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Fall’s Brightest Rising Star

Katherine Waterston is going from Silicon Valley to sorcery and beyond

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Improvisation is an essential skill in any actor’s arsenal. And while Katherine Waterston readily admits her theatrical training has prepared her for all sorts of extemporaneous ad-libbing, the 35-year-old beauty’s latest role has her sticking closely to script. 

In Steve Jobs, Waterston—whose big break came in last year’s Inherent Vice—plays Chrisann Brennan, an Apple employee who just so happens to be the company founder’s longtime girlfriend and the mother of his first child. She’s a character Waterston slipped into without any need to improvise. “You get a script and feel a tremendous amount of compassion for a character, or you don’t,” Waterston says. “I was moved by Chrisann and impressed with her, too.”

Of course, the compelling script might have a little something to do with its scribe: “I think Aaron Sorkin is our Shakespeare, or the closest that we have,” Waterston says of the Oscar-winning screenwriter. “He’s whip-smart and so exciting to be around.”

The admiration seems to be mutual. “The character I wrote is not easy to love,” Sorkin says, “but Katherine didn’t judge her at all. You never got the sense that she was thinking, I’ve got to find a way for them to love me. She was a pure actress and it showed.”

In fact, it seems being impressed with Waterston is Hollywood’s new favorite pastime, considering the remarkable roles she’s winning. In addition to Steve Jobs, she’ll appear this fall opposite Elisabeth Moss in Queen of Earth, and she’s landed the lead role (playing the witch Porpentina) in the forthcoming Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

It’s fair to say that talent and a taste for hard work run in the family. She is the daughter of actor Sam Waterston, and as Sorkin—who wrote for Waterston père on HBO’s The Newsroom—tells it, they share a drive. 

“She has her father’s work ethic and humanity—and she’s delightful to work with,” Sorkin says. “No matter how long her day was, Katherine would want to spend another hour just to get better.”

Why not, she says, when the project is something so powerful. “The thing about [a film like this] is, you want to get it right,” she says. “It’s better than anything you could dream up.”

The same could be said of almost everything happening for Waterston these days, though despite her accomplishments, the success hasn’t quite sunk in. “Sometimes,” she says, “I still feel like I’m talking about someone else.”