Why did you want to be a part of this project?

I met producer Jane Tranter, who is a force of nature. I’ve never [known] anyone to do a better take on a book that is 750 pages in absolute detail. By the end of that meeting I wanted to be a part of it because it sounded like an incredible world to inhabit. I’d never played a vampire before and there’s a kind of a dark mythology to it. The whole point of A Discovery Of Witches was that it was going to turn that on its head; it’s more about my character’s involvement with this human woman. So it has a love story and notions about equality. It has a lot to say about the politics of our time.

Matthew Clairmont is a professor of biochemistry and an expert in genealogy. At the start, he is searching for the ancient manuscript, Ashmole 782. It talks about how vampires, daemons and witches came to be, and he’s been looking for it for hundreds of years. Matthew is so many different things: a chemist, a poet and he is also lethal. He is multi-faceted, but he is without love. He doesn’t have all the answers yet and he is an intriguing figure – that’s what attracted me to him. He’s mysterious and charming but at the same time he’s deadly. It’s a lot to play.

Can you tell us more about that manuscript?

There is a board, effectively, which looks after the regulations. There’s three of each of the creatures – daemons, witches and vampires – on this thing called The Congregation, and there’s sets of rules to keep them separate. So you can’t have interrelationships but all of their powers are dwindling; vampires are failing to sire. So Matthew wants to find the Book of Life in which there’s the secrets of why they are how they are and how they were created, and he wants them all to be able to live peacefully. That’s his main thrust in the story. But unfortunately he falls for somebody he’s not allowed to be with.

When he first meets her his only consideration is that he wants to find the Book of Life. Then, obviously, his opinion of witches is not great because of the wars that have been fought over many centuries. So he first finds her quite intriguing. I think given the chance he would like to eat her because they are obsessed with witch blood, as witch blood sings to them. That’s how he talks about it: “I can hear your witch’s blood singing in your veins”. He has been training himself not to fall in love again, but there is just something about her.

These are characters that are beloved by fans. Were you aware of that beforehand?

I like the book. I actually don’t read that many books anymore because you’re always piling through scripts or, you know, I’ve got three kids! But there’s a lot of fantasy books out there and I don’t know what my opinions of them had been, but it was really pleasantly surprising. I thought the really strong element of the book was the love story and so it was pleasing to have Teresa to go on the journey with.

When I did think about who could be a vampire like Matthew Clairmont, I was like ‘Roger Federer’! Roger Federer, to me, sort of looks like a vampire in a weird way. I’m meant to be the most formidable assassin of all time, from the vampire world, and I thought he was quite a good person to base the performance on, physically, as he’s an assassin on the court.

I think it reminds you of your childhood a bit, books about magic and stuff. It seemed so hugely important when you are developing your own imagination when you’re a kid – and we’re coming off the back of lots of Harry Potter, which was one of the first books to appeal, massively, to children and to adults. Although this really isn’t for children, although I think they’ve tamed it down a little bit for a younger audience too, which is great.

When people think of vampires and witches they think of Hammer Horror and Twilight. What’s different about this series?

There have been many degrees of how people wanted to portray this extraordinary figure. Some of it is like Gary Oldman; the Count Dracula thing, which is great, but that is very Machiavellian and seems a lot darker. What I think is great about Deborah Harkness’s work is that it takes the nuances of that to a greater degree and sees them living in a modern society.

  • A Discovery of Witches will be available on Sky One and streaming service NOW TV from Friday, September 14.

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