Owen Teale, who plays Peter Knox on A Discovery of Witches, talks about the motivations behind Knox's antagonistic behavior, shooting the stunt-heavy "witch wind" scene and more.
Q: What originally drew you to the character and to the series as a whole?
A: The quality of the writing, the production team that's behind it. ... I thought it would be very attractive. Having done Game of Thrones, that's a hard one to follow, and I didn't want to go into something... that had the dreams and ambitions to be able to put the stories into an epic landscape, but didn't have the wherewithal to make it real. But it was very clear from the pitch that I got that in my meeting with them, with Jane Tranter and the company that is now Bad Wolf, and Julie Gardner, that what they were setting up was big and that we could really make this look as wonderful as it sounded on paper. And then however you view him, [Peter Knox] is an integral part of the story, of the tug that goes on, the pull for Diana Bishop from all sides. She's the center of this story and he has a strong need for her to be on his side. So that's what attracted me to it. You know when a character is very strong, and has a very strong intention in the story, and the story needs that. You're going to find that when you're in the scenes, you're really part of the action, you're not just standing around.
Q: He may be Diana's antagonist, but no one thinks they're the villain in their own story. Can you explain some of Peter's motivations behind his need for the book and also Diana's power?
A: [Witches] are a race that has been subjugated, especially by the vampires, who have such power, longevity and superhuman powers that are physical. That's been very difficult for the world of the witches. And there is a belief, there is a myth in this world that just may be true, that vampires were invented through spells, through witchcraft, that if they can be "invented," as it were, if they can be brought about by magic, by witches, then they can be destroyed. He takes it very badly that they've been kept under as a second-class race by the vampires, and he's had to bite his tongue in the Parliament situation that happens in the Congregation. … Once you get on board that they've been really badly done over by the vampires, you can see that he wants revenge. ... He sees it as "us versus them." He sees it as an enemy situation. It's competitive — who's going to win in the end?
Diana Bishop comes into his life because the book is mysterious, even to the witches. How do you get your hands on this book that may contain the original spells that created the world? He is not able to get it himself. But when the word is out that there is a young witch that has the natural power? As soon as he knows that she has this power, she's going to be his greatest warrior. She's his nuclear warfare that he can bring in this amazing power to make the vampire world play fair with him, and ultimately tip the balance under his control.
Q: Do you think it came as a surprise to him that it was Rebecca Bishop's daughter that was able to call up the book? Especially considering the two of them knew each other well in the past.
A: That's right. And in fact Peter Knox had interviewed [Diana], because her parents were part of the Congregation, and Diana was tested as a child. It's like a medical test, in terms of witchcraft, to see what kind of powers she has, and he at the time had not picked it up. And that's a sore point for him, that he had missed the strength of force that this witch was capable of. He should have been able to pick that up, and he didn't -- so it's a huge shock when he learns who this phenomenal witch is, that it's the child of the Bishops. And he's got some skeletons that are going to come out of the cupboard about that, but he's so determined to win. It's a power thing. The megalomania has gotten to him. ... He's able to lie and cheat because he believes in the cause -- he believes it's for a greater good. And he's got a lot to cover up about -- and he's able to use it to manipulate Diana.
Q: Speaking of manipulating Diana, Knox sends Diana the pictures from her parents' murder scene. Where is his head at with this move?
A: It's to spur her to feel that witches are the victims and to breed that hate. There's all too much of that in the world at the moment, but that's my job in the story, to play that. And I think Diana Bishop is wonderful, because she has a warmth, and a humanity. She is the good. She's a complex character, but basically she is a very, very good person and therefore it's wonderful to do scenes with [Teresa Palmer] because they're very loaded. I'm trying to manipulate her innocence to do terrible things on behalf of my cause, which I believe is her cause as well. Because they're both witches and we must stick together.
Q: At the end of Episode 3, Diana uses "witch wind" against Knox and the other witches in the library. What was it like shooting that scene?
A: Those days when they come are the real heart of me, where I go, "Yeah, this is what I wanted to do when I signed up to be an actor. This is it." It started off as 90 percent stuntman and 10 percent me, and it was kind of like the percentages were changing as I said, "Oh I can do that, I can do that! You can throw me down, I can do the landing." Because then you can have the cameras everywhere. I loved it, absolutely loved it. I love collaborating, and when you do those big scenes, there's a lot of people. There's the wire work, there's a man pulling the wire with tremendous force so that you will project across the room, and then the turning in the air is done by me, and then the landing on the floor and the crumpling and showing that force so that it really knocks the wind out of you. And I was really pleased with the result. I thought it was very effective when I saw it, I was very proud of it.
And of course the scene that led to that— once [Diana] realizes that she's being openly bullied, that he's not just cajoling her; he's bullying her — her anger, and how it manifests with such power is a wonderful moment. She looks so innocent and kind, and then this rage that she has sets off this extraordinary effect. Wouldn't you like to see more of that in the world? But that's been as long as we've had stories — there's always a moment that you want the person who is good and innocent to have suddenly the power to resist the oppressor -- and she has it. It was beautiful. Even though I'm the bad guy in it, it was lovely to be part of it.
Q: The show has aired in the U.K. and is airing now in the United States. What has the reaction been from fans since the show first premiered?
A: It's been very similar to Thrones, when Thrones started. It's not as every day as Thrones is — wherever I go, people will want to talk to me and ask questions [Laughs], even though I've been out of it for two years, but how it manifests for the next season, like "When is it coming? When is it coming?" I say "Well, we haven't even started shooting the second one, we're just about to." But that hunger for it is so rewarding because you just know you've been part of something that's worthwhile. It's wonderful.
Read a Q&A with Teresa Palmer, who plays Diana Bishop.
A Discovery of Witches airs Sundays at 9/8c.
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