A Discovery of Witches Q&A —Lindsay Duncan On Why Ysabeau Finally Accepts Diana

In A Discovery of Witches, Lindsay Duncan plays matriarch Ysabeau de Clermont, one of the most powerful and respected vampires we've encountered thus far. As we get to know Ysabeau more in Season 2, we see more of her vulnerability as she finally  confronts the devastating loss of her husband. In this interview with amc.com, Duncan tells us why Ysabeau finally accepts Diana, what it felt like to enthusiastically open up Sept-Tours to others, and what we can all learn from Ysabeau's journey.

Q: We get to know Ysabeau a lot more this season. We learn more about her relationship with Philippe, and we get to see her in an emotionally vulnerable state for the first time. Can you talk a bit about diving into this character for Season 2? 

A: It's interesting to see her open up a bit because she begins as someone quite closed off because I think she's heartbroken. The loss of Philippe is, and was completely devastating. This season we learn that vampires mate for life. I suppose the loss of her mate is something that she had never expected to have to deal with, and that loss makes demands on her. Is she going to stay cut off emotionally and in every other way? Or is she going to open up? It's great storytelling for all the characters and particularly for Ysabeau.

Q: Ysabeau’s power is unmatched, and with that incredible power comes fierce loyalty for those that she loves. It takes her a while to warm up to Diana, but by Season 2 she’s fully on board. What do you think was the final push Ysabeau needed to truly accept Diana? 

A: Well she tests Diana in a pretty crude way, by eating a fox in front of her, which is like water off a duck's back for Diana. She just goes, "Really? It'll take more than that!" So I think there are specific instances like that impress Ysabeau, plus of course the fact that she saves Matthew. But it becomes clear that her love for Matthew is as strong as I think Ysabeau's love for Philippe was.

I think she recognizes a woman who is very much like her, except that she's evolved even further. She's a different person; she's a different generation. She's part of a fully modern world, whereas Ysabeau has basically just been in her chateau—a very nice one too—inhabiting her place in the hierarchy. So she meets this woman who is so passionate, so intelligent, so determined, so committed to Matthew, and I think something clicks in Ysabeau. She goes, "Yup, she's quite a girl," and has to admit that! Once she makes that commitment, it's total and I think it's a very lovely thing to see that woman-to-woman respect.

Of course because Ysabeau loves Matthew so deeply and, as you say, that love is 100% commitment, she worries for him. This relationship could throw up some pretty weird stuff and produce a lot of problems, but she sees that his love is so strong and he's in a partnership where they can take things on together. That's the sort of partnership she had with Philippe and she's watching it transfer to the next generation.

These are big steps for her to take. All the steps she has to take this season are huge. She's really stepping out of familiar territory and she's leaving certainties behind. In a broader sense, this is one of the really important, profound, and thrilling things about the show. Showing how people have to open up and accept change, to live lives that are worth something. To have respect for people who aren't exactly like you. That's something that I find very moving about the series.

Q: I didn't consider her isolation at Sept-Tours and the fact that she probably hasn't met a woman like Diana in many years. I love what you said about Ysabeau having to open up in ways that she hadn't been asked to for many years.

A: I mean, Diana is a challenge, isn't she? Ysabeau is in a slightly dormant phase in her life, in a completely heartbroken place, which has made her life smaller. I think that the challenge of Diana wakes her up. It's exciting! I think her respect for Diana is the foundation for everything that ensues, and that in itself is exciting. It just engages her with life again, because Diana has such formidable energy that ignites a similar energy in other people. For Ysabeau I think it's a real thrill.

Q: Even though we haven’t seen Philippe and Ysabeau together on screen, their chemistry is undeniable. What was it like working with James Purefoy to bring their love to life? 

A: Accessing the big emotions is strangely comforting in a way. It's wonderful to walk into love in whatever form that takes, whether it's maternal, sibling—in this case, a great love affair. But it did help for me that I know James. We actually didn't film together! But we were in Rome together over quite a long period of time, so we got to know each other, and I absolutely love him. It's very easy to conjure him up and imagine what the Philippe spin on that is. I can see James's face because it's so familiar to me in real life. I know enough about what a huge character Philippe was, how powerful he was, and how deep their love was. So, it's not like thinking about a complete stranger and thinking, "Oh, I wonder how he'd play Philippe."

Q: There’s a real sense of community between all the people seeking shelter at Sept-Tours—and it seems that this season Ysabeau is less annoyed that they’re there! Can you talk a bit about working on these larger ensemble cast scenes? It seems like it would be a lot of fun.  

A: Well, yes! Ysabeau doesn't get to mix that much, she's mostly in Sept-Tours with Marthe. That's a very deep relationship as well and a lovely one I think, but it's just them and the odd person who comes and goes. So to be with that many other actors who are doing their own separate thing–I loved it. I loved getting to meet the characters and the actors. It was really great fun, and they're a fantastic bunch of people, so I really, really enjoyed it.

We're all so full of admiration for the art and design departments, and it's just stunning to be on those sets. You feel like you're in this castle and it's quite a lonely place. You're thinking, "God, what would it be like to be racketing around in this huge, huge place," and then suddenly it was full of life! It was very invigorating and so nice to see the dining table just full of people.

Q: The tenderness that Ysabeau shows for Matthew is lovely. I can only imagine that you pull from your experience as a mother to bring authenticity to those scenes, but can you talk a bit about creating that on screen relationship with Matthew Goode? 

A: Again, love is a very interesting thing to pursue in whatever form, and the vampiric aspects of it means that it is deep, deep, deep. As an actor I accept what that means completely. I embrace the terms of that relationship, and this strange world of vampires, which seems to make everything even more intense. Working with Matthew, he's so charming. He's got qualities that are endearing, and when you look into his eyes you know he's absolutely there for you. He's totally there and you're going to have fun. He's someone who as a person and as a character is easy to love. I like the complexity of his character as well and find that complexity so appealing. He doesn't have an easy path at all, so Ysabeau is watchful, concerned, and involved. She will do anything, anything for him. I, any actor, loves the big stuff. It's demonstrated in quite restrained ways sometimes, but you know it's there and it's lovely.

Q: What do you love the most about playing Ysabeau? What gives you the greatest satisfaction as an actor? 

A: Well, of course I love the fact that she's a strong woman. I suppose it's now a bit of a cliché. I have to say it would be equally interesting to play a less strong woman, but there's something about seeing the stuff that she has to take on and the adjustments she has to make, which make her really interesting. I suppose I empathize with having to adjust to changes, to the demands made of one for the greater good, to be able to see outside yourself. She's had so much power all her life, and she's been at the top of the vampire tree with Philippe, and yet she shows a great intelligence and a great capacity for empathy. She can adjust her worldview to the extent that she has to. That makes her interesting.

Q: If you could timewalk, what era would you want to enter and who would you want to meet? 

A: It's a bit of a cliché, but for several reasons I suppose it might be Paris during La Belle Époque. It was so cosmopolitan. I love cities. People were coming in from all over the world, artists of all kinds. To be part of that, God, how invigorating would that be? All those minds—artists of all kinds, dancers, writers. You had lots of women coming forward, being accepted for the great talents that they were. I love cities because you get people from all over the world, but also because I love restaurants, cafés, and bars. It would be great to hang out in all those places with really fascinating people, so that would tick a lot of boxes for me. That era retains a kind of romance about the possibilities of who you might meet. Then there's the food and great drinks, without which what is life? Add that to the great conversations going on well into the night—oh it would be thrilling!














New episodes of A Discovery of Witches air on Sundays at 7/6c on AMC. Full episodes are available to stream now on amc.com, the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and on AMC+. The entire first season is available to watch now with AMC+, which is available through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ to stream A Discovery of Witches now on amc.com, on mobile for iOS and Android devices, and on your TV streaming device with the AMC app, available for Roku, Apple TV, FireTV, Xbox One, Android TV, and Chromecast.


























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