A Discovery of Witches Q&A — Alex Kingston on Saying Goodbye to Em and the Feminine Power of Season 3
In A Discovery of Witches, Alex Kingston plays Sarah Bishop, Diana's aunt and loving protector. This season Sarah is grappling with the murder of her partner Em (Valerie Pettiford), and the complications brought about by the birth of Diana’s hybrid children. In this interview with amc.com, Kingston talks about saying goodbye to Em, Sarah becoming closer with Diana, and the simple joy of sharing a grilled cheese sandwich.
Q: As expected, things are incredibly raw after Em’s murder. Sarah is devastated and really letting her emotions fly. What was it like getting into that headspace for the top of the season? Valarie Pettiford’s absence likely helped?
A: I didn't know that Valarie wasn't coming back! So Season 2 ended on a cliffhanger, but it also ended with us very much believing that somehow Em/Valarie would be back. So I went into Season 3 in absolute shock. For me, it was really difficult to keep it together because it was so emotional. Whenever any scene came up that involved me having to talk about Em, I found it really hard to get through the scene. For the christening scene in particular, I just lost it. All the actors that were sitting in the congregation were absolutely shocked because they thought it was some sort of extraordinary performance, but it wasn't! In a way it was not just Sarah's mourning of Em, it was my mourning of Valarie and her not being around when I'd been so used to her. We were very much connected as friends. We hadn't known each other before we were cast in this show, and we became incredibly close almost immediately. We just bonded straightaway. It just made it that much harder to say goodbye.
Q: By Episode 3, Sarah tries to remove herself from the chaos of her life and “just go back to Wisconsin.” Why do you think she discounts her importance to Diana in that moment—thankfully Gallowglass and Fernando talk her into staying!
A: I think it's quite natural. Again, it goes back to her mourning, because she's so lonely. Diana has Matthew—although Matthew is off on his own journey in this season—but I think that Sarah feels like she's a loose end. Em was the one who was more naturally empathetic, and Em had a much easier connection with Diana, even though she wasn't blood-related. I think Sarah just wants to get back to the house because that's where Em is. She'll see her. She'll see her in ghost form. She certainly will feel her. That was how she justified why it was time for her to go—she doesn't feel she can help. But, in fact, the whole point of her staying is that eventually she and Diana grow closer and they forge an incredible understanding of each other. I think Sarah learns a lot about herself. She softens and she allows herself to be seen and to be vulnerable, which she doesn't in the prior seasons.
Q: You and Teresa [Palmer] share so many beautiful scenes this season that really highlight the depth of Diana and Sarah’s relationship. I’m of course thinking of the late night—what looked like grilled cheeses on the couch that you share.
A: Oh my God, those grilled cheeses were so good.
Q: That was just a lovely scene and such a real moment. Can you talk a bit about working through that scene and some other favorite scenes of yours between Diana and Sarah this season?
A: I loved that scene, particularly because of the grilled cheese sandwich. Teresa's vegan, so it was vegan cheese. They were so delicious. And we just got into the enjoyment of eating the sandwich. The words were almost secondary. But again Diana brings up Em, and again, it’s hard for Sarah, so I loved playing that. I really loved that scene because it was quiet, intimate, and real. I also think Teresa knew how I was feeling, and I think she shared that as well—the loss of Valarie—because she was and is such an effervescent spirit and personality. So Teresa, alongside Diana, was able to empathize with me and Sarah, which was really helpful. I really liked a lot of the actors that I worked with on this show, particularly the women in the group. They're all very strong individual personalities, but we all got on. We really, really enjoyed each other's company, and so I was very, very happy. I also got to know Lindsay [Duncan] a lot better this season. I'd known her when I was younger. I worked with her husband many years ago and we have been on the periphery of knowing each other but never really got to know each other. So that was really nice. Not that she took the place of Valarie by any means, but it was really nice to spend a bit more time with Lindsay. We would do the things that I would have done with Valarie, like going to our favorite shop, clothes shopping, and just hanging. I don't think Valarie would have minded because the three of us really enjoyed each other's company.
Q: With only 7 episodes in this final season things are moving quickly. I love that by mid-season Sarah has resigned herself to the fact that she’s along for the ride now—is she napping on the couch? Nope! Her eyes might be closed, but she’s listening intently to the conversation, and of course she has great insights to share. As we race towards the end of the series what else can we expect from Sarah?
A: Diana really is responsible for encouraging Sarah to tap into her ability to use magic. When the show started and we were first introduced to Sarah and Em, Sarah was the keeper of the history. She was committed to the whole notion of living and hiding in plain sight of the human community. I always imagined that we would be those women who'd be at the farmer’s market selling soaps and herbal remedies—Sarah would be doing all of that. She wasn't somebody who necessarily was actively using her magic; she was more like the historical custodian. Diana encourages her to reconnect with that. I also think that in Season 2 Sarah was very fearful. Having known of Em's addiction to magic in the past, she knows about the power of magic, and she’s seen what it can do to people, how it can change and control them. But certainly, by the end of this season I think Sarah comes to terms with her skills.
Q: Last season I asked all of the cast the same question, and the responses were so great. I’d love to ask you that same question: if you could timewalk, what era would you want to enter and who would you want to meet?
A: If I could timewalk, I would want to go back to the ancient world, and I'd like to meet the real Jesus. Not the myth, but the real man.
Q: Was saying goodbye to Sarah hard? And what are you going to miss the most about playing her?
A: I love magic, so even though I didn't get to do that much I enjoyed the fact that I had that ability. I have to say the character of Sarah was probably the most comfortable character I've ever been, in terms of costuming. I've never played a part where I could wear socks with my Birkenstocks and comfortable slobby jeans with an apron. I didn't have to care about being on or looking sharp or cool or any of those things. She could really just be. For an actor vanity's out the door and you just live in those shoes and in that body. It was really fun not having to worry or care. Another thing that just made it so wonderful to work on the show was the fact that Teresa was always either pregnant or had just given birth. I don't think I've ever known her not to be nursing! And what it did was it earthed everybody. Alongside the obvious importance of committing to the characters and the roles and telling the story, at the same time there was this woman going through a tremendous process. It keeps you earthed, it was amazing, and everybody—particularly all the women—relished that. We loved it! And the producers and everybody were so open and supportive of Teresa. She has incredible stamina to literally birth a baby, then start working on the show, and juggle motherhood and all the postnatal things that come along with playing this leading role. She was amazing and she was an incredible leader. She set the tone and it was a really, really good set to work on because of her.
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