It’s back to work day for Castle star Stana Katic, who today begins filming Season 8 of the popular ABC series. It was a busy three-month hiatus for Katic, during which she shot two indie movies, The Rendevouz and Sister Cities, and got married. In addition to playing the female lead opposite Nathan Fillion, Katic has added a new role on Castle as part of her new contract: a producer. In her first interview since signing on for Season 8, Katic talks about the decision to return, provides a glimpse at next season that promises to shake things up under new showrunners Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter, addresses her future on the show and what she would like to do 

It was a nail-biting few weeks for Castle fans last spring when the contracts of both Fillion and Katic expired. By mid-April, Fillion, who plays Rick Castle, had agreed to a new deal, but Katic’s new pact did not close until hours before ABC was to announce its 2015-2016 schedule in May. Behind the scenes, things weren’t as dramatic, Katic says. “For me it wasn’t necessarily down to the wire,” she says. “I didn’t really start speaking about that until after we had wrapped the (7th) season. A lot of the discussions were happening while I was filming The Rendezvous, so I let my reps handle. It went rather quickly in the end.”

For Katic, signing on for Season 8 was way more than a business decision. “Part of my thought process making the decision whether to do another season was creatively, what would that would look like,” she said. Factoring into the consideration was the fact that Castle creator Andrew Marlowe was leaving the series after Season 7. “He was part of making this character (Kate Beckett) what she’s become, and he has been part of this dialogue about how to create a strong female heroine,” Katic said.

stanakaticWhen Hawley and Winter — both experienced Castle writer-producers — were named as new showrunners, “I started to feel the character would be safe in the next chapter of CastleI felt confident that they knew the story, the character — Terence has been on the show since Day 1, and some of the most interesting episodes for my character were penned by Alexi — and while they are eager to shake things up and aim at telling challenging stories, they would also protect the integrity of the character.”

After taking a day to move offices from his previous job as co-showrunner of The Following, Hawley, along with Winter and the Castle writing staff, went on a writers retreat where they hashed out a bible for Season 8. How will Hawley and Winter shake things up?

“There are a lot of shifts” planneImage (2) Castle_Logo_20110608205217-300x168.jpg for post 407842d, Katic said, noting that is excited about Hawley and Winter’s ideas while being coy about next season’s storyline and the resolution of Season 7 finale cliffhanger, which saw Beckett left pondering an offer to run for the New York State Senate. Still, she revealed some information about the opening two episodes and beyond.

Katic called Episodes 1 and 2 of Season 8 “brother and sister.” Each reflects Castle and Beckett’s perspective on “an event that shifts the entire season into a higher velocity” and “is part of what will set everything up for the next 20 episodes.”

Here are more clues about Season 8. “Part of the exciting thing about this season is the way Alexi and Terence have envisioned the cosmic version of why the two characters (Castle and Beckett) have come together, how did these roads combine. It delves into the mythology of Rick’s disappearance and memory loss as well as into what inspired Beckett to become a cop in the first place.”

Stana head shot copyWill Season 8 be Katic’s last on Castle? It is too early to discuss that, according to Katic. “I don’t know what is going to happen with Castle and its future as we are at the beginning of what this season is going to be.” But she was quick to point out that “as an actor, if we can tell many stories and have a creatively fulfilling experience, we love to jump and explore a character.”

Katic, who has won two People’s Choice Awards for Castle, also is looking to expand beyond acting to directing as well as “finding great projects and helping to put them together.” She calls that a natural progression for actors, especially women, noting that many actresses who have won an Oscar have done so with movies that they had helped develop and produce. “It’s about finding great pieces and stories that I can be part of” that may or may not be starring vehicles, Katic said.

Katic is starting work on Castlea week into production so she could wrap production on her second hiatus movie, Sister Cities with Alfred Molina and Jackie Weaver, which she just did over the weekend, and thanked ABC for graciously letting her carve time out for the film, which tells the story of four estranged sisters who reunite to mourn after their mother’s alleged suicide.

While Sister Cities waThe 41st Annual People's Choice Awards - Backstage And Audiences shot in LA, action adventure The Rendezvous, in which Katic plays the female lead opposite Homeland‘s Raza Jaffrey, was a completely different experience. It was filmed in Jordan and marked Katic’s first trip to the Middle East. “It was unique and amazing,” Katic said about the shoot that had to deal with traveling through the desert in 50° C heat (112° F), holding the camera for camel crossing or redoing a take interrupted by a call to prayer. Because Jordan’s economy is not as strong as America’s, the local film industry has to make do with less. “People try to make films happen with a bit more ingenuity, and there is something very charming about people’s generosity and desire to make it happen,” Katic said.

In addition to the two movies and the wedding, Katic took time this summer to work on her ATP foundation, which promotes alternative travel. She spent time meeting with people from Google, Metro as well as the White House discussing the issue that she is very passionate about. “I think this project is part of next chapter of what our planet will look like as within the next 10-20 years 70% of the planet’s population will live in cities,” she said. Katic is trying to set an example — making the commitment to travel by public transport or bike at least once a week.