There might be a forbidden romance with a sexy vampire at the heart of A Discovery of Witches, which is now available to stream on Shudder and Sundance Now, but there are no shades of Twilight in this love story. For one, the heroine is no helpless human — she’s a witch, and possibly one of the most powerful witches who’s ever lived.
The latest book-to-screen supernatural romance follows more in the footsteps of Outlander, chronicling a relationship of equals between modern-day witch Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) and wise, ancient vampire Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode) as they race to learn secrets that will ensure a safe future for all magical creatures.
When historian Diana, who has spent her life ignoring her magical powers, discovers a long-lost manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, all sorts of magical creatures descend upon the quiet city in pursuit of the mysterious book. While different supernatural species — witches, vampires, and daemons — are not supposed to fraternize, Diana finds both comfort and protection in biochemist Matthew as the rest of the magical world attempts to track down the all-important book, putting both Diana’s life and the future of all creatures in danger.
The Diana Bishop of the books is a single-minded historian and Yale professor who is laser-focused on her research. She’s so fiercely independent that she refuses to use her magical powers, which are inherited from family lines on both sides that she can trace back to Salem. (Part of her denial of her powers is tied to the fact that her parents were both murdered when she was a young girl, and using magic reminded her too much of them.)
In the show, however, Diana is more mild-mannered and patient, slow to embrace her power as a woman and as a witch as she learns more about her lineage. Palmer, who plays Diana, told Rotten Tomatoes that her character’s slow burn toward empowerment is a result of the fact that she’d spent her entire life wanting to fit in and just be “normal.”
“It’s this part of her that she hasn’t liked and she’s ignored, and I think when someone has something that they feel so antagonistic about, it’s hard to just flip the switch and jump into that wholeheartedly,” she said.
When Matthew arrives, however, he makes her feel grounded and stable — and thus more confident in herself and her abilities.
“She had it all there, she just also needed a cheerleader to say, ‘You can do this and you are powerful and you are worthy.’ Once she realizes who she is, she dives into it so passionately and is rewarded for that,” Palmer said.
One benefit to Diana’s self-discovery: getting to do badass stunts. Palmer’s character can harness different elements — including wind, allowing her to fly. That meant plenty of time in harnesses being flown around on a crane, but Palmer was thrilled to face the challenge.
“All the wirework I especially loved because she has magic powers and she has the ability to fly,” Palmer said. “I don’t want to give too much away, but I got to do so many stunts on this one. I was upside down on wires and getting swung around, and got to do a lot of work like that, which was just brilliant. At times I remember being on the wires and being up so high and thinking to myself, ‘This is my job! This is me at my job. This is really cool.’”
Then there are the non-supernatural skills Diana has: she’s a runner and a rower, both things Palmer had to train for, and she’s a historian specializing in alchemy, something Palmer had to research to get a grasp on.
Diana’s journey to discover her powers couldn’t be possible without the right foil, and The Crown veteran Goode provided the perfect pale skin, sharp cheekbones, chiseled jaw, and steely gaze to embody the sexy-but-scary vampire.
“I always laugh about it because Matthew and Matthew are very similar,” Palmer said. “They both love their red wine, they’re both hyper-intelligent, they’re both prone to brooding — they’re very similar in real life. Matthew Goode just embodies Matthew de Clermont so seamlessly and organically that there were moments I was like, ‘Oh, this is such a walk in the park for you! He’s British and pale and tall and handsome, and he’s got the deep voice already. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to be playing a handsome vampire.”
While the duo smolders in front of the camera, behind the scenes things were decidedly less serious. Palmer credits their onscreen chemistry in large part to the fun, lighthearted friendship they struck up while filming.
“He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and we would spend our time cracking each other up and laughing and mucking around and just being total goofballs,” Palmer said. “And then we’d have to remind each other that we’re at work, we have to get stuff done.”
SPOILER WARNING: The next two sections contain mild spoilers relating to the second and third books in the All Souls trilogy, Shadow of Night and The Book of Life.
The series has already been renewed for second and third seasons, which Palmer confirmed will roughly follow the stories in the second and third books of the trilogy. But while the second book focuses almost exclusively on Diana and Matthew’s journey back in time, Palmer said the story will be expanded to include other characters.
“The second book takes place, obviously, in the Elizabethan Era — that’s where we left off in the first season, time jumping through that well — but it’s going to be exploring that time and that era and the way things were, and it’s going to feel completely different, I think, from the first season.”
As a historian, it’s a “dream come true” for Diana to be interacting with people she’d only read about in books, Palmer said. Plus, the dynamic between Diana and Matthew will be completely different in the past versus the contemporary setting where they fell in love.
And after introducing a stellar supporting cast — Alex Kingston and Valarie Pettiford as Diana’s witch aunts; Edward Bluemel, Owen Teale, Malin Buska, Lindsay Duncan, and many more as other supernatural creatures — it makes sense to follow their stories further rather than focus solely on the main couple and the people they meet in the past.
“I think we’re going to try and figure out a way to have some of the contemporary world still in there, so that we don’t lose those amazing characters,” Palmer said. “So there’s going to be some slight tweaks to the second book in terms of the TV show, but I don’t know what they are yet.”
While Palmer will be joining the production a little bit later than everyone else owing to the impending birth of her third child — she’ll film from July through January, after the birth of her daughter in April — she already knows one plot point she can’t wait to visit.
Palmer listened to the audiobooks after she got the role, and there’s one character in particular she’s excited to meet: Kit, a.k.a. Elizabethan playwright (and Matthew’s BFF) Christopher Marlowe.
“There’s some tension between us,” she said. “I won’t give anything away, but it’s very interesting where the root of that tension comes from. I am excited about character dynamics, truly. There’s so many amazing people we get to meet in the second season, and I just want to know how that rocks the boat for Diana and Matthew, and how they can stay a solid unit throughout all the things that get thrown their way. We will see!”