Malin Buska, who plays Satu in A Discovery of Witches, talks about playing an evil witch, that brutal torture scene in Episode 6 and why Satu is so interested in Diana’s power.
Q: How much did you know about the book series before coming onto the show?
A: I didn’t read the books before, but I knew about Deborah Harkness. And of course I met her and then I was reading the books — some of it, at least. She’s such a great person and has such a great sense of detail, and she’s also a professor, and you really feel that. I thought it was a great world.
Q: What first attracted you to the role of Satu?
A: Satu, as a character in the books, she’s not as prescient in the books as she is in the show, but it was interesting to play someone that is that evil, and to try to love her and understand her, and also put some kind of sensibility into why she acts like she does. It was really interesting to build up a whole character from that small thing. During the whole time that we were shooting, my character got bigger and bigger, and that was also a lot of fun.
Q: How did you work with Deborah and the writers to expand on Satu’s role in such a big way?
A: I had a lot of ideas myself about her. She’s been isolated for a long time — she was so powerful and she was living in this cottage in the woods, very isolated because she was too powerful and too dangerous. I thought she was really interesting and I was really attracted to her and wanted to know her. And then when we were shooting, Deborah was on set most of the time, so we could always discuss what way we should go, and I did that with the writers as well. And sometimes she got a bit too scary so then we took it down again, but I could just go out there and be super violent and super angry, and then I could take it down and play it a bit more stone-faced and cold. But then I thought it was quite necessary to give her some sensibility and some weak parts as well. And I think she’s also been really lonely, and she finds some kind of connection with Diana, and Meridiana in some ways, because they are sitting on the same kind of power.
Most of the time when I work with characters, I go out and do a lot of research, but here it’s quite difficult. I can’t really go out and do research on evil witches in that way. [Laughs] It’s not like you can go and visit an evil witch in the same way you can with other professionals. I just went into myself and that was interesting in my imagination and my fantasy that I could just create this character, and then I was talking to Deborah and she was like, “Just do what you do, it’s great.” And then of course we had such a great crew. The actors were great, we had a really good time together, so it was easy to be in the moment.
Q: So far in the series, Satu has probably cast the most powerful magic of any of the witches. What’s it like acting out these magical scenes and then seeing them on-screen?
A: I grew up in the Arctic Circle, and I also have some family and a native heritage. A lot of my family is coming from a minority, a small group of people up in the Arctic Circle. My grandad’s mother was a medicine woman, for example, and my grandad as well. Like if someone started to bleed a lot, he could just put his hand on them and the blood stopped. So, I was thinking about those kinds of things as well, and I just wanted to make a character that is not thinking as we are, or doesn’t have the social codes, as humans. But it was also interesting to be a witch that is that quirky and weird and evil, but still be a human. I just tried to be in the moment and embrace the evilness inside of me, I guess. There’s not a lot of that. [Laughs] I feel like it’s so difficult for me to harm anyone, that’s the worst thing I know. It was a lot of fun, though. [Laughs]
Q: Speaking of hurting people, what was it like shooting that torture scene in Episode 6 with Teresa Palmer?
A: Super cold, first of all. We were in this old castle without any windows and it was so windy. We were ice-cold. But it was great to do it. Me and Teresa, we were like, “We can just go as far as we want.” I was like, “Hit me here, you can do whatever you want,” so when we were shooting the scene, we knew what we could do to each other. I also feel like [Satu] tried to get close to [Diana], and tried to connect with her, and when she got rejected, she couldn’t stand it really. But of course it was a lot of fun, and it was great to see, because we had been throwing around in the mud and all that kind of thing is quite dirty.
Q: Why do you think Satu is so invested in learning about Diana’s power, and also in urging Diana to claim her own power?
A: The thing I was thinking about when I was shooting was, “She needs to be aware of it, and maybe we can start to cooperate.” I think it’s necessary for her, and it works with what I was thinking about Satu as well — she’s been kept up in the Arctic Circle and isolated, but she still is aware of her power. If they are connected and have the same kind of power, Satu thought it was necessary. A lot of the witches around her, or the other creatures, don’t have that kind of power, and what I was thinking all the time was that she thought it was really important that [Diana] knew about it.
Q: Most witches are hesitant at best about working with other creatures, but Satu pretty readily “betrayed” the witches and teamed up with Gerbert to kidnap Diana. Why do you think her alliances are more fluid than the rest of the creatures?
A: I think that it doesn’t really matter. This feeling I have with her is it doesn’t really matter if it’s witches or vampires. Of course to be a witch is important, but I think she actually is searching for some kind of connection with people. She knows that the vampires are after Diana, and I think she wants to protect Diana in a way. That’s just my own thought. I think she feels for her, but doesn’t know how to do it and doesn’t know which way to go, and that when she sees the vampires are after her, maybe she can start to work for them as well, just to protect her. But also the thing with Satu is that you can’t really trust her, because she can be kind for a second, but if she doesn’t get what she wants, she gets really disappointed and can take another turn. But I think she needs Diana, in a way.
Read a Q&A with Louise Brealey, who plays Gillian.
A Discovery of Witches airs Sundays at 9/8c.
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