A Discovery of Witches: Alex Kingston and Valarie Pettiford discuss the magic of being a witch

A Discovery of Witches follows the life of powerful witch Diana Bishop, but she couldn’t do it alone. Culturess spoke with Alex Kingston and Valarie Pettiford, who play two central characters in Diana’s life.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. But when it comes to a powerful witch? All it takes is two women who believe in her the most.

In a new series adapted from the Deborah Harkness novel, A Discovery of Witches, Alex Kingston and Valarie Pettiford step up to play a huge role in the life of protagonist Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer). After Diana’s parents were murdered, her aunt Sarah Bishop (Kingston) and Sarah’s partner Emily Mather (Pettiford) — both witches themselves –become the guardians in Diana’s life.

Both Sarah and Em have always been protective of Diana, but even more so when Diana becomes romantically involved with vampire Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode). While in our world, girls may jump at the chance to fall in love with an Edward Cullen-esque vampire like Matthew à la Twilight, in the world in A Discovery of Witches, that’s not the case.

“Sarah is absolutely wary of Matthew,” Kingston says. “The whole point is these different creatures, they don’t mix; they don’t interact… What’s brilliant about Deborah’s interpretation is it kind of mirrors the society that we live in, because it’s a different form of racism. It’s kind of [like] creature racism.”

Because of this separation of creatures and the forbidden nature of interspecies relationships, Sarah warns Diana not to get involved with Matthew. Unfortunately, Diana and Matthew’s relationship is rooted in something much deeper than a mutual attraction. Matthew, a centuries-old vampire, becomes of value to Diana as he helps her discover why an even older lost, enchanted manuscript summons itself before Diana. This manuscript is the key to answering one of the most profound questions in the magical world, and Matthew has what it takes to support Diana through it all.

When this manuscript appears for Diana at the University of Oxford library, Sarah and Diana are across the pond in America, only adding to Sarah’s concern. But whereas Sarah may be a worrywart and strongly against the relationship, Emily brings balance to the force by being the nurturer and voice of reason.

“She has a heart of gold,” Pettiford says of Emily. “She wants everyone to get along. Emily, being a witch, she knows that there’s good in everyone. That’s what I try to do. That heart is very visible. Everyone is welcome, and everyone has a place.”

At the same time, while they care for Diana, Emily and Sarah still have their own relationship to foster. Interestingly enough, as a lesbian couple with a woman of color, the magical beings world has no disrespect for queer or interracial relationships. Thus, you see that well-established love Emily and Sarah have for one another play out on screen without outside resistance.

“There’s so much love for Sarah,” Pettiford says about Emily’s feelings for her partner. “Even though Sarah might have a little wariness as far as the creatures are concern… there’s a heart; there’s a love; there’s an integrity and a strength that she loves about Sarah and protecting one’s own.”

Pettiford mentions that Emily was once good friends with Diana’s mother, Rebecca, before she died, thus making her love for Diana extra special. But as the series goes on, you find that something is not quite right with what Emily knows of Diana’s mother — especially regarding the mysteries of her parent’s murder.

“Ironically, [Emily] is the one that’s held secrets even from Sarah about what was going on with Diana’s parents, and also what was going on with Diana and actually how much magic she really possesses,” Kingston reveals. “And so Em’s been holding onto these secrets for all these years and that, I think, plays into their relationship because ultimately, Em has been keeping this secret from her partner. That definitely kind of changes the dynamic of the relationship, even though it might be one that Sarah is not even aware of until that secret is revealed.”

Sadly, those secrets will just have to remain secrets until you see the entire series. But for those familiar with the novels, you’ll enjoy how the series unfolds and stays true to the events of the novels as the series progresses.

Both Kingston and Pettiford praised the genius of Harkness’ trilogy, citing the world she built and her dedication to building it as one of the greatest factors of its success.

“The novels are sort of rooted in scientific facts, you know. History, but fiction as well,” Kingston says. “That sort of excited me actually, because I thought, ‘Okay, here is somebody who actually really knows the background of alchemy’. So I think that, more than anything, made me want to be involved.”

For Pettiford, who’s a fan of fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings, she expresses: “I was so thrilled that they were turning this into a series… It’s smart, and it’s adult, and it’s courageous.” For her, A Discovery of Witches is Harkness’ baby, and Pettiford feels like the cast and her characters are her children. So, of course, they are dedicated to getting it right and making sure they can go even deeper with developing these characters on screen.

Behind the scenes and on camera, A Discovery of Witches has a strong female presence — something that the entertainment industry as a whole is pushing for more of. Diversity and inclusivity are words that seem to get thrown around a lot these days, but with this show, it’s refreshing to see powerful women both on and off screen making it all possible.

“It’s a long time coming,” Kingston says on the female presence in the series. “I mean, to be perfectly honest, it’s not something that we were all very aware of at the time. Although having said that, the writers are female, our producer Jane [Tranter] is female. We had two female directors, which was fantastic. So, I mean, it just felt very even.”

“I am so proud of the direction that we’re going,” Pettiford says, who cheered on the progress of her fellow female cast and crew members. “I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. What a good time to be in, to see these things happening.”

Just as the entertainment industry is taking steps towards inclusivity, the same thing is unfolding in A Discovery of Witches’ world. Of course, this series focuses much more on the integration of magical species, but in an allegorical sort of way, it’s still a reflection of our own society — one that’s learning to grow and accept one another for our differences, embracing integration, not separation.

In reflecting on season 2, Kingston revealed what she’d like to see most when it comes to the magical beings in the word, saying: “Hopefully the journey is about understanding that you can cross those boundaries and to discover why those boundaries effect us in the first place.”

A Discovery of Witches will make its U.S. premiere on April 7. You can catch it on both AMC and BBC America at 9 p.m. EST.  AMC Premiere subscribers can stream the full series now.