How Matthew Goode and negronis led to James Purefoy's casting on A Discovery of Witches
James Purefoy and Matthew Goode have been friends and colleagues for years, but it was a round of negronis that led (in part) to Purefoy's casting as Goode's vampiric father on A Discovery of Witches.
The series, which returns to Sundance Now, Shudder, and AMC+ on Jan. 9 for a second season, follows vampire Matthew (Matthew Goode) and witch Diana (Teresa Palmer) as they embark on a forbidden romance and become embroiled in a mystery about the origin of magical creatures. Season 2 finds them traveling to 16th-century England in pursuit of the enigmatic Book of Life, as well as searching for a witch to help Diana master her powers.
Their journey brings them into the path of Philippe de Clermont (Purefoy), Matthew's intimidating vampire father. Those that are fans of Purefoy or Goode might know they've previously worked together on both History miniseries Roots and travel series The Wine Show. But for Purefoy, it's always been a case of one Goode gig leading to another.
"Matthew's done my career no end of good, actually," Purefoy tells EW. "We worked together first on Roots where we played brothers. We spent a lot of time walking around, going from bar to bar in New Orleans because we had a certain amount of time off on that show. He was looking at rushes for a show he had just done, which he was producing, which was The Wine Show that he'd done with our mutual friend Matthew Rhys."
Purefoy admits he was envious of the great gig Rhys and Goode shared. But a year later, when Rhys was unavailable for a second season due to his shooting schedule on The Post, Goode called Purefoy to ask him to step in. That, in turn, led to their new relationship as father and son on A Discovery of Witches.
"We [were] on location on our second season in Portugal, and Matthew got a text message from [A Discovery of Witches executive producer] Jane Tranter with three possibilities of actors they were considering to play Philippe," he recalls. "I was literally standing next to him at the bar, and he barked out loud with a laugh. He goes, 'Take a look at this.' Here was my name and two of my bete noirs, my contemporaries who I'm often up against for parts."
From there, the two friends conspired to get Purefoy the gig. "We had one or two negronis, [and] we concocted a text back that said, 'Their career was finished and had been; they'd been around the block too many times. But James Purefoy, what a wonderful choice that would be,'" he laughs. "It was a set-up really. I'm hoping they're happy with what I did. But we concocted that at a bar in Portugal one night."
Purefoy admits playing Goode's father was terrible for his vanity, but ultimately, their characters are both centuries old, so that softened the blow. Mostly, performing with Goode made him up his game. "Matthew is a mercurial and dangerous presence in a scene," he reflects. "He's really interesting, and he'll go places that you don't expect him to go. It's like playing tennis with somebody. If you play tennis with somebody worse than you, you just get worse. If you play tennis with somebody who is good as you or preferably better than you, then you get better and Matthew is one of them. He makes you better."
Still, it was also an unexpected challenge, given their camaraderie. "There were moments where he was just literally laughing in my face on the other side of the camera," Purefoy adds. "Because something I said or something I'd done made him laugh. He's a terrible giggler. Terrible. Up there with the greatest gigglers of all...The biggest challenge [of the season] was trying to get through a scene with Matthew Goode without laughing."
Philippe is a beloved character in the A Discovery of Witches canon, and Purefoy didn't take that lightly. He read all of the novels and watched season 1 before even signing on to the project, to ensure he felt he could do Philippe justice. But in the end, his greatest inspiration came from novelist (and executive producer) Deborah Harkness' words.
"All you have to do is read her description of him and just go off that," he says. "Debs was around a lot, but she was very diplomatic on set and didn't want to intervene...But I didn't need anything else. It's all there in her books. It's all there in the text. I just wanted to honor what she'd written and try not to upset too many of the fans."
A big part of the key to Philippe was acknowledging and living in his power as a vampire. "The knowledge of a super power that somebody has, even if you don't even see it — we don't really display it in what we seem of him in any way at all — [but] the knowledge that you have a superpower makes you megalomaniacal, in the sense that you can do anything and you can know you can do anything," he reflects. "There is something rather awesome in the true sense of the word, a sense of awe about playing somebody who has that level of physical prowess and power. Even if you don't see it, knowing you embody that is a very powerful feeling."
Even with his fond reminisces of his time acting opposite Goode and his love for the role, Purefoy does have one regret from the season. "Sadly, I didn't get to sink my teeth into anybody's throat," he opines. "I did figure if I was playing a vampire, I might just get the odd chance to do that."
But sometimes even the greatest jobs have aspects that suck.
A Discovery of Witches season 2 premieres on Sundance Now, Shudder and AMC+ on Saturday.
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