Sky’s A Discovery of Witches presented its first-ever panel at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con featuring the series’ stars Teresa Palmer, Alex Kingston, Valarie Pettiford, and Owen Teale, as well as executive producer Lachlan MacKinnon and author Deborah Harkness. The series is based on Harkness’ bestselling books about a witch and a vampire who break the rules and fall in love. Teresa Palmer stars as Diana Bishop, a powerful witch who spent the majority of her life refusing to do magic. Matthew Goode plays Matthew Clairmont, the vampire who is fated to be a part of Diana’s life.
In addition to hosting a Q&A with fans, the A Discovery of Witches team participated in roundtable interviews to discuss the show’s first season and the challenges of bringing the book to life on the small screen. Teresa Palmer was paired up with executive producer Lachlan MacKinnon during the interviews, and the pair not only provided insight into the show’s first season but also showed off the series’ version of Ashmole 782, a book that plays a pivotal role in Harkness’ book series.
Teresa Palmer and Lachlan MacKinnon A Discovery of Witches Interview:
Congratulations on the deal with Sundance to air the series. Has that been in the works for a while?
Lachlan MacKinnon: “It has been for some time and we just wanted to make sure we do the best for the show. And Sundance was the channel that gave us everything we felt we needed.”
What was the process for you to land the role?
Teresa Palmer: “I was sent the script by my agent, read it, fell in love with it, thought it was a wonderful role. I was like, ‘Help me! How do I get this job!’ I actually met with (executive producer) Jane Tranter last June, maybe, and I thought she was such an intelligent woman. The way she broke down the world and the story and the character arc, it sounded so enticing and I wanted to be a part of it.
We decided that I would jump into a chemistry read with Matthew Goode who was already cast. We met and from that moment we were just inseparable. If you ask anyone on the set, we were like brother and sister. We had such a good comradery and really playful energy with each other. We had fun so that the chemistry was already there straight off the bat. We were each other’s teammates and that was important for a television show of this scale.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the books, can you describe Diana?
Teresa Palmer: “She’s a historian, an academic, she’s very interested in alchemy and she’s currently studying. She’s a witch as well. She’s denying her heritage. She wants to be a normal person. She wants to live a normal life. She’s struggling against the fact that she does have powers and she is a witch. She wants to deny that part of herself. And then as the story unravels, she’s forced to embrace who she is and really become her authentic self, which is the most powerful witch around. She falls for Matthew Clairemont and he helps her to just embrace who she is.
I love the dynamic. It’s a dangerous dynamic. Interspecies relationships are strictly forbidden, so they end up going on this journey that’s really scary and can be dark at times. But, it’s romantic and passionate and adventurous. There’s no other choice; they have to be together. Their love is so strong that they’re drawn to each other.”
Were you familiar with the books before you took on the role?
Teresa Palmer: “I wasn’t, actually. I have three children and I haven’t read books in a long time. (Laughing) I think I just missed the boat on reading the books, and then of course when this script landed on my doorstep I jumped into the books. I actually did the audiobooks because I can drive and listen. When the kids were asleep I put the audio books on because they weren’t quite appropriate for a three-year-old. So, I would listen to the audio books.
I loved it. It was just this incredibly fantastical, mythical world that I was enticed by and intrigued by, and wanted to know more about.”
How do you feel about delivering on the anticipation by fans of a series based on the books?
Lachlan MacKinnon: “I can’t wait to see their response to it. It’s been very important to us to work closely with Deb to make sure the series is as authentic to the world that she’s created as possible. As always with an adaptation you’re taking one medium and creating a new medium. With a novel, you can use the first-person narrator to set up and establish the world, and set up the characters and the relationships. Whereas in a television series it’s so dull to do that because it’s just speech. We then found ourselves having some conversations with Deborah about maybe bringing characters who were later in the book, bringing them in a little bit earlier so that we set up the world because it was important to set up the witches and vampires and demons.”
So much of what we learn about Diana and her magical abilities has to do with how things smell and feel. How does that come across in the series?
Teresa Palmer: “Yeah, it’s really interesting because in the book she’s the narrator so you’re hearing through her voice which you can’t really do that in a television show. So, it was quite interesting to figure out how do we explain the magic and her feelings without having narration.
I would get on the phone with Deb or even just over Instagram if she wasn’t in town and I would ask her about specific scenes when it involved the magic because I think every reader when they hear, ‘Diana performs witchwind,’ they have an idea of how that might look. And I just wanted to know, ‘How did you envision that, Deb? How did you see it coming from her body? Was it just an organic thing? Did it come out rapidly or does she work on it and it builds up?’
So, it was quite technical – each and every one of the magic sequences. There’s a lot of stunt work involved. I didn’t have to do a ton of stunts. I did actually some of the Satu stuff in the story. When I’m captured by Satu, we did a lot of wire work and big green screen. It was really fun. But Owen Teale for the witchwind portion they brought in massive fans and they put a huge fan on me and they put a huge fan on him, these big, industrial ones…”
Lachlan MacKinnon: “Like jet engines.”
Teresa Palmer: “Yeah, it was! Your hair was flying around and I had tears streaming out of my eyes from the wind. And then he was put on wires and sort of thrown back. It works really well. We used a lot of practical effects which I loved because I’ve done a lot things where there’s so many CGI sequences but in our show we don’t have hardly any CGI, which is lovely.”
Lachlan MacKinnon: “Getting back to the magic itself, with Owen for example and the stunts that we did, one of the reasons that we decided to build the Bodleian Library at the studio that we had in Wales is that we had full control over the space. We built a replica of the library within the studio space and just the detail. James North, our production designer, did a phenomenal job, and Deb knows the library very well.”
Teresa Palmer: “It’s an exact replica. You wouldn’t know the difference.”
Lachlan MacKinnon: “It’s amazing just walking into the space.”
Teresa Palmer: “It was a pity to have to take it down. Everyone was really sad about that. Same with the other beautiful set pieces too, and the houses that we built. There was just so much attention to detail and I remember each and every one of us was like, ‘Can James fly over to America and do my house for me? Can he build a set for me?’
So, it was actually sad to say goodbye to some of the sets. But, who knows? Maybe season two we’ll bring them back.”
Will we see anything from the second book or does it concentrate only on the first?
Teresa Palmer: “Only the first. Oh, hang on, what about the very last…?”
Lachlan MacKinnon: “No, we won’t see that.”
Teresa Palmer: (Laughing) “We won’t see that.”
Lachlan MacKinnon: “Spoiler alert!”
What did you learn about witchcraft that you didn’t know before?
Teresa Palmer: “Goodness. It’s very elemental, I think. She has witchwind abilities, she has witchwater, she can time travel. She can light things on fire. It feels boundless, her powers. I think whenever I looked at anything to do with witchcraft, it feels like they’re very specific the things that they can do. But in terms of Diana, she’s the most powerful witch in the world. She can do anything and that was quite surprising and exciting to delve into. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that further develops in the next series.”
Lachlan MacKinnon: “It’s something that we’re careful when dealing with the audience. We want to take the audience on the journey of understanding Diana’s relationship with magic and the fact that she’s in denial of her powers and she slowly begins to reconnect with them. It’s almost like a slow burn, in some respects. But some do come up quite accidentally.”
Teresa Palmer: “She’s quite endearing.”
Lachlan MacKinnon: “There’s a big story there that will play out for the audience who are watching. It just goes to another level.”
Will we see Diana on horseback?
Teresa Palmer: “Yes. You probably saw a little bit of it in the trailer. It was great because I haven’t ridden horses since I was 12 and then I got to go…We worked with the Devil’s Horsemen who did Wonder Woman and all these amazing big films and they provided the horses for them. So, Matthew and I both did about six hours-worth of horseback riding, just training and learning to be with the horse. And then we had a day of filming with them and got to cantor and take them for a trot.
It’s funny because then I wrapped A Discovery of Witches and I went on to play a jockey in Ride Like a Girl directed by Rachel Griffiths. I jumped on a horse and they’re like, ‘Have you ridden recently?’ I was like, ‘Well, actually, on A Discovery of Witches…’ So, it was really helpful for me.”
Projecting into the future, is it the plan to be three seasons? Any plans to branch out to original material?
Lachlan MacKinnon: (Smiling) “I could not possibly comment.”
Teresa Palmer: (Laughing) “We think it will be ongoing.”
Lachlan MacKinnon: “I think the relationship between Matthew and Diana, the chemistry, is incredible. So, yeah, watch this space.”
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