This article appears in the next issue of DEN OF GEEK magazine. SUBSCRIBE HERE!
With Anne Rice’s book series as a launching point, Mayfair Witches promises to be one hell of a broomstick ride. Alexandra Daddario stars as Dr. Rowan Fielding, a gifted neurosurgeon adept at uncovering clues beneath the surface. Initially, the house she rents appears to be merely haunted until Rowan is revealed to be the “13th Witch” in a multigenerational tradition that carries severe responsibilities.
“It’s really about family and dysfunctional family at the end of the day,” Daddario tells Den of Geek magazine. “Then you add this dose of magic and take everything to a crazier place.” Mayfair Witches is AMC’s second transfusion from the late writer’s work after Interview with the Vampire and shares more than blood relations. Both shows may prove risqué for TV, and not only for their occult ties, which are complicated, to put it mildly.
“I didn’t find out my relationship with Rowan until I read episode seven,” Harry Hamlin tells us, and he plays the patriarch of the family, Courtland Mayfair. Sorcerers must keep their secrets, but there isn’t enough closet space at the sprawling Mayfair House for all the skeletons.
Created by Michelle Ashford and showrunner Esta Spaulding (best known for creating On Becoming a God in Central Florida), season one of Mayfair Witches runs eight episodes. Set and filmed in New Orleans, with Mayfair House sitting in its historic Garden District, the most mysterious item in the house is a family curse.
“Lasher is a dark entity spirit that was conjured up by the first Mayfair Witch,” says the actor who plays him, Jack Huston. “It is inherited by the next in line.” The creation is altered from the book, and details are kept tightly under wraps, but the actor promises: “We’ve done something fun with it.”
Rice fans are possessive of her works and notoriously fierce when adaptations stray from the source material. Mayfair Witches promises it has not taken sinful liberties. “We’ve paid such respect to the novel but have room for artistic license,” says Huston.
The cast understands the significance of Rice’s works and takes pleasure in infecting a new audience. “Before there was Twilight, there was Anne Rice,” says Tongayi Chirisa. He plays Cyprian Wright, an amalgamation of two book characters affiliated with the ancient scholarly order of the Talamasca, Aaron, who studies the family, and Michael, who is a major catalyst for Rowan’s revelations in the first novel. “Cyprian’s mission is to observe supernatural events and only intervene if somebody is in trouble,” Chirisa says. “When Cyprian meets Rowan, they go through this journey of who she is.”
Rowan is one of Rice’s most complex and morally ambiguous characters, born with the gift of discernment. “This woman is really strong, empowered, and independent in her real life,” Daddario says. “But she is also a mess.”
The world of witchcraft accommodates all these qualities on the page, with room to grow. “It’s very female-centric and empowering,” Hamlin says. “Rice writes about these very powerful women who find their power, their inner strength, and that happens in this show.”
But at what price? These are not the cartoonishly satanic witches of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and owe nothing to Bewitched. Like The Vampire Chronicles, Mayfair Witches is unapologetic in its portrayal of the dark abuses of power. “Are these people good or evil,” Daddario posits. “Quite frankly, neurosurgery is very witchlike to me.”
Witches have historically been scapegoats for vile world events, and Rice’s practitioners definitely tilt toward dark magic, but they are only reflections in a broken mirror. As Daddario asks, “What’s better than witches and vampires as metaphors for the human condition?”
Mayfair Witches premieres on AMC and AMC+ on Jan. 8.