Interview with Tongayi Chirisa and Harry Hamlin of “Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches” on AMC/AMC+ by Suzanne 12/7/22
This is an interesting show. I haven’t read the books that this series is based on, so I can’t tell you how accurate it is or not. However, with just a cursory reading about the books online, it does seem pretty different in some ways. Some characters have been condensed, invented or changed. If you’re a purist, then you probably shouldn’t watch it. Otherwise, if you loved the books, or you like shows about witches, then you should check it out because it’s enjoyable. It stars Alexandra Daddario as the main character, Dr. Rowan Mayfair, who finds out after her mother dies that she has a family that she never knew, and strange powers.
I was able to join in this panel interview with Tongayi Chririsa, who stars as the handsome Ciprien Grieve; who helps her out; and Harry Hamlin, who plays her Uncle Cortland. It was a very fun interview. I’ve loved watching Harry Hamlin ever since he starred in “L.A. Law” in the 80’s. Did you know that Harry Hamlin was the “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1987? Only the third one in history, too. He’s definitely my first one to interview. I hope you enjoy this transcript and the show, which airs Jan. 4 on AMC+ and Jan. 8 on AMC.
KAREN BUTLER: Can you both describe your characters and tell us why you wanted to play them?
TONGAYI CHIRISA: Okay, my character is Ciprian Grieve. He works for the Talamasca, and he has this ability. He’s an empath, and he has this ability to touch people or objects, and he can see into their past. And I thin the biggest thing that drew me to this was just the world, Anne Rice, and the genre that we’re in. And just for the character, just the challenges that he goes through, and just the ability to be able to feel the emotions of everything and everyone was just too alluring for me not to try and take a stab at it. So, I was drawn by the character and just the world, and just to work with Esta and Alex was just, like, “Oh, yeah, this is an opportunity that I will not let slip.”
KAREN BUTLER: How about you, Harry?
HARRY HAMLIN: Well, I play Cortland, Mayfair, and he’s the patriarch of this family of witches that have been evolving since the 16th century or something in Scotland. And I don’t have any powers, because the powers are mainly passed down through the women in the family. It’s sort of a matriarchal society in the family, and my job, as in my character, is to hold the family together. I’m kind of the fun uncle in the family. And I was drawn to to play the character, which is, by the way, the most delicious character I’ve played since the very first movie I did in 1977, which was called Movie Movie. I love that character, and this is most fun I’ve had since then. So, it’s been a long time, but I’m having a great time with this guy. They’ve let me create a character that may not be the character that Esta had in mind when she first wrote the script, but the good news is that they were writing the scripts as we were filming. So, they were able to see what each of us brought to the characters that they had written, and then they were able to expand on that in [the] writing. So, in a way they adapted their characters to us, to what we brought to it, and I love it when we when a show goes like that.
RIJU DASGUPTA: So, what was it like to work with Alexandra Daddario, and did you think she was the perfect role for this series?
HARRY HAMLIN: You take that one, Tongayi.
TONGAYI CHIRISA: Yeah, I mean, Alex, what I liked about working with her is that she’s your everyday next door neighbor type of person. I think she just has the sense of freedom and just being very approachable, which made the work that much easier. So, when we had to go into scenes that most people will find uncomfortable, just there was that sense of security and sense of trust within each of us that allowed us to be as free as we needed to be to accomplish the scene. Yeah, Alex is a star in her own right. She’s an Emmy nominated actress. So, it doesn’t hurt to have people of that caliber working alongside, and who are just really nice people.
ASHLEY: I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about the differences between the novels and the series. I know, in particular, there’re some differences with the characters that you’re playing, but if you want to speak to that, or just overall, some of the differences that we’ll see.
HARRY HAMLIN: For fans of the books, they’ve taken the characters who, in the case of Cyprien they’ve amalgamated to characters, but in my case, the character of Cortland is not alive during the present day, but I’m very glad that they’ve resurrected him and I get to play him in this, because I love playing this guy. So, I don’t think there’s a lot of similarity between the character of Cortland in the books and the character of Cortland [in the series] other than the fact that he’s the patriarch of the family. And, I did draw some of the things from the book that I put into the character, but mainly, I relied on what was on the page in the pilot script to develop the character.
TONGAYI CHIRISA: And I think just the story in itself. Esta did a great job of really capturing the essence of Anne Rice and some of the richer themes that convey who she was, and just the world that she created. This was her home, and just incorporating the finer – I mean, if you read the first book, you know it was so rich in detail, 1000 plus pages. There’s no way we could have incorporated all the themes, but I think she did a great job in just really bunching them together to give us the essence of the story, because the season itself, it starts the way the book starts and how it ends, and they’ve managed to keep that within the framework of season one. So, it doesn’t veer too much off from what we see in the narrative of the book. So, it still keeps the authentic essence of what Anne was conveying in the story.
SUZANNE LANOUE: Hi. I was wondering if you could both speak to your characters’ personal motivations about how they act on the show?
HARRY HAMLIN: Okay, so my motivation is to number one, stay alive, because [unintelligible] by people in this family who have powers, and also, there’s a cipher, a character that we don’t know quite from what dimension he comes, but he’s also a character, Lasher, that could at any moment do serious damage to me, because I don’t have any powers, other than the power of manipulation and charm. So, I’m constantly trying to hold the family together and get them to do the right thing and get these witches to behave in the right way so that they can have the best life possible and I can become as wealthy as possible, because my motivation is really, I’m a narcissistic sort of avuncular character in this, who, I think, I lose my way in episodes that you haven’t seen yet. I can’t go into that too deeply; I will be letting the cat out of the bag.
TONGAYI CHIRISA: Yeah, I think for Cyprien, [when] it starts, his motivation is more about allegiance and obligation, just with his background of how he grew up and how he was integrated into the Talamasca. So, I think it is a sense of, like, “I need to do this, because of how I was treated and how somebody brought me in and took care of me and put me into this organization.” But when he meets Rowan, there’s a sudden shift, because as a person that has always been very closed – that’s why he wears the gloves. He keeps the world out, and he doesn’t want anybody into his personal space, because that might be too overbearing for him. But interacting with Rowan, you start to see him becoming very vulnerable and allowing somebody into his space that’s never been tapped into. And, obviously, that leads to situationships and circumstances, because he compromises his integrity, compromises the work that he’s supposed to do just to observe and to watch, and chooses to get involved. As a result, you see things beginning to unfold with him and Rowan’s character to the culmination of what we see at the end of the season.
JESSICA: I wanted to ask specifically about the mythology of the series and the books and how it’s so big. How was it for you to come in to this and wrap your arms around it, speaking of mythology?
HARRY HAMLIN: is that directed to me, to Harry?
JESSICA: To both of you.
HARRY HAMLIN: Well, I was not that familiar with Anne Rice coming into it, because I’m not the right generation. She was writing for people who were younger than I [was]. mean, not that she was writing for [them], but that was the generation that really caught fire with her work. So, I missed it. But being a student of mythology, as I have been, I was very attracted to this world, which is, I’ve not been a fan of vampires and witches in my life. I didn’t see many of the those series that were on TV about vampires and stuff. I did see the movie Interview with a Vampire years ago, which is my only exposure to witches and vampires. In fact, but now, having entered this world of Anne Rice and having been a part of it, I see that it’s very rich, and it’s actually an exploration of the human condition, from the sort of the mystical angle of witches and vampires, and I’m kind of digging it. So, I think I’m gonna go back and explore it now, in my old age. I’m gonna check out all these vampire movies and stuff. So, I don’t know if that answers your question, but it shows you where I am, anyway, with it.
JESSICA: No, it totally does. And Tongayi, I was curious about, because you’re part of the Talamasca in this, and that’s their whole thing –
TONGAYI CHIRISA: Yeah.
JESSICA: How was that for you to come into this and kind of delve in?
TONGAYI CHIRISA: You know, what’s interesting? I think my first introduction to the world of Anne Rice was the movie and then Queen of the Damned with Aaliyah, and then just the movies like Dracula that we used to watch, which were just visceral in the way that they were just really dark and gritty. So, you fast forward to last year, and this thing comes onto your table, and it’s like suddenly the memories start coming back, like, “Oh, I remember that.” But with Anne Rice’s world, I think I walked into this thing naive, and the closest thing I could connect it to was the Shield in the MCU Universe. I was like, “Okay, so the Talamasca are this entity that observes the supernatural, but they can’t get involved until absolutely necessary.” So, we are monitoring all over the world, the supernatural, so it was kinda like, “Oh my gosh, this can go in so many avenues,” which was just like, “Okay, this is exciting for me,” because how much of the external worlds have infiltrated the Talamasca. You know, is everybody who they say they really are? Like, are people undercover? So, just thinking about what can and what it could be was just enthralling to me to be a part of this and to just say, “Look, I don’t know too much.” And I think that kind of aids to my character, being unaware of what’s really going on, just as to be the innocence of Ciprien in his journey, because as things unravel, it affects him, because the people he thought he could trust, he can’t trust anymore, because somebody lied to him. So, I think just figuring it out is what I am enjoying the most, because I don’t need to have the answers to know where this is going.
RIJU DASGUPTA: My question is about the Mayfair house. That is one creepy location. What was it like filming there?
HARRY HAMLIN: Oh, it was great. What an amazing place to film. And they also recreated a lot of it on the soundstage too, but we actually film in the house, which was, I mean, to be just inside there and soak in the history of that house was truly amazing. Go ahead, Tongayi.
TONGAYI CHIRISA: Well, we couldn’t actually get the real one, but they were able to get one that was similar. So, like I was saying, they actually reproduced the outside, and the internal stuff we had to do it on stage, but I think the spirit of New Orleans and the spirit of Anne Rice lives, because we filmed in the same street that the house was in, and just interacting with people and how much people knew of who she was, like, getting pedestrians talking about who she was and this house, it just added so much more value to what we’re doing. You actually walk into this space with a little more reverence, because now you have an embodiment of her spirit within the community. So, now you approach it with the kind of respect that it deserves. So, it was special in and of itself, and just New Orleans, as a whole, was just a magical place.
ASHLEY: I’m curious to know, for each of you, personally, what was the most fun part about working on this, about filming, or just portraying your particular characters? What was the most fun thing for you?
HARRY HAMLIN: I’m gonna go with that one because – no, you go first Tongayi; you go first.
TONGAYI CHIRISA: I think the most fun part was just just coming to work and it not feeling like it was work, because I think everybody just understood the assignment. We came to explore; we came to learn. And the grace that was given to us as actors to really figure it out and discuss [it], if it didn’t work, we’d just pivot and try something else. So, I think that, for me, was the best. And the freedom to do so without any backlash, so to speak, was really nice.
HARRY HAMLIN: Yeah, the environment that we were shooting in was very conducive to improvisation, to coming up with new ideas. The most fun thing, for me, is that after we filmed most of the season, they saw that the character that I had built throughout the season was different from the character that was presented in the very first scene where I was introduced in the piece, so they rewrote that scene. They came to me and said, “So, listen, we want to rewrite the scene, because we want to have Cortland introduced in a sort of bigger way. We’re gonna have you audition an alligator and a 10-foot-long python, and you’re gonna get to pick whether you want to work with this alligator, or this.” So, ultimately, I chose the python, because the alligator was a terrible actor. I mean, kind of very wooden, but the snake, on the other hand, was really vibrant and great to work with. Just one of my favorite partners in the in the whole piece was a 10-foot-long python.
Transcribed by Jamie of https://scifivision.com/
AMC NETWORKS TO LAUNCH THE HIGHLY ANTICIPATED ANNE RICE’S MAYFAIR WITCHES ACROSS ALL FIVE OF ITS LINEAR NETWORKS
December 21, 2022
Proofread and Edited by Brenda