Mayfair Witches Q&A — Annabeth Gish on The Tragedy of Deidre’s Life
Based on Rice’s bestselling trilogy Lives of the Mayfair Witches, Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches is a dark drama that follows neurosurgeon Dr. Rowan Fielding (Alexandra Daddario) as she learns about her past and discovers her unlikely ties to a family of witches. In this interview with amc.com we speak with Annabeth Gish who plays Deidre Mayfair, Rowan’s mother, about her everlasting love for the source material, the tragedy of Deirdre’s life, and why she considers Lasher Deidre’s only true ally.
Q: Can you talk about discovering the Mayfair Witches series when you were 19 and the things about Rowan that fascinated you from the beginning?
A: I still, to this day, have my hard copy, 600-page, dog-eared, tear-stained copy of The Witching Hour. I hadn't really read a lot of Anne Rice. I think it was really my introduction to Anne Rice. I hadn't even read Interview with the Vampire! I had always been drawn to the dark arts and I thought the book was a beautiful window into this world of magic, female empowerment, and witchcraft. The manipulation of evil and good, and light and dark — I was just entranced by the book. I loved that Anne Rice had written a protagonist who was a 20-something smart, capable neurosurgeon, but she also had this other side to her that was unharnessed and unknown. I just responded so much to the entire novel.
I remember specifically calling my agent at the time and saying, "I just read this book — does anybody have the options?" I've always kept it on my bookshelf just waiting. Then I found out that Mark Johnson and AMC were doing the show, and I had worked with Mark and AMC on Halt and Catch Fire, which I loved. Then I found out that Esta [Spalding; creator & showrunner] was involved and I reached out to her. I don't think at that point in time I even thought that there was anyone I could play, but I just wanted to congratulate her because knowing this material and knowing her taste and her intellect, I just knew that she was the right person for the job. So, I really just reached out to her and said, "Congratulations! Go run with this. It's amazing, magical material." And then when the opportunity came for me to audition, it was like, "Oh my God, this could actually fit! There's a role for me." I was honored and I think it's a beautiful, synchronistic circle. I mean, I'm not so naive. Hollywood is a hard place. It's not like I believe in full circle magic in Hollywood, but I do think that there was some magic woven into this little full circle.
Q: You must have been so excited to enter and inhabit this Immortal Universe.
A: So so excited! Part of my whole ethos is geared toward empowering women and decreasing the victimization of women. I think that women's stories need to be told, and the narrative of sublimated female power throughout history, is a very relevant topic. If it comes under the guise of witchcraft, if that's the narrative device, then I'm all for it because I think it's a real vein of empowerment for women and storytelling.
Q: Deidre has spent years under a cloud of sedatives and tranquilizers, all in the hopes of keeping her powers, her sexuality, and most importantly Lasher imprisoned within her. Can you talk a bit about shooting those “awakening” scenes with Jack Huston? There’s a real intimacy and tenderness there, but it’s also very spooky.
A: Yes, yes, and I think that that's what we strove to do. We wanted to have this balance of tenderness and intimacy because he's the only person that's been with her, keeping her company in this dark place, in this liminal world that she's drugged into. She’s completely disempowered, completely victimized, and held back. So he's her friend, he's her ally. And it's again such a metaphor for how we as people – I don't want to just say "women," I want to be gender-neutral – but how we as people can harness both the dark and the light for our own good and our own empowerment. I think there’s a sensuality to the relationship with Lasher because she's using him and he's using her. But there’s a lot of darkness too. I mean with Carlotta, the tragedy of taking her baby away and saying that her child is dead. The scope of that is horrendous. That's serious trauma!
Q: When Deirdre finally emerges from her induced haze Lasher has told her that her daughter is actually alive, and she’s determined to meet her. The moment when she finally emerges from the house is really moving. Sadly, her journey to reunite with Rowan is cut brutally short. Let’s talk about the end of Episode 2—what was it like shooting the latter half of that episode?
A: As an actress, it was very difficult to play that Thorazine state. It was so frustrating technically as an actress because I was wearing a wig, I was in a wheelchair, I had contact lenses, and I couldn't use my body at all to express myself. We had to figure out how to tell this story in a very short, compressed amount of time – because we didn't really have a lot of time to tell Deirdre's story nor her awakening – we had to really make sure that her degree of awakening made sense. She was empowered by Lasher, so her muscles weren't as atrophied. There's dramatic license because we could do it. But really, a woman who's been in a wheelchair for that long probably couldn’t walk down the stairs. Alas, it's a dramatic moment and she was finally freed. For me shooting that scene, both again physically, and technically as an actress, was quite emotional because it's motion, it's freedom, it’s expression, and then we had the elements at play too, the rain and the roses. It was a very mythic, beautiful moment.
She finally stands up to Carlotta for the first time at the end of the episode too. She’s taking back her own power in that episode, only to have it tragically thwarted. Does she even get the moment of contact with her daughter in the elevator? Was that real? When is her throat cut? Strangely enough, this show was very emotionally challenging for me because Deirdre was so victimized and wounded.
It makes me so sad for Deirdre.
I know! It really is a lost life. I think that definitely got to me. I didn't expect to feel such woe for her, but I did!
When she’s looking through her objects in her room, and she picks up her snow globe and thinks about all the things she could have done with her life. Her immediate reaction is to completely smash it. That rang true in regard to what she must have been going through.
Exactly, yes. It's definitely a perfect metaphor for her frustration about her life. And the snow globe was Paris. Her dream was always to go to Paris. So it was, again, thwarted so horrifically.
Full episodes of Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches are available to stream on amc.com (with a cable provider login), the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and AMC+ subscribers get early access to episodes on Thursdays. AMC+ is available at amcplus.com or through the new AMC+ app available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku. AMC+ can also be accessed through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ now.
Want to hear more from Annabeth? Listen to the AMC Mayfair Witches Podcast episode "Hell Hath No Fury Like A Mayfair Scorned" on Apple Podcasts.