Lucy Lawless says the magic of 'Salem' is nothing like 'Harry Potter'
When Salem returns for its second season, Lucy Lawless joins the cast as Countess Marburg—the new big bad witch in town, who sets her sights on Mary. As the only remaining Germanic witch, the Countess brings her fair share of power to the show, and let’s just say her first episode will be one worth remembering.
We chatted with Lawless about her career, and why this character is one of her favorites:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What attracted you to this project?
LUCY LAWLESS: Well, I saw the show, and I thought it was so beautifully acted and realized. And when they described the role to me I thought, “that sounds like a great deal of fun,” because I was raised on horror stories. My own life was lovely, but vampire stories were par for the course in my home, so I grew up watching all the horror movies late on Friday night. So it felt like kind of a homecoming doing horror, being scary. I seem to be good at being bad. [Laughs] It’s working.
How was the Countess described to you? And how do you describe her to others?
What was described to me [is that] the Countess is the oldest of the Germanic witches, and she’s the last remaining one. And when she stumbles across Mary Sibley, she’s absolutely entranced. Mary’s the most interesting person she’s come across in centuries, and she wants what Mary has. So look out, Mary. And how do I describe her? I describe her as the soul of violence. She’s very charming and very funny and very witty, so you don’t really see it coming.
What can you say about what might go down when she gets to Salem?
I think she’s going to find a way to make herself as attractive to the community as possible, and unseat Mary Sibley from the throne as the most powerful witch. She, however, has an unfortunate habit, which means that young people go missing every now and again.
In the first episode, we already get to see a bit of her violent side. Over the course of your career, you’ve gotten to kill many people many different ways. Do you have a favorite?
I can tell you my least favorite way to die is crucifixion. I don’t care whether it’s me or somebody else, I’m not a fan of that. It’s always cold, takes a long time to film, it’s horrible—painful and drawn-out. [As far as killing], the best is yet to come, I’m afraid. These writers of Salem are such lovely people, you can’t believe that they can come up with such demonic ways of dispatching people. However, the more demented you think an idea is, the more likely it is to be somewhere in the annals of history or to come from accounts of people back in the 1800s or the 1600s or whenever. They’ve researched things quite thoroughly. The most gruesome things often have a basis in fact. [My favorite killing] involves a faucet. It’s murder by faucet, really.
How much of Salem have you filmed at this point?
A lot. We’re doing episode 8 at the moment, but it’s quite a significant role throughout the season.
What’s the most challenging aspect of this character?
None. I just love it. When I put on the garb, I’m the Countess. Anytime the camera’s rolling, it’s like she consumes me. It’s the most thrilling ride. I don’t know if it’s just because of where I’m at in my career at the moment or my craft, but I just fully go there.
Because of the magical component, does this feel like less of an action-oriented role for you? Or more?
It’s all natural magic. Nobody’s throwing lightning bolts. She’s a psychological murderer as well as a practical murderer, so the joy of the character is in brinksmanship. Murder in the parlor is what intrigues me, and women. Women fighting to the death in this very elevated way. It’s not magic of the Harry Potter variety. Nothing cute going on.
More generally, what you do you look for in a role? What catches your eye?
Well, when I first came to talk to them about it and we knew that she was the biggest, baddest bitch in the world, I requested—and was really glad to see that it developed—that she also be a very constructive force. Because those people are the most terrifying of all—the psychopath that runs the corporation that is going to take all your houses, and they’re so lovely and charming. Or the mafioso who’s such a great Robin Hood man of the people, but is capable of incredible brutality. So you want to have characters that have that kind of potential for great goodness and great weakness or, in this case, evil.
Is there anything you try to stay away from when looking for a role?
I don’t like to play a character whose job description is “the wife.”
I don’t think I want to live that job description either.
Yeah. [Laughs] Well, I do on occasion but I don’t want it to be my job description. I don’t want to play a character that’s beholden to or an adjunct to a man.
And the Countess certainly isn’t that.
I love this character. This is one of my favorite characters because she’s so darn funny. She’s terrifying and she’s bloody funny. The season is so hot. The writing is so strong. I’m really psyched to be part of it.
Salem season 2 premieres Sunday, April 5 at 10 p.m. on WGN America.