A Discovery of Witches author Deborah Harkness and actor Owen Teale (Game of Thrones) were teamed up at the San Diego Comic Con to discuss the new series based on Harkness’ book series. Teale takes on the role of Peter Knox in the television adaptation which will debut on Sky One on September 14, 2018.
In addition to Teale, the cast of season one includes Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop, Matthew Goode as Matthew Clairmont, Alex Kingston as Sarah Bishop, and Valarie Pettiford as Emily Mather. Elarica Johnson is Juliette, Trevor Eve plays Gerbert D’Aurillac, and Greg McHugh is Hamish Osborne.
Is there anything you needed to make sure made the leap from the book to the television adaptation?
Deborah Harkness: “When I first started meeting with Jane (Tranter), she was so on top of what the important things were about the story. It was more about how can we keep as much of it as possible. There were things where I wanted to be very sure, for example, that Diana was not turned into a graduate student or not an academic on the grounds that who really wants to see a college professor on the television, etc. There were certain little aspects of things. I didn’t really want to lose the science.”
Owen Teale: “Did you talk to people prior to Jane and Lachlan MacKinnon about making a film?”
Deborah Harkness: “Well, there was a kind of stampede when the book was first bought. It was first optioned by Warner Bros, so there was an 18 months option by Warner Bros. And, Warner Bros brought in an incredibly talented set of producers. […] They hired a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, David Auburn, to do the script. It just wasn’t possible to squash that book into 90 minutes. It wasn’t for lack of talent or lack of anybody trying.
It was utterly defeating and so we sort of paused and hit reset and had a moment to think and reflect. When I got off tour, it was just a case where I was pretty clear it should go to television. If you had a pool, a bucket full of people you can imagine, Jane Tranter would have just been at the top of that. I have such respect for her body of work that I kind of pinched myself.”
Can you talk about the adaptation and how it will play to book fans and those who haven’t read the novels?
Deborah Harkness: “I think always with an adaptation what you hope you do is you can reach people who maybe the books didn’t reach. For whatever reason it wasn’t the right moment in their life, right? The first book came out seven years ago so people who were maybe 13 when the first book came out are now 20 and might be more interested in it than they would have been at 13. So, we’re always looking to expand the readership, the audience, as much as possible. But, I think really what we wanted to do was to bring aboard new fans without alienating existing fans of the book. That is actually a very hard nut to crack.”
Owen Teale: “The book is written in a certain style. You have the viewpoint of a voice seen through Diana Bishop. Unless you’re going to film it in exactly the same way where there’s voice-over narration explaining who these people are, what are you going to do? You have to build. You have to take these people and learn where are they at that particular moment when Diana Bishop is doing this. We live it very intensely, what happens to her at this moment. But where is Peter Knox? You have to start building their lives. It’s massive. You have to lose it in a way in order to rebuild it. It’s a huge amount of work.”
(After discussing the state of television, Owen Teale talked about his character.)
Owen Teale: “You wrote these two characters – Satu and Peter Knox – and he discovers this witch who has phenomenal power but she’s maverick and she’s alone to herself. He’s just a much more formal character who runs in the Congregation which is like the House of Representatives and the Senate, I guess. He is used to a political world of how to behave. He’s used to manipulating people, getting them to do what he wants, and he meets this witch who’s not on the same wavelength. She’s not against him ;she just doesn’t understand. I found that so exciting. I got to work with this great actress, Malin Buska…”
Deborah Harkness: “I wish she had been here today on our all-witch panel because Owen and Malin – Peter and Satu – end up with this really interesting work relationship.”
Owen Teale: “We wouldn’t have had time if we were doing a film to do that.”
Deborah Harkness: “No. But you get this great sense… It kind of makes you, for anybody who’s read the books, think to yourself, ‘Oh my god, so while Diana and Matthew are back in the 16th century in series two, what are Peter and Satu going to get up to over the course of that that we’ve just not ever seen or been able to explore?’”
Owen Teale: “It was just a dynamic that was there. We could develop that and go further and further and further with that.”
There’s obviously three books. Will there just be three seasons or are there plans to branch out beyond that to original material?
Deborah Harkness: “Well, what’s interesting is there are three books in the trilogy but there are additional books coming out in the world. So, there’s actually a new book coming out in September, four days after the television show, called Time’s Convert that goes into depth on the backstory of one of the vampire characters. So, it’s kind of an expanding book universe which may or may not affect what they decide to do with the characters on the screen. The next book sort of picks up about a year after the end of the third book, so there would be a way that they could just keep rolling on, if they wanted to.
I think, as of now, we’re thrilled and delighted that Sky and Sundance want to make three seasons of it. But, you never know what might come and what good people like Owen will have room for on their schedule.”
More on A Discovery of Witches:
- Interview with Teresa Palmer and Lachlan MacKinnon
- Interview with Alex Kingston and Valarie Pettiford