Kerry Bishe is no engineer, but 'Halt' star represents well

Bill Keveney
Meet the Mutiny braintrust: Donna (Kerry Bishe), left, and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis).

Kerry Bishé is hardly a techie, but the Halt and Catch Fire star plays a really smart one on TV — and that has big significance.

"I'm a Luddite in my life. I collect typewriters and I like to travel without my phone. This has been a real eye-opening experience," Bishé jokes, contrasting herself with her character, Donna Clark — a brilliant engineer and partner in Mutiny, a rising computer gaming and communications company in the 1980s period drama.   

AMC's Halt, which began Season 3 Tuesday, drew big praise last season for a story that paired Donna with programming genius Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) at Mutiny's helm. A new character, Diane Gould (Annabeth Gish), is an influential partner at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that provides money to start-ups.

It's time to catch up on AMC's 'Halt and Catch Fire'

Bishé, who has been moderating discussions between scientists and artists over the past year, offers a tech fact that may surprise some people: Women received 37% of computer science degrees in 1984, but just 18% in 2012. (The show's producers theorize that more men got into tech as it became a path to wealth, while marketers made it seem like computers and video games were for guys.)

She says media depictions of female scientists are important as a means to encourage more women to enter the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.

"Showing women being scientists on television can have a great impact on who actually goes into science as a profession," she tells USA TODAY.

However, those characters needn't be faultless, Bishé says.

'Halt and Catch Fire' ventures into Silicon Valley

"It's more important to represent women as complete, whole, complicated humans as opposed to saintly, perfect women. The point isn't that they have to be good people. It's that they have to be people," she says, crediting Halt's two male creators, Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, for drawing rich, complex characters. "They've written beautiful, vain, ambitious, fallible people." 

And, although Bishé didn't know much about technology before joining Halt, she knows the importance of understanding a character. To prepare for the role, she did her own research to get an idea of how Halt's computer experts reverse-engineered an IBM PC during the drama's first season.

"We ordered Speak & Spells off eBay, so we could take them apart," she says, laughing. "I wanted to really know what I was doing."