Teresa Palmer Takes Us Inside the Sexy, Nerdy World of ‘A Discovery of Witches’ Season 2

Based on the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches tells the story of star-crossed lovers Diana and Matthew. Though love between witches and vampires is forbidden, the two fall for each other while in pursuit of a mysterious ancient text with the power to explain the origins of the three magical species. At the end of Season 1, the lovers desperately decide to use Diana’s burgeoning powers to travel back in time to locate this text and find a fated teacher for the powerful witch.

A Discovery of Witches Season 2 opens with Diana and Matthew landing in Elizabethan London. Even though Diana’s background as a history professor helps her understand the setting she finds herself in, she’s not prepared to deal with Matthew’s dark past. In traveling back in time, Matthew has to resume the role of his 1590s alter ego, “Matthew Roydon,” a real-life poet and member of the School of Night. Although Diana is familiar with the School of Night’s famous members — like Tom Hughes’s Kit Marlowe — dealing with them face-to-face is a challenge in and of itself.

DECIDER: There’s obviously been like a huge gap between the first two seasons of A Discovery of Witches. What has that been like as a star, wanting people to see this show?

TERESA PALMER: I’ve been very impatient [laughs]. I’ve been waiting for people to [see it]. There wasn’t that much of a gap between filming Season 1 and filming Season 2, but I think it was quite challenging to figure out how to weave the contemporary scenes in with the Elizabethan scenes. So, they felt like that was a really delicate balance and I think they tried a lot of different ways of doing that and then ultimately, decided on the way that you will see in the season.

So, that took up some time and then there was a lot of CGI because obviously Diana is developing her magic and strengthening her powers and that includes a lot of threads because it’s very delicate and there’s so many ways of doing it with special effects, but they just wanted it to feel real and to look as seamless and gorgeous and beautiful as those things should look. I think they had quite a challenge obviously, but they managed to pull it off and I’m really proud of it and I happen to think that it coming out right now, especially as so many countries go back into lockdown, it seems to be the perfect show to have because people can just lose themselves in the fantasy world.

The thing I love about Diana and the show is she is such a history nerd and I’m a history nerd, too. Her reaction to the time travel is kind of the history nerd’s reaction I’ve been dying to see for ages, whether it’s her pure excitement at seeing old St. Paul’s Cathedral or how she automatically knows who everyone is. How did you nail that specific nerdy wonder and did you do any research into the era to help yourself figure out who’s who in the landscape?

Yeah, I definitely looked into the era and I obviously had Deb Harkness at my disposal, which as you know is the ultimate history nerd. Whenever I had a question I could just pick up the phone and ask her and I had very specific things that I wanted to ask about, like when I’m in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, what does that bow look like? I had heard that you never turn your back to her, that you had to walk backwards out of the room before turning at the very end and walking out.

There were very specific things I wanted to know about, but I think she’s a bit of a swinging pendulum, Diana, in some ways. It’s a balance between geeking out and allowing herself to just be completely enthralled by these times that she spent so many years studying and falling in love with and then also understanding the gravity of the situation that she’s in.

The times are different. Women are treated differently back then and the dynamic between males and females is completely different and whilst I know she’s seen so much of it, she’s still a contemporary woman, so it’s a balance for her and I try to weave in as many colors of that as possible. Yeah, it was a really interesting one, but I myself was completely wowed by what James North [the Production Designer] did with just the back streets of 1590 Elizabethan London. The attention to detail was unbelievable and I felt transported there myself.

So from the get go when you guys travel back, Matthew has to confront his dark history back in 1590. How do you feel Diana is reconciling with her man dealing with this dark past?

I think it’s quite arresting to see the Matthew that she knows getting back to the dark of Matthew’s past that she isn’t familiar with. It’s confronting and it’s quite isolating actually because she doesn’t have friends there, she doesn’t have an outlet, and ultimately that’s why her coven, you know her witches group, becomes her outlet. Throwing herself into developing her magic becomes such a healing and important part of this process for her.

I think because she continuously reminds herself the reasons why they’re there, she manages to keep quite focused on the task at hand. And while it’s an emotionally taxing seeing Matthew Roydon come out, I think it ultimately strengthens her understanding of her man and it’s a really important step in their relationship and it did bring that texture… and tapestry of his life. She ultimately gets to know him and love him and be close to him and yes, I think she does embrace it.

Well, you mentioned that she doesn’t have very many friends outside the coven, but I did love seeing her strike up that friendship with Mary Sidney — Amanda Hale — whom I adore. What was it like for you as an actress and how thrilling do you think that was for Diana?

Well I think, again, meeting all of her historical heroes for Diana is obviously a dream come true and then when she meets Mary Sidney, she just falls in love with her quirkiness and her vibrancy and her confidence. She was so dynamic and I think Mary Sidney really stood out in those times as being sort of a radical in many ways, the way she carries herself and her interests. They were very aligned with Diana’s. And Mary Sidney was such a strong woman and a passionate individual and I think that yeah, for Diana to have a comrade like that is such a gift. Definitely it’s completely necessary for her to have people on her side and someone like Mary Sidney is completely exciting for Diana.

Yeah. On the flip side, I really thought it was a fascinating tug-of-war between her and Kit Marlowe over Matthew’s soul at times. How did you read Diana’s relationship with Kit and how much fun was that to boot?

I love the tension between Kit and Diana, but also I really tried to play it as though Diana just wants to get close with Kit and she wants to know more about Matthew’s history. She’s not threatened by him, but I feel like she’s also trying to be respectful of their history and their past, whatever that dynamic was. I think she is quite encouraging of Matthew to nurture that in the way he should. So, I love playing with it and the hostility she was getting from Kit Marlowe was just another interesting plot point in the story and something that I enjoyed playing around with the beautiful Tom Hughes. Yeah, I love that aspect.

I read an interview I think with Radio Times, where Matthew was kind of complaining about the period costumes and it made me think, how did you feel in yours? I think yours are far more elaborate albeit beautiful. Did it help you, did you find it a hindrance, or were you dying to go back to the modern clothes?

I think that by the end of the series (season), I was ready to be back in contemporary costume, but the start of it — well, the majority of it — it was just such a pleasure, because I never get to wear gowns like that. Everyday it was something… it was a new piece of fabric and velvet and beading and lace and you could just get lost in the artwork that was the costume. I felt really proud of the costume team because any time Deb Harkness would throw an image at them for inspiration, often times Sarah Arthur, the costume director, would find pieces of fabric that look like the image Deb had fallen in love with, come back, and then whip up a dress in a few days. We had an amazing team of people working on putting it all together, so it was a huge part of the series and the dresses were just sensational.

Actually the costume designer and her team made a miniature dress for [Palmer’s daughter] Poet. They even did costume fittings with her to surprise me with a little miniature dress for my daughter, which was really sweet. So we get to keep that hanging up with her wardrobe.

But yeah, look, I think by the end of it, it was starting to get really heavy because I have these big coats, as well. And we did a lot of scenes in the water, walking through the ocean in these big cloaks and the mud and the horse-riding. So, it was quite heavy. There’s a moment in season 2 where Matthew gives Diana pants and she’s actually really looking forward to wearing pants and she gets really excited about the fact that he had prepared for that like, “Ah finally!” I probably felt a bit like that, too, by the end of it.

Well, sort of on that note, what do you think like the biggest challenge facing Diana in this season is? Is it the mastering of her powers, the search for community, the technical struggles of being in 1590, is it her relationship? What did you think was the thing that was stymying her the most?

I think the sense of isolation. I think the underlying thing for her is the loss of Matthew. She felt like she was losing him at times and I think that was a thread throughout so much of the season. Just not knowing him and the fear surrounding that. He is her one familiar and then suddenly, he doesn’t feel that familiar and she’s in this period of time which is incredibly dangerous, especially for witches. She’s being rejected like front and center from the people in this environment and she’s feeling the hostility. So, I think it’s probably that.

What is the thing that you’re most looking forward to fans getting to see in season 2? Is there a scene, a character from the books, a dress even, that you know Deb Harkness fans are gonna die over?

Definitely the knots. I love the sequences with Sheila Hancock [who plays Goody Aslop] and her hat — you should see her hat, oh my goodness — she wears the best hat in the show. Sheila and Diana’s dynamic as she is moving the thread to work on her knot is really cool as her student. Those sequences feel really special and unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV before, so I’m most excited about seeing the knots.

There’s also a really nice sexy scene for the audience [laughs] that goes on in a tent. Um… [laughs] which I think worked nicely. It’s a good scene.

A Discovery of Witches Season 2 Episode 1 is now streaming on Sundance Now, Shudder, and AMC+. New episodes will premiere weekly on Saturdays.

(This interview has been edited for clarity.)

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