any sense. I can say that the feedback that I’ve been getting when I’ve just been wandering around in my life is incredibly gratifying. People are finding it, like it’s this new thing. And it’s providing them with joy or connection or meaning, or escape, you know. It’s providing them a service. So that matters. 

It’s super fun to just be going to Starbucks and meet somebody who is watching it and hear what it means to them or what they respond to. Another journalist was DMing me yesterday saying they’re in trouble with their spouse because they went ahead one episode without them; they didn’t realize how much trouble they would get into. My mom is telling me about the people in her retirement community who are watching it. It’s just fun. It’s really, really wonderful. 

You have two daughters. Are they watching Suits

No, they are not watching it. They were living with me in Toronto during that time in our life and they were on set all the time. They were calling “action” and “cut” sometimes and they’re incredibly close to the cast and their families.

This summer, my younger one was 11 at the time and she watched one or two [episodes] and she was like, “I just thought it was weird, Mommy. I just want I just want you to be my mommy.” And I understand that. It was not my idea to have them watch it. But what was interesting was this winter when My Life With the Walter Boys came out they did watch that. And I wonder if it’s because I’m a mom [on the show] and it feels more comfortable for them to see than Donna, to which I think they’re kind of like, “What?”

What do you miss most about playing Donna? 

That’s such a beautiful question. I really do miss her. I miss hanging out with all her friends, first and foremost. I think I really miss walking her in her shoes, because she had a confidence and self worth and appreciation for her own personal superpowers. 

It was like she was her own superhero in some ways, and so playing her was incredibly fun. The challenge was actually to get out of the way of a woman like that, because I am riddled with self doubt and insecurity and all those normal human things. And she was a superhero in some sense.

Do you ever tap into your “inner Donna” in your everyday life when you’re feeling insecure or going through something? 

I, like Donna, have a sense of humor. So I do rely on that. I also have a community of people that I’m really, really close to in my real life that I lean on like Donna. But I think to a tiny degree—I am not good at this—I can pep talk in a way that she might. And maybe that comes into the way that I friend people or parent or love my relatives. Maybe it pops in, in those ways, in that active space of loving and supporting others. She was good at it. 

What is your favorite Donna and Harvey moment? 

The flashbacks were my favorite. I would say the moment they met and that episode which was when they were just meeting each other. There was something so pure about it. They were just the distilled version of Donna and Harvey. I think people also really enjoyed the can-opener, silly stuff. The banter. The times she could give him shit. 

I even remember early on there was a scene that got cut in the first season where she walks in, and she’s like, “What the hell is wrong with you?” And I remember thinking that was a really interesting dynamic. It was before we’d done any flashbacks, before we had developed their past. It ended up getting cut because it didn’t quite fit in the episode but I remembered it because, obviously, the writers realized we needed to dive into that, what made her have that relationship with her boss. 

There’s a Suits companion show in the works. Do you have any plans of making a cameo? 

I talk to Aaron [Korsh] all the time. If he says that he wants Donna to come and play, I’m more than happy to put on the heels and let her out to play. That would be great. 

How did it feel being back in a courtroom setting with former castmates for this commercial with e.l.f.?

Shooting the e.l.f. commercial was so fun. The vibe on set was just of play and celebration. There were such remarkable people there; such a vibrant community of creative people were involved in it.

I see Rick [Hoffman] and Gina [Torres] a lot in my personal life and being back on a courtroom set in costume with full glam was super fun. It felt like a way to actually celebrate this thing that, like I said earlier, we can’t really quite metabolize, which is this resurgence. This was a way where it felt like, “Oh, we get to do this remarkably fun, out-of-the-blue thing, and this is a celebration. This is a way to celebrate and mark this moment in time.”

It was really fun being in a set that was a courtroom. A lot of it obviously can’t fit into a 30-second spot, but when we were being spontaneous and improving, just to hear Rick’s giggle was so familiar. There was actually a light between Rick and I so I couldn’t actually see him, but every time I would play with a new line or whatever, I could hear his high-pitched giggle and I knew exactly where we were. It was like going back in time, it was like going home.

Do you share any beauty tips with your daughters? Do they steal any of your products?

Yes, there’s a lot of stealing. When I was playing with a lot of the e.l.f. products, which were a lot of the products my makeup artist used on the day, they showed me how to use the highlight and contour ones. 

It’s so wild, these kids completely know how to do this. It’s crazy. So yeah, they are stealing my stuff; a lot of my e.l.f. stuff. All of the Lip Oils, the Halo Glow. I keep spraying them with the SPF which you can just spray on which is amazing. It’s the quickest way to get it on them as they’re running away from me.

With TikTok and social media, these girls with these multi-step skin-care routines are getting younger and younger. It’s getting crazy. There are headlines about how crazy it’s getting. And especially with my younger daughter, I’m like, “You don’t need XYZ brand, and you don’t need that many steps—it’s actually not good for your skin.”

But also, the stuff they are being marketed on their social media are not from accessible brands. They’re just too expensive. So I can lean into e.l.f. I know it’s accessible, I know it’s cruelty-free. I know it’s a vegan, conscious brand that’s making good choices in the world. That sounds like a plug for the brand, but I mean that. I’m relieved. 

I gasped when you walked onto the Golden Globes red carpet. You truly look better than ever. What do you do to stay looking so radiant?

Oh my gosh, that is so nice. Well at the Golden Globes I was wearing e.l.f.—the Halo Glow is so nice. But I have gotten really vigilant about the sun. I’m crazy about sunscreen. And I’ve been trying to deal with my sun damage with the BBL. I’ve been trying to get the sun damage off and then keep it off.

I feel like the sun [damage] is the one thing that I can work really hard to control. So I’m always in a hat, I always have sunscreen, I use the products that have sunscreen in it. And then I just try to be happy and hang out with my friends and lean into these relationships.

It’s aging, man. You want to feel like you’re doing your part to age in the best way possible, and then there’s a part of you that has to do the work on just embracing it. Trying to find the joy of being grateful that you get to age is a huge part of it.

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