A Discovery of Witches is almost here! Meet some of Diana’s and Clairmont’s family and friends in interviews with Alex Kingston, Greg McHugh, and Tanya Moodie.
Friends, we’re closer and closer to the premiere of A Discovery of Witches! The series is finally coming to the U.S., and the whole first season of will be available on Sundance Now (AMC Networks’ direct-to-consumer SVOD service) and SHUDDER (premium streaming service for thriller, suspense, and horror) this Thursday, January 17, 2019.
Just as a reminder: The series begins as Matthew Clairmont (a vampire and geneticist) discovers that magical creatures (witches, vampires, and daemons) are becoming extinct. A book at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Ashmole 782, holds the key to solving this problem; however, it’s been bewitched so only Diana Bishop, a historian and witch, can access it. This leads to a team-up between Diana and Matthew as they try to uncover the truth of the three species. There’s adventure, mystery, and romance.
Diana (Teresa Palmer) and Clairmont (Matthew Goode) have a huge task on their hands, but thank goodness they have a team of family and friends like Diana’s Aunt Sarah, Clairmont’s good friend Hamish, and Agatha Wilson (daemon member of the Congregation) around them to help!
Thanks to our friends at AMC/Sundance TV, we have interviews with Alex Kingston, Greg McHugh, and Tanya Moodie to share. They introduce us to their characters, their relationships with Diana and Clairmont, more details about filming!
***WARNING: The interviews get a bit spoiler-y, so beware!***
Could you tell us a bit about Sarah Bishop?
Sarah Bishop is Diana’s aunt. She’s from New England, she’s American and in a relationship with Emily Mather, who’s also a witch. Our story, certainly in the first book, basically takes place in their house in Madison, Upstate New York. There are witches from all different cultures and in all parts of the world – we’re the American side of the story.
Can you describe Sarah’s relationship with Diana?
Diana was basically brought up by Emily and Sarah after her parents were murdered. Diana and Sarah
have a lot of similarities which is why, ultimately, they clash. Emily is much more caring and nurturing and holds a secret which is revealed during the story. I think the secret makes Emily much more protective of Diana in a soft loving and caring way. Sarah finds it hard to show her emotions and I think there’s a lot of pain from the death of her sister and brother-in-law that she still holds on to.
What can you tell us about the powerful Bishop family that Diana comes from?
Diana is a reluctant witch, but I think it’s more that she believes she doesn’t have the special DNA or gifts that her ancestors or aunts possess, and she’s sort of trying to distance herself from that side of the family. Diana wants to be more grounded in the human world, but she is fascinated by alchemy, and that’s what she’s lecturing in. It’s like she’s looking at the world that her family has lived in and possessed for generations but almost from an anthropological perspective as opposed to really living in it as we do.
What is Sarah’s reaction to the Book of Life/Ashmole 782?
Sarah’s nervous for Diana. She’s come across the book and magic has been awakened or stirred. That makes Sarah nervous, particularly because they’re so far away. There is a lot of history that is slowly revealed through the series that makes Sarah and Emily worried for Diana’s safety as she’s in Oxford and she’s so far away from them. They absolutely want her to leave England and come back to the States to be with them, where they can protect her.
How would you describe the world the show is set in?
Ultimately all of the creatures want to know why they are the way they are and where that has come from. It’s interesting to think of that in the context of what’s going on in our world at the moment with racism, sexism, misogyny. Their racism is creature interaction and so Sarah is much more resistant to the prospect of Diana having a relationship with Matthew, who is a vampire. It’s really holding a mirror to what we are doing in our own society as human beings.
What was it like to work with Valarie Pettiford?
Love her! Valarie and I had a really good time! It’s so funny because everybody kept coming up to us saying, “You guys are getting on so well, it’s so fantastic you have such great chemistry”, and we’d never met before but we just clicked. She’s incredibly generous as an actress and we both seem to have exactly the same instincts about our own characters, but also each other’s. She was also a Bob Fosse dancer, so I’m thrilled! I asked her all these questions about what it was like being with Bob Fosse. Oh my god, Studio 54. It’s fantastic!
And with Teresa and Matthew?
I hadn’t worked with either Teresa or Matthew before. When we joined the show, because our characters are introduced later into the filming, they’d already established themselves and got to know each other and everything, but they were so welcoming. It’s a lovely, lovely cast and crew, which is a joy. We filmed for six months, or they did, so if there had been personalities making it slightly difficult it would have been hard. But everybody gets on really well, there are a lot of laughs. It’s good!
What can you tell us about the set?
The set’s extraordinary! Our house, the Bishop House, is absolutely perfect and it really feels like it’s been lived in for generations. I forget that I’m on a set. I think everybody feels the same way – you sort of relax because every drawer is filled, the refrigerator is stocked, all the little tiny details are perfect. I’m super happy.
Why did you want to be part of A Discovery of Witches?
The scale and ambition behind the project attracted me to it. I hadn’t read the books, but when I read the script, the visual explanations had me enthralled immediately. It was the grand scale, the imagery, and the subject matter that were interesting for me as an actor. It was a world I was really interested in to play as an actor, as well as the challenge of Hamish and who he was and what he was going to bring to it.
Who is Hamish and how does he fit into the story?
Hamish Osborne is Matthew’s mentor. Matthew is incredibly impulsive, and has his needs as all vampires do. But when he met Hamish, he met someone he could confide in and build a friendship with. It’s not a conventional friendship in terms of daemon and vampire. But again, the series is trying to show that unexpected friendships can be built with people no matter what their background is. Hamish is really there to settle Matthew and I think that’s a pivotal relationship because of everything that’s going on: the love story, his need to feed, his eternal life… Hamish is Matthew’s linchpin –he gives him a calmer perspective on all the things that are happening around him.
From a writer’s perspective, tell us what attracted you to these scripts?
I liked the originality of the characters. They’re not the kind of immediately predicable fantasy vampires, daemons and witches you might expect. I think both Kate, as the script writer, and Deborah, as the author, have been a magical mix, and they’ve managed to create a very realistic world and characters with very real issues. There’s a lot of potential in terms of playing those characters, there’s been a brilliant job done there. The depth of the characters is going to bring a whole new element to it.
Describe the world of A Discovery of Witches.
It addresses a lot of relevant issues with society, and how when you meet someone in the street, you don’t really know their struggles or their battles. Hiding in plain sight but having exceptional powers can be a really good metaphor for society. Lots of people have amazing abilities, and when you first meet them you don’t know that. So, I think the daemon, vampire and witch elements of struggle is quite an interesting one for society as a whole.
How is the portrayal of witches and vampires different in this show?
A Discovery of Witches isn’t about fangs or daemons with horns and hooves and witches with pointy hats. It’s about normal people with exceptional skills and I think that’s an original approach to this genre and makes it a lot more interesting.
Tell us about Matthew and Hamish’s relationship.
Matthew has lived for thousands of years, so he’s had to absorb a lot, as you would if you’ve lived through wars, loves that you’ve lost etc. Hamish has a much shorter, objective view on life and he’s very direct with Matthew. I think what’s interesting is the stage in his life in which Matthew met Hamish. As the love story develops, Hamish is someone who really starts to worry for Matthew and gives him a perspective and a sense of where to go on this journey. It’s a crucial period when they meet and where they get to.
What are the characteristics of a daemon?
I suppose the characteristics of a daemon are that they’re bored of humans, incredibly intelligent, slightly erratic, impulsive as well – it’s all tied into their creativity. In terms of the hierarchy between the witches, daemons and vampires, daemons are very much the bottom of the pile. Maybe it’s because they don’t live forever or don’t have the immediate skills of a witch, but the creativity that they have means that they’re often prone to mental health issues, as we kind of explore in the show. So, daemons are effectively: impulsive, brilliant, and mortal – which of course puts a different kind of pressure on them.
What kind of daemon is Hamish?
Well it’s interesting because Hamish is almost atypical in some senses. He’s an emotional individual, he’s empathetic, he’s caring, and he’s very frustrated about where daemons lie in this hierarchy. In terms of the crazy creativity or the erratic behaviour, Hamish has managed to control this and channel his creativity into the finance world. But he is emotional, and he is prone to worry.
What was it like to work with Matthew and Teresa?
Matthew’s got a brilliant sense of humour. He’s a good lad and he’s got rapport with the crew as well, he’s very respectful and that’s kind of the key to any good atmosphere on set. When I started to read the book and saw his portrayal it’s uncanny. It’s perfect, I feel it’s really spot on. Teresa, is incredibly funny and, I mean this in the nicest possible sense, a bit goofy, but when the cameras are on she’s right into it. She comes across
as someone who wants to engage with people. I really enjoyed working with her.
What can you tell us about the creative side of the show?
The scale, the art department, the production design. Every time I walk on to set it’s more than impressive, especially once you’ve read the book. Going back to why I’m saying I was interested in the project, the scale of what we are trying to achieve through the design, though the camera, through the sets, it’s a huge team of experts and that’s why I love it.
How has it been working in Wales?
I’ve worked all over the country but never in Cardiff. Cardiff reminds me of Glasgow in that everyone is really friendly, open and smiley. Brilliant food as well – fantastic restaurants – I’ve been loving it!
Why should people tune in to A Discovery of Witches?
It’s a brilliant story. It is fundamentally an engaging love story with three- dimensional characters. You’ll get your vampire, daemon and witches element but it is a beautifully told story that’s intelligent, fun, historical and ultimately gripping.
Can you explain what the Congregation is?
We’ve got vampires, witches and daemons and they are considered creatures on this planet. Outside of the creature world are humans, so there’s three of us from each species of creature on the Congregation and our role, in terms of representing our species, is to keep a sense of peace and cohesiveness. In some respects, it exists to resolve any conflict that may arise between the creatures and as such, minimise the possibility of this attracting human attention! It’s all about self-preservation for the creatures.
What sets Agatha apart from the other members of the Congregation?
Within the world of All Souls there’s a strict hierarchy and rules by which all the creatures have to abide by in order to maintain anonymity and order. The Congregation is meant to be a flagship of that structure and order. If you look at the All Souls world, vampires are at the top of the pecking order: they’re pretty indestructible and animalistic. Witches are in the middle, their powers display in different ways. And daemons are the bottom tier: there’s only one chromosome that separates them from humans. With this in mind, it would be easy to be intimidated, as a daemon. But Agatha’s role as a woman, a mum and daemon means she has this feeling of being connected with other creatures in the world, she has an inherent understanding of the fundamental equality of all creatures, irrespective of their powers. She’s got that sense of motherhood in her drive, she feels maternal towards all creatures. Even when Gerbert is at his most intimidating. Agatha sees beneath that and can understand that his behaviour stems from unhappiness. She has the capacity to be instantly forgiving and have compassion but she is also very strict.
Can you describe Agatha and Nathaniel’s relationship?
I don’t think it’s a mistake that Nathaniel wants to connect with others. That’s very much Agatha’s intention as well, however, her role in the Congregation means she has certain responsibilities she needs to uphold, she understands that these rules are in place to protect daemons. That’s where the conflict in their relationship comes from. Nathaniel finds these rules a hindrance to his wellbeing and, although Agatha sees the value in what her son is doing, and respects his views, she also needs to ensure the safety of all generations to come.
What can you tell us about her relationship with Sophie?
She absolutely adores Sophie! She’s her daughter and she completely embraces her as part of the family. Nathaniel and Sophie’s love is so pure and powerful. When she tells Agatha her big secret, as family, she comes first even ahead of the Congregation. Agatha is extremely pragmatic, and the implications are really exciting. They couldn’t have a better mother or mother-in-law to be part of the Congregation. Agatha’s presence within the Congregation is also helpful with the tension and uproar surrounding Matthew and Teresa’s relationship.
What are the best qualities of a daemon?
The ability to excel at whatever they are interested in. They take various disciplines to a new level of understanding. People like Leonardo da Vinci, Serena Williams, Prince… they’re daemons for me. People who just raise the bar and have this immense talent you can’t quite put your finger on. They have this kind of new level of capability. Take Hamish, for example. He’s a genius, he’s got a brilliant mind for business, an incredible capability, that although it isn’t physical, is still incredible.
What are the most dangerous qualities of a daemon?
The dangers only really arise if someone doesn’t recognise that they are a daemon. If you don’t realise you’re not entirely human, you could be misdiagnosed and therefore medicated to suppress all the amazing creativity and energy inside, and this could trigger an impulsive behaviour dragging you into a downward spiral of mental illness and isolation. If you’re able to control all this energy, it’s genius. But if you let it go it could be chaos.
What have you enjoyed about playing Agatha?
I love her incredible expansive maternal energy. I love her quirky fashion style and I love that she isn’t intimidated by people who could potentially do her harm. I just love her to bits and I love daemons.