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 co-creator and co-writer Michelle Ashford about all things Season 1, from bringing the Talamasca to life on screen, to Rowan and Lasher’s evolving relationship, to what Lasher has become, and where we can expect to find him and Rowan in Season 2.
Q: It’s been so interesting to speak with Esta and the rest of the cast to learn about how they became part of this world. Were you a huge fan of the source material like Annabeth, or did you tackle this project with a more unbiased lens? It must have been quite daunting to transform 1000+ pages into an 8-episode season!
A: Yeah, I knew of Anne and many, many, many years ago I actually met with her in New Orleans on a totally different project. So, I was definitely aware of her, but I wasn’t a voracious reader of her almost-unlimited work. And of course, I knew the Vampire movie. [Executive Producer] Mark Johnson and I know each other from way back, so he came to me and said, "Hey, would you be interested in this?" I started reading the book and I thought, "You know, this is really cool. It's spooky." And I really like scary movies and this kind of scary, so I thought, "Oh, this is really interesting." When I realized the book was over a thousand pages I was like, "Whoa!" So, I went back to Mark to discuss what the focus would be, and he says, "it’s about the female doctor." And I was like, "The what?!" Because I hadn't even gotten there. We don’t even meet her until page 250! So that's when I decided that this is so huge and if I was going to do it, I really wanted to do it with a really good writer who's also really great at story — and that was my friend Esta! Because we worked together on Masters of Sex, I knew that Esta can really crunch story better than almost any writer I've ever worked with, and I just thought that that’s what we really needed. We needed the two of us to actually figure this all out.
I also love that Mark is the great connector here! Having also spoken with so much of the cast and crew of Interview with the Vampire, which he also executive produces — I guess that's what a good producer does, right? Connect talented people!
Oh yeah, absolutely. Mark has had a very, very long and successful career and so he has relationships with honestly everybody on earth. He's very deferential and he puts the talent out there up front, but this is really Mark's baby in many ways since he’s overseeing Anne Rice’s Immortal Universe.
Q: I think one of the most satisfying moments comes in Episode 6 when we finally get to witness the birth of Lasher and learn how he became an integral part of the Mayfair legacy. So much of this season opens up a dialogue about good vs evil, really for every character, but specifically around Lasher and Rowan. Can we talk a bit about their symbiotic relationship and how they both exist in this grey space between good and evil?
A: That’s what Esta and I were most challenged and intrigued by! Without sounding too woo-woo, there were a lot of ideas we were wrestling with, and in terms of Lasher, if you read Jungian psychology about the “shadow self,” that’s really what he is. He's actually a part of Rowan. The shadow self is made up of those dark impulses that often people suppress because either they're not fit for polite society, they're scary or they're threatening. So we realized, "Oh, that is really what he has to be." He's this weird shadow version of herself that she has to contend with. As people do, those darker parts of their psyche get pushed off and can actually come to seem like someone else. Lasher is this manifestation of those darker impulses. When Rowan realizes she's a witch, she now has to contend with the fact that those dark impulses are getting closer and closer. Eventually she's going to have to realize, "Oh, they're mine." So that became really interesting to us.
I also found those dark impulses, especially for women, so interesting. This idea of power and if you do get it, how do you use it? Men seem much more comfortable with power and women less so. So for a woman who is as high functioning as Rowan, this surgeon who has this very successful life… what does it mean to her? To see a woman like that really exercising her power unapologetically and with confidence is still a little bit taboo for many women, I think. Having Lasher dangling this before her, "here's your power, what are you going to do with it?" That seemed really cool to us.
Q: There are so many lush locations depicted in the show, from the Mayfair House itself in New Orleans, to Suzanne’s cabin in Scotland. It must have been so satisfying to jump between these different places to push the narrative forward. Did you enjoy spending time creating in one place especially?
A: Well, here's the weird thing. Like I said, I did meet Anne Rice many, many years ago. We met in that First Street house when she was living there. That’s where she wrote the Mayfair trilogy and where the whole story is set. So, when this project came around and I realized it was the Mayfair trilogy, I thought, "Oh my God, I was sitting in that house! I was sitting in that weird sun porch and looking around." I mean, it’s an extraordinary house and when I was talking to Esta about it, she was like, "We're going to actually shoot there!" So that for me was incredibly cool. Esta talks about going to the set every day and walking past that house — it's incredibly evocative. And New Orleans is haunted. It’s just haunted! It's a strange, curious place. Anne for sure felt that and in fact honored that. She went out and bought a bunch of real estate as an almost homage to keeping that strange, creepy New Orleans intact. So it was really, really cool to be able to shoot New Orleans for New Orleans and actually have that house sitting there.
It was Esta who came up with the brilliant idea of bringing Suzanne’s story to the forefront. The middle of The Witching Hour is all about the 13 designated witches, who they were, and where they lived. It's very, very in depth, but Esta said, "What if we just have one of those stories at the very beginning and it's this weird little puzzle that you keep seeing? You don't know why you're seeing it. You don't know why it's in Scotland, why it's so many years ago." And I loved that idea. So yes, bringing Scotland to life was really exciting, and I give all credit to Esta on that one!
Q: One element of the storyline that is so compelling is the Talamasca and their purpose and—yet again—their position between good and evil. We learn that they really take their duty to observe seriously, and they don’t want to intervene when it comes to the prophecy. Can you talk a bit about the Talamasca and what we may expect to see in Season 2 with them?
A: The Talamasca is fascinating. Everybody has their own interpretation when they're reading a book. How they see it, how they visualize it and everything. And then you have the reality of actually turning it into a piece of film when you're like, "Well now we're going to have to make it concrete." When we were talking about the Talamasca, we loved the notion that they were brought together by their own specific gifts, like Ciprien’s, that are tied to the supernatural and the occult. We also liked the notion of them being the preservers of watching and documenting so that these things become part of history. We really loved the fact that it all went back so far.
When we had to tackle the set design, the first sketches and references we saw were taken from the vernacular of all the procedurals you've seen for the last 20 years. Glass screens with graphics and zooming and swishing and all these monitors. We were like, "Oh no no no, it has to be exactly the opposite. It has to be like one rotary phone on a desk." We just really wanted to tap into this completely differently because they're working on another level, and they have all of history behind them. We just loved that idea, so that was one of the things we thought, "Oh, they're going to be really different. They're not going to be swooshing on screens and all that stuff."
They feel like they would still be using the Dewey Decimal System!
Completely. Completely! And we just thought, that’s just way more interesting because it speaks to the longevity, the dedication, what's been going on with this group for literally hundreds of years. And we loved that!
Q: Finding out how deep Cortland's depravity goes was a shocker for sure. The full scope of the prophecy becomes clear in Episode 8 when Rowan finds the phrase “The 13th witch is a doorway.” Rowan’s world has just shifted significantly. Now she’s a mother... to an entity child/Lasher?! What can you tease out about Season 2?
A: Well, stay tuned. Lasher’s journey about who he is now becomes very central in Season 2. What’s always been on the edges of Season 1 is the question: what is Lasher reallytrying to do here? Like, what is this really about? Is it about empowering witches and giving agency to beings that deserve it? Or is there a hidden agenda here that he's been covering with all this stuff? This goes back to the very, very beginning when we were trying to figure out what this creature is exactly. Being a disembodied non-human and wanting and needing to become human so that he can participate in human life is actually what’s going on underneath. So, this is a way for him to literally come into the world as a human and then operate with Rowan on this level. Now for Season 2, he's born, he’s in a human body, but he doesn't exactly know what he even is now. What is he? So that becomes one of the journeys of Season 2. Rowan, as his mother, is also tasked with the question: what have I given birth to? What have I essentially brought into the world? Which of course is a metaphor — once you're powerful, how are you using it and what are you bringing into the world? And because it’s this story it’s very layered, dark, twisted, and hopefully really interesting!
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