8. Sarah Rafferty
Where You Should Know Her From: As Donna Paulsen on USA's Suits. Also guest spots on TV shows like Numb3rs, Bones, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Practice and Without A Trace.
I've rhapsodized at length about how the two leads of Suits are TV's best duo, but the MVP of season two thus far is Sarah Rafferty, who plays Harvey Specter's loyal assistant Donna Paulsen. As commanding a character as Harvey can be, Donna can hold her own with him and isn't afraid to stand up to him when somebody needs to. She's been there since before Mike, before he came to work for Jessica; one could argue that nobody knows him better - and we get a real sense of that watching her and how they interact together. Writers can put it on the page that there's a history between characters, but it's just words unless you get actors who can make that feeling happen.
If you weren't already drawing that conclusion from season one, season two has shown us that no one else could play Donna but Ms. Rafferty. Last week's episode "Break Point" put a big fat exclamation point on that statement. Her scenes with Gabriel Macht were absolutely spot-on perfect, enhanced by the fact that the actors have decades of friendship between them - something you can't teach and can't fake. In addition to working so well with him, she's outstanding on her own. This week we saw her completely unravel the character of Donna, and it was impossible not to just feel for her, but to understand her.
I was lucky to see Ms. Rafferty on stage last year, when she was the lead actress in the South Coast Repertory production of How The World Began. Theater is, in some sense, the truest medium in which to evaluate talent, because there are no retakes and there's much less to hide behind. I can say that she was just as impressive there as she is on Suits each week. She was basically the center of the entire play, and she carried it wonderfully. She is a pleasure to watch no matter what the project.
As far as her role on Suits, there have been a lot of witty assistants on television, but there has never been a better one than Sarah Rafferty playing Donna Paulsen. As much as I love Macht and Patrick J. Adams, I'm also very thankful that she's there with them - not just supporting them, but as an equal alongside them.