Teresa Palmer, who stars in A Discovery of Witches as Diana Bishop, shares more about Diana from the books to the screen, laughing on set with Matthew Goode and more.
Q: You’ve mentioned that when you first read the script, you became enamored by the role of Diana. Why did you feel so connected to the character and the project as a whole?
A: I find Diana very relatable, and I actually think [she’s] one of the reasons why the books are so successful. She’s a woman who is so many things, she has such intricacy in her personality. She’s allowed to be all things — she can be brave and powerful and just an absolute fierce woman, and she can also have insecurities and vulnerabilities, show fear. We are complex beings and absolutely all those things exist in each person — and I thought that made her feel very human, which is funny because she’s not. [Laughs] But it made her feel human and attainable. I love the journey she goes on from where she starts to where she ends — it’s such an inspiring journey and I think many young women can relate to what she’s going through in their own version of it.
Q: How familiar with the book series were you when you came on to the project?
A: I wasn’t familiar actually. I was very much existing in a baby bubble with my little kids. I was not reading much at all, but once I read the script, it was a world I was so fascinated by and I needed to indulge in more of the story. Immediately, I downloaded the audiobook and I would drive around. I would carve out specific “mummy time” to listen to my audiobook. I would try to do that almost every day — while they were at school or napping or my husband had them — and I got through them very quickly. And this was before my chemistry read with Matthew, which was funny because I already felt like Diana and I had decided this is who I was “supposed” to be. I look back and I think it’s so funny that I did that because I would have been really disappointed if I hadn’t gotten the role.
Q: How did you work with author Deborah Harkness and executive producers Jane Tranter and Lachlan MacKinnon to bring the character to life?
A: Well, they really wanted me to follow my intuition, especially Deborah. I’d ask her a thousand questions, and I’d say, “Deborah, you are Diana!” And they are incredibly similar, in so many ways. But Deborah and I are also similar, and she would say to me, “We cast you because you’re so similar to Diana, so what would you do, or how would you feel? What’s your instinct telling you about this scene?” And it was really liberating to have someone who wrote this character give me that kind of power and direction to just trust my instincts. It was scary at first, and intimidating, but then the more I looked into my feelings about a scene, the better the scene ended up going. But Deborah was always there and I could check in and say, “Well how did you imagine Diana’s magic coming out? I know it comes out from an emotional place, but how did you physically want to see it come out?” And then she would give me ideas. She also did some practical things with me, like take me to the Cardiff University and teach me how to handle old texts and manuscripts, and I actually got to hold an Ashmole book, and we flipped through it. She showed me the sorts of things to pay attention to and what Diana would be taking notes of, so she gave me all these little gems that became invaluable throughout the series. … They did that with Matthew as well. They said they tried to cast the two leads, the two of us, as close to the character as possible. And Matthew Goode is so similar to Matthew de Clermont it blows my mind.
Q: Much of the story revolves around Diana and Matthew’s relationship. What was it like working so extensively with Matthew Goode?
A: He is just a cracker of a guy. He’s just a really amazing individual, and super complex and layered, just like Matthew de Clermont. But the biggest difference between the two is that Matthew Goode is super playful. He is a total goofball, and we spent hours on set making each other laugh and telling jokes, pranking each other and giggling our way through scenes. It was really nice to have someone with that kind of personality around, because often we were doing things where we were upside down on wires and talking about all sorts of funny, magical situations, and it was good to actually have that lighthearted energy on set as well. It makes for a very good blooper reel. [Laughs] I would love to see what that looks like. But I think because we had that ease with each other, it made our interactions feel more organic, and the chemistry was just there. It was there from the first day, and I think it comes from our having the same sense of humor. And we both felt familiar to each other, because we’re both in committed relationships raising three children, and there’s something to say about that because we are having similar private life experiences. It’s not like with the other castmates who are single or don’t have children or whatever. We were both going home to our families, stepping into roles as parents and then coming into work the next day. So we had a lot that we could talk about and connect on.
Q: There are so many stunning locations in the show, and the reproduction of the Bodleian library is fascinating. What was it like walking on set in those locations?
A: Mind-blowing. The amount of attention to detail on those sets are just incredible. It was a complete, masterful work. And the great thing as an actor, when your stage is set in that way, it’s so much easier to transport yourself into the thoughts and emotions and experiences of your character because it’s all around you. You’re interacting with these set pieces that someone spent an hour painting in the corner and they’re not sure if it’s even going to get shot, but so much love and intention went into making it feel real – and it really didn’t go unnoticed by me. I interacted with so much of the set, and we were constantly blown away by the level of artistry that we saw. And then to go on location was such a treat and a gem because it took us out of being in the one place and we got to shake things up. We shot all over. We got to shoot in Oxford and see what it was really like to be there among the energy of the university students. It was a dream. It was a show that took us all over and we got to have so many wonderful and enriched experiences. I cannot wait to see what that’s gonna be like for the next season.
Q: What kind of reaction have you received from fans?
A: The fan reactions have been overwhelming positive and supportive and excited. You feel the love and the passion. It’s palpable, and it makes you want to go deeper and do more with the character. I feel like they’re our biggest cheerleaders. It would have been so disappointing if they were bummed out by the show, but it’s been the opposite. It’s been so well-embraced and loved and cherished and celebrated by the fans. I think it really makes a difference that Deborah was behind the casting and she had such an imperative role in the show and bringing it to life, and that she has a huge say in the characters and where they go. She’s their mother, she’s the queen, and they look up to her, and I think whatever decisions she’s making for the show, the fans really put their trust in her and know that she’s steering it in the right direction. And at the same time, [the audience is] also really embracing the differences between the book and the show, which was always going to be a sensitive issue. But they were really understanding and embracing it and enjoying it. It’s just been so positive and such a blessing.
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