Interview: Amy De Bhrún, Hazel Doupe & Stephanie Lev-John Talk Sanctuary: A Witch's Tale

Sanctuary: A Witchs TaleThe seven-part drama series Sanctuary: A Witch’s Tale, which was adapted from the novel by V.V. James, premieres January 4th on AMC+ and Sundance Now. The series is set in a contemporary world where witches are real. In the town of Sanctuary, witches now live happily among the people and have been accepted.

When teen rugby star Dan Whithall (Max Lohan) tragically dies, it causes fear and suspicion among the town of Sarah Fenn (Elaine Cassidy), the town’s witch, and her daughter, Harper (Hazel Doupe). Abigail (Amy De Bhrún), Dan’s mother, who was once Sarah’s closest friend and member of her coven, filled with grief and wanting to avenger her son’s death, seeks justice that sparks a modern-day witch-hunt. DCI Maggie Knight (Stephanie Levi-John), an outsider, is brought in to investigate Dan’s death.

De Bhrún, Doupe, and Lev-John recently spoke with the media about working on the new series.

Read the full transcript below, and tune in starting January 4th, exclusively on AMC+ and Sundance Now.

Would the three of you also like to have the power of witchcraft? And if so, what powers in particular would you like to have if you had the ability?

Sanctuary: A Witchs TaleHAZEL DOUPE:   That's a great question.

STEPHANIE LEV-JOHN:   I just want to have powers of good. I'd heal the things that feel a bit impossible right now. Like I’d do a World Peace magic spell, you know, to be [unintelligible], create a money tree so bills could be paid, you know what I mean, and, people could just live happy, fruitful lives. I'd be a good witch if I could. [laughs]

HAZEL DOUPE:   I'd have the power of being able to, like watch a series from my bed and turn off the light from my bed. I'd also do the healing thing for sure. [laughs]

AMY De BHRÚN:   I'd love to…[have] world peace and healing, and switching off lights and all of that...[Be] invisible, I’d love to be. Yeah, I'd love to sometimes just kind of like - I think that's because I'm nosy, and I'm gonna put that down to the actor in me wanting to explore, the depths of people. I probably would like to be like, “So what's actually going on here now?” [laughs] which is not as honorable as the others. Those two.

QUESTION:   There's a lot to take away from this particular series, is what I've noticed. I'm very curious what each of you hope audiences take away as kind of an overall message from this first season.

STEPHANIE LEV-JOHN:   I would like to think that people would take away the fact that even though there's witchcraft and witches in the story, that it doesn't actually differ too much from what's going on in real life. So, I'm hoping that it'll kind of hold a mirror up to what's happening in society and stuff like that right now, and has been going on, but just told through a different lens. I just really hope that people just enjoy it so much that they just want to watch every single episode and in fact continue to watch it and just allow us to take them on the journey and the story that we are portraying.

HAZEL DOUPE:   Yeah, same here. That's exactly what I had for it as well. It’s sort of like it's a fantastical story told through the lens of a bit more of a reality, and a gritty sort of means. And it would be really nice if the takeaway was sort of that you have your own thoughts, and the way you act on them matters.

AMY De BHRÚN:   Yeah, I agree with all of that. It’s the human experience, and that we're all - essentially, everyone has their struggle and their pain…and what pain and grief and love can do…when people turn against each other. And we're seeing a lot of that kind of, I guess, in the world at the moment. So, I kind of love that too, that it's a reflection really of what's going on at the moment in the world. And if we could just - as hard as it can be sometimes to try and just see the humanity and each other, how much better a world we could make.

SCIFI VISION:   This is actually sort of continuing a little bit in that vein. I feel like a very big part of the show is about herd mentality and bullying and that kind of thing. So, can you sort of talk to that dark part of it and playing that part of it? For all of you.

AMY De BHRÚN:   Yeah, like, I guess, for me, I guess there's a point where grief I feel for Abigail turns quite dark. And it turns - I guess she's at the center of this maybe mob mentality, and so it really exposed to me playing this, how easy it is, how easy it can be, to just sort of go to that kind of dark place, and how…just [having] an openness and being able to have conversations can actually possibly be the thing that would actually solve all of that. It's the sort of people reacting to things or not responding. I feel like we get that on the internet all the time; people just react to stuff, because we sort of live in that space now. So, yeah, I feel like that was something that was really exposed to me and how easy it is to just go on that path and get caught up in it because you're hurt or you're angry.

STEPHANIE LEV-JOHN:   I think it’s interesting to me that everybody, every character in this show, has a side. You know, we've got the perpetrator, we've got the victim, we've got the peacekeepers, we've got the protectors, and it's very interesting to see through the development of the series where each character falls and what category they fall to. Maggie's journey is a bit difficult, because obviously she's trying to find the truth. She's trying to get to the bottom of things, but sometimes you do see her flip sides. You gain a different perspective depending on what information is found and who she speaks to, and then, obviously, checking in with her own consciousness and things like that. So, it's very interesting to see where everybody, every character falls, what category they fall into, in terms of the herd mentality. Yeah.

HAZEL DOUPE:   Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I think Harper definitely becomes a victim in some ways. And she's doing her best to sort of like wriggle it in the net. So, that's her category that she falls into. It's not the place she wants to live in. I think Harper can kind of see everyone's faults and where everyone is grieving. And, again, just as Amy said, how easy it is for everyone who is hurting to sort of turn on one particular type of person, and in this case, witches, in a place where they're supposed to be so incredibly accepting and so innovative and revolutionising the way of the world. Then, it's just quite shocking how quickly things can turn when people are hurt. And as Amy said, it's just a little bit of a reflection of society at the moment, and always through the ages. Yeah, it's a nice way of making that sort of palatable in a fictional way, so that we can sort of digest that in reality.

QUESTION:   Hazel, your character seems so against magic and just against everything she's been raised to believe in. Is that a choice because of our modern society, how we feel about things we don't understand? Or is there something that her family has really surprised her about that has closed her off on this idea?

HAZEL DOUPE:   I think she's sort of shunned the idea of magic for herself, and she's kind of accepting of it in her mother. And we find out that through growing up, she was quite interested in this, but when it came to her determination at thirteen, she decided she was quite scared of it, and this isn't what she wanted. So, yeah, it's a tricky question. I think it comes from a lot of places. It comes from her having this kind of wise, just knowing that people always have good intent that kind of can sometimes turn into something else, especially when grief comes up or when any kind of pain comes up. And I think she's seen probably in the history books of her own kind, like how they've been treated in the past and is just wary of how that might turn in the future.

QUESTION:   They say the road to hell is paved in good intentions, and that is certainly an undercurrent of Sanctuary. So much is about how relationships and especially friendships start to fall apart when the good deeds of the past kind of resurface. I wondered if you three agree with that, and then, how do you see that portrayed in each of your characters?


AMY De BHRÚN:   I can definitely see that with Abigail, and as you get to explore kind of Abigail's relationship with Sarah and her son, I think you see that there's been lots of good intentions there. Really, Sarah has been a good friend to her. And I guess Abigail has been good friends there and all the coven. I think, in the beginning, as well, when you see sort of the grief kind of take hold of Abigail, in the beginning, her intentions are good. There's a pure innocence to it, and then she just wants her son back. That's really at the root of this. But from there, it kind of just takes a very dark hold, and I think, yeah, then it kind of turns bad really. So, yeah, I think the intention in the beginning is like you see that - they're so close, and the beginning of it all was kind of quite pure and beautiful, and the intentions were pure and good. Then, it just gets to a point where people want such different things. It's just the conflict starts happening. Then, it just yeah, goes dark for Abigail, for sure. For sure. [laughs]

STEPHANIE LEV-JOHN:   I think with Maggie one of the relationships that she has in the show that’s that kind of - as soon as you said that I just thought about the relationship between DCI Knight and Ted Bolt (Stephen Lord), that relationship, that almost feeling indebted to him, but also his expectation of her to feel like that, because she had been there six years previously. He believes that she's learned everything she knows from him, but she's kind of surpassed him in his knowledge and in her stature and her position. So, I think very much in the beginning of the series, you do see her almost feeling indebted to him, hearing what he's got to say, really respecting [him], because she has a lot of respect for him and everything that he's done for her and being able to shadow him and all this kind of stuff. But yeah, obviously, the good intentions start to wane, and the relationship becomes strained. Yeah, that's probably one of the most poignant relationships that she has, because it’s almost like a father-daughter, a teacher and a student relationship, that then is kind of broken and pulled and stretched in many ways. So yeah, it reflects very much in that relationship and various other relationships that she makes within the town and with the people that she meets. Yeah.

STEPHANIE LEV-JOHN:   I don't think I have much to add. I think I might spoil things if I add anything.

QUESTION:   As you continue to delve into these characters and explore and kind of peel back the layers, because I think that each character does have multiple layers, is there anything that you've found you were surprised to learn about yourself as actors as you continue on?

STEPHANIE LEV-JOHN:   I would say how much I relate to Maggie and her desire to be the best that she can be and also her battle with self doubt, because [that’s] something that you don't really see when you look at detectives. Detectives are always like surefire, and she's very capable. She's very good at her job, but through internal and external influences, you do get to see that, “Oh, wait, am I good enough?” Or “Should I be here?” and those conversations that she - and I guess everybody has with themselves, especially when I guess you're trying to prove yourself within your career within a particular space. I guess that allowed me to humanize her even more, because it was coming from a place of self and the human experience of trying to be a success, having those silly little voices going on, and also pushback from other various external sources and stuff like that. So yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed - even though it was very confronting, sometimes it held up a mirror to my face, but the fact of the matter is, she surpasses it. She is able to prove to herself and to the world that she is very capable for the reason why she is there. So yeah, I drew a lot of similarities with that with the battle of, I just want to show that I'm good enough, and then the other side of like, am I good enough? [laughs]


AMY De BHRÚN:   …I think what surprised me was the depths, the places that we…can go as people and as humans and as actors. Yeah, for me, what surprised me, just as a personal thing, was just like, the depth of emotion that I have within me, that I may not have experienced yet. That was very exciting to kind of go into and explore but be able to kind of step away from at the end of the day, and that was such a luxury as an actor. It's like, I don't have to go through all this hell that she's going through, but I can dip my toe in and feel that and [have] kind of an empathy and an understanding for people maybe who do bad things. You know, it's like, the hurt people hurt people thing that everyone says. I developed a different kind of empathy for that. It doesn't say that I respect it or condone it or anything like that, but I was kind of thinking, it's all it's just choices and events and things that happen to each and every one of us. And if those things had happened to me, can I honestly say that I wouldn't 100% react in a certain way? You just don't know. So it kind of, I guess, for me, was that kind of the depth and well of human experience and what that can lead to in different circumstances.

HAZEL DOUPE:   What surprised me about myself is that as an actor - okay, so I guess these kind of intertwine in myself as a person and myself as an actor. I found that I'm quite a protective person, sort of in a subtle more relaxed sort of comforting, silent way. And through exploring the same sort of surface level, but through exploring the character of Harper, I found myself far more able to explore her rage and her protectiveness as a woman, and that was able to filter into me exploring my own rage and protectiveness as a woman. And it became so much bigger; it became about something so much bigger. And I related to her in ways that I now see when I look back, and I was like, “Oh, that was actually a very formative thing for me as a person and as an actor,” and it allowed me to sort of come to every new scene that might have had sort of the same underlying current of like, rage or upset with a new tone. That was just so invaluable as an actor to be able to come to a scene that sort of like - it's hard we're sort of hashing the same thing out in her mind, but doing it in a different way. It was very, very valuable. Yeah, I absolutely adore playing her, and I’d play her again in a heartbeat. I hope we have a season two. [laughs]

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