‘Mayfair Witches’ EP Mark Johnson on Developing the Stories of Anne Rice
Feb 5, 2023
Executive produced by Michelle Ashford and showrunner Esta Spalding, who wrote the series premiere together, Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches follows Dr. Rowan Fielding (Alexandra Daddario), a young neurosurgeon discovering newfound powers that could have very dangerous consequences. As she tries to comes to terms with who she really is and learns what it means to be the heir to the Mayfair family of witches, a mysterious presence complicates everything.
During the TCA Winter Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with executive producer Mark Johnson, who oversees the Anne Rice Immortal Universe at AMC, and chat 1-on-1 about how one of the appeals of the much beloved author is that she wrote very different types of stories with characters that we can identify with the human side of, what compelled him to want to help bring this universe to life, the challenge of figuring out how each of these series connect, working with the different casts and creative teams, currently developing three other Anne Rice TV series, and how the possibilities for the future of this universe seem endless.
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Collider: I’m enjoying what I’ve seen of Mayfair Witches, and I really loved everything that you did with Interview with the Vampire.
MARK JOHNSON: I’m so incredibly proud of it. There’s nothing like it. The fact that we are at 99 on Rotten Tomatoes is just extraordinary. I think it’s bold. It’s very sexual. It’s a really compelling love story. It’s quite erotic.
It’s also really interesting to see how the two shows are contrasting with each other.
JOHNSON: Let’s face it, they’re radically different. They’re almost for different audiences, which is one of the appeals of Anne Rice. And then, we’re developing three other things, at the same time, all of them different. People ask me what these shows have in common, or what these books have in common, and I actually think it’s her characters, no matter how tortured or odd. Her vampires, unlike most vampires that we see all the time, are human beings. It’s not humans and vampires. There are human beings who happen to be vampires, and they all suffer from loss of love, lack of love, and lack of friendship. The idea that we all say, “Wouldn’t it be great to live forever?,” of course, that would be terrible. You’d fall in love with your partner, your parents would die, and you’d still be there, the same age. Some of the themes are the same. My job, in many ways, is to keep it together, as a whole, but that’s also a challenge.
Image via AMC
Did you know, from the beginning, that you would be overseeing an entire universe of shows?
JOHNSON: Yes. I’ve been at AMC for some time. We did Breaking Bad there, Halt and Catch Fire, and a show called Rectify, which was like poetry to me. I am so proud of that show. The fact that nobody watched it, I take as a badge of honor. I love it. So, I had this deal with AMC, and we were winding down with Better Call Saul, and they asked me if I’d be interested in Anne Rice. At first I thought no, because I hadn’t read her and it didn’t seem like it was something that I would read. And then, I actually saw the movie for Interview with the Vampire first and thought it was interesting. It had pros and cons. And then, I read her books. I started with Interview, and I thought, “This is really interesting. How do you adapt it? How do you make it work for now?” What she did, as a woman, was so radical, with how sexual her stuff is and the taboo subjects, with everything from rape to incest to molestation. I fell in love with her writing. Like anything else, it’s imperfect, but when it works, it’s really compelling.
What has been the most exciting thing about setting up this whole over-arching universe, and then having each of these little mini-universes, with each show being their own thing, but thinking about how they each affect the whole? And similarly, what is the most challenging part of that?
JOHNSON: It’s a real challenge. You don’t want to force them together. But at the same time, you have to say, “Okay, what does Interview have to do with Mayfair Witches?” At first look, not a lot. They primarily take place in New Orleans, and there’s a sense of the mystery of New Orleans and the fact that New Orleans is probably the least American, American city there is. But how does that all work? One of the things we talk about with all the sets of writers is, “Is there a character that we can introduce in one show, who appears in the other show? Other than just a couple of locations that are gonna repeat, how are they connected?” It’s a genuine challenge, which I welcome. We just have to be careful, so that it’s not inorganic.
Image via AMC
You have these different creative teams that are all unique to their show, you have your showrunners for each show, you have your cast for each show, and you have your writing and directing teams for each show. With Mayfair Witches, what has it been like to work with Esta Spalding and Michelle Ashford, and the perspective that they have on the story?
JOHNSON: As a child, witches really scared me the most, and what scared me the most was a single witch. Not two of them, because I assumed that there were two or three or four. One of them would at least be sympathetic, and they had powers. What Michelle and Esta are doing is digging into the fear of women, knowledgeable women, competent women, women who are all of a sudden doing things that men thought only men should be doing. So, the more that we can adapt that into a modern world, the more that the challenge appeals to me.
How exciting has it been to see these casts and what they bring to these characters, some of which are really iconic?
JOHNSON: When Sam Reid was cast as Lestat, there was universal approval because he was blonde and the height was right, and all of that. Needless to say, Louis was very controversial, in that we had an African British actor playing the role. At some point, you have to say, “Okay, what are the characteristics of this character that you want and that you absolutely have to have?” And it’s not necessarily that he’s gotta be six foot three and have wavy hair, or whatever it is. But if you can find the characteristics you’re looking for in an actor, that’s what you want. Harry Hamlin was perfect for Mayfair Witches and Cortland, who is very operatic, clearly up to something, and is pulling strings. I’ve very pleased with the cast we have.
Image via AMC
As a producer, do you have a moment where you breathe a sigh relief, when you see it all come together? Did you have a moment when you realized the trio in Interview with the Vampire was working, or when you saw the cast of Mayfair Witches?
JOHNSON: I think there is a point, and it may not be on the first day, that’s during production, when you can sit back and say, “Okay, this is right.” It was particularly difficult for someone like Bob Odenkirk (Johnson was an executive producer on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul) because he had just been playing Saul Goodman (on Breaking Bad), and then, all of a sudden, he was playing a completely different character (on Better Call Saul). Years and years ago, I produced Rain Man, and the crew said, “This movie’s gonna win an Oscar.” You can’t listen to any of that or pay attention to it, but there was a point, midway through it, when we were in Cincinnati, and I was watching Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman interact. I was off to the side with nothing to do because, if a producer had done their job right and prepared the production well, there is not a lot to do during production, and there was a moment when I said, “Oh, this is working. We’re in the right hands right now.” But it happens at different points. I recently just did a feature, and there was a particular actor, where I honestly had questions about whether or not he was the actor that was gonna work, until midway through editing and I realized that my fears were unfounded and had somehow been evaded.
What is the bigger plan for the Anne Rice Immortal Universe? Is it endless, as far as how many series you could do?
JOHNSON: I’m old, so at a certain age, no, but there are a lot of them. In Mayfair Witches, there’s that whole middle section about the family and you go off to Haiti, and there’s a series in there. Is there a show to be made about Lasher? Is there a show to be made about the Fang Gang? There’s no book that is about the Talamasca, but I think there’s a great series about the Talamasca. Their job it is to monitor these extraordinary events and creatures, and not get involved, but to watch. So, I think the answer is yes, this will keep going.
Mayfair Witches is available to stream at AMC+.
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