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Mayfair Witches Showrunner Esta Spalding on Having Witch Consultants On Set

Jan 9, 2023


Executive produced by Michelle Ashford and showrunner Esta Spalding, who wrote the series premiere together, Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches, the second series in the Anne Rice Immortal Universe at AMC, 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 this interview with Collider, Ashford and Spalding talked about the responsibility in taking on a piece of the Anne Rice Immortal Universe, getting to put their own stamp on the story they’re telling, what most drew them to this project, the experience of shooting in New Orleans, what they weren’t able to include from the first book in the trilogy, the different types of consultants they had for the series, what viewers can expect from Lasher (Jack Huston), and what’s so special about Daddario’s performance.

Collider: What sort of responsibility do you feel, in taking on this universe? You’re telling this story, but you’re also working with executive producer Mark Johnson, who’s overseeing the entire Anne Rice universe. How does it feel to be focused on this story and these characters, knowing that it’s also part of this larger universe?

MICHELLE ASHFORD: We feel in great hands with Mark. It’s been a super easy collaboration, and a happy one. We love the fact that we’re one part of a big universe. It’s really cool. We think it’s fun.

ESTA SPALDING: One of the things that AMC and Mark said, when they started talking to us about this, was that each of the shows is its own self-contained entity. There can be Easter eggs and there can be overlaps, but aesthetically, we got to make the show we wanted to make and decide what it was. That was hugely liberating, that they weren’t trying to make each thing cookie-cutter like the other, but that the shows live in their own aesthetic world. How they’re shot and how they feel is up to us. That’s extremely exciting.

Image via AMC

What made you guys want to take this on? Was it specifically that this story and these characters were just really cool? Do you personally love witches? What was the draw of this, for you?

SPALDING: When we first started talking about it, Mark came to Michelle first, and then she brought me in, and we started talking about, “Would we wanna do this?” The thing that we were so compelled by was that the lead character’s a doctor, and Anne Rice had drawn on the history of midwives and healers who were persecuted and massacred in the Middle Ages in Europe, put to death by the church and called witches because they had extraordinary powers. Anne took that little seed and starting place, and built this enormous world and vision that culminates in a woman who’s a healer and a doctor, and who’s finding herself with a biological power. That seemed like such a cool way to talk about contemporary female power, and draw in that true history of witchcraft and the persecutions of witches.

And it’s set in New Orleans, which is just visually stunning.

ASHFORD: I know. It’s so beautiful. There’s no other city like it, in the country. It’s just got this perfect balance of weird, strange, gorgeous, and haunted. It’s wonderful. The other reason I was very intrigued, when I first talked to Mark, was because I had actually, many years ago, met Anne and I sat with her in that house on First Street, which is where all the witches stories are set. I thought, “Oh, my God!” That house had exactly the energy it does in those books, which is both gorgeous and grand. The Garden District has all of that opulence, and it’s haunted and strange. It just sounded really fun to me, and to Esta, too.

Image via AMC

What are the challenges of shooting something in New Orleans?

SPALDING: We were shooting into the late summer, and it’s hurricane season, so it rains every day. It was hilarious, a few times, because we would have scenes where we needed to conjure lightning, but of course, you can’t shoot through actual lightning. So, we’d have to wait three hours for the real lightning to pass, so we could shoot our fake lightning. It was very, very, very challenging, and we put our cast through a lot, with the heat and the weather, but everybody rallied. The crews in New Orleans are unbelievable. They just keep working and getting you your shots, even when your days are in the midst of these really pretty wild conditions, by the end of summer.

You guys have previously talked about adapting the first book for the first season, and ending the first season with the end of that book. Was there anything that you couldn’t do because it just couldn’t be adapted, for whatever reason? And was there anything that you also were able to expand on or go deeper into, that might not have been as much of a focal point in the book?

SPALDING: Great question.

ASHFORD: Yeah, it’s a good question.

SPALDING: The main thing we couldn’t do was really tell the story that’s in the center of the book, with all of those 13 generations of the Mayfairs. We chose one generation to really focus on, and we put it as teasers, at the beginning of the episodes, and then wove it into our contemporary story. By episode six and seven, it’s really woven in. We really connected that Scottish story to Rowan’s story, and maybe made more of that story than it has in its placement in the book, but we weren’t able to do as much with the other generations. The finale has a nod to the fact that there are these generations, and Rowan is moving through and experiencing them, psychologically. There was just so much material that there was no way to adapt it all for eight episodes.

All images via AMC

I read that you have different consultants on this show, with a witchcraft consultant and a Latin consultant. Were there any other consultants? What’s it like to have all of that, as a resource? If anybody looked at your Google searches, would they think you’re insane?

SPALDING: Probably. Our very early research and consultants were in surgery. We had to really find out what surgery would really be like, and what some cases would be. And then, we had to pivot from that to somebody who’s telling us how to cast a good spell in a couple of episodes. That’s the arc of the show, really.

ASHFORD: We had actual witches on the set, or people who identify as witches. That was pretty wild and pretty cool because we don’t normally get to hang out with witches.

Lasher is such an interesting character because he’s very mysterious to the audience, but also to the characters in the story. What can we expect from that character? What can you say to give us a sense of what we’ll see from him, throughout the season?

SPALDING: I would say that we have asked a lot of Jack Huston, and he is delivering. He is terrifying in places. You feel that he is utterly demonic and manipulative and scary, and then, in other places, he feels totally seductive. It feels like he’s the one who’s being used by the witches. He’s the instrument for them. He’s playing it back and forth, both ways. In the fifth episode, you get to see both sides of him in the house with Rowan, and that encapsulates what he has to be, which is a little bit of everything. And then, Season 2, if we should be so lucky, would be based on the book Lasher, so it’s really about the journey of that character and why he wanted to be embodied.

Image via AMC

What has it been like to see what Alexandra Daddario has done with this role? There is so much going on with her character because she doesn’t really know anything about who she is. What’s it been like to watch that character develop, but also to watch her journey with the character?

ASHFORD: She has been so remarkable because she has to be a doctor at the top of her game and completely grounded in the real world of science and fact, and then turn that person into a witch. It’s pretty crazy, and she’s been so great. She just does it all, and she’s into it.

SPALDING: There’s this crazy scene where she’s burying the birds in the beach in episode two. She’s found out she has a power and has killed someone. Her mother has died. She found out her mother was lying to her. She thinks she’s being followed by someone and investigated for this murder. She’s just lied to her shrink. All she wants is to get back into the surgery schedule. And then, she accidentally kills a bunch of birds. We were like, “Alex, go play that,” but she does. She is fully committed to the moment, and you’re so with her. Nobody knows what that experience is like, with all of those things compounded, but she just takes us there. I couldn’t believe what she brought to every moment and scene. She was always so one hundred percent committed, as much as we were asking of her.

Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches premieres on AMC and AMC+, along with BBC America, IFC, Sundance and WEtv.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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