Today, fans in the US can finally begin streaming the first episode of the third and final season of the hit fantasy drama series A Discovery of Witches. Nerds & Beyond had a chance to chat with Alex Kingston, who portrays the witch Sarah Bishop, about season 3 and her experiences working on the show.
Based on the All Souls trilogy by author Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches follows the story of a reluctant witch named Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) and a charming vampire named Matthew de Clermont (Matthew Goode). After giving in to the whims of their forbidden romance, the two find themselves wrapped up in a dangerous game as the world of creatures searches fervently for a long-lost bewitched manuscript.
Sarah is Diana’s aunt and the sister of the late Rebecca Bishop. Following the death of her beloved partner, Emily Mather, in the season 2 finale, season 3 will present new challenges and an enormous amount of grief for Kingston’s character.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Nerds and Beyond: Life has changed dramatically for your character, Sarah, at the beginning of season 3. You spent the first two seasons with Valarie Pettiford as a constant scene partner, but now Emily’s gone. What was it like working on season 3 with this new dynamic for your character and without Valarie?
Alex Kingston: It was very hard to film without Valarie. Particularly because we didn’t know until a few days before shooting began that Valarie was not going to be there. We finished season 2 under the impression that, in some way, the character of Em would survive or there would be a coma for a long time. We hadn’t been told definitively that she was dead. It literally was a few days before that we found out. It was, for me, a massive shock. I was really looking forward to having another season with Valarie, because we got on so well. We really had become such good friends. So I was super excited to see her again, particularly having been in lockdown with a pandemic. And, you know, she was allowed to come to London to film. It was so exciting, and then we were told she’s dead. The shock of not having Valarie was was, I would say, similar to the shock that Sarah experiences when she realizes that Em isn’t going to make it, and she dies.
It was very, very, very hard for me to film through the entire [season], actually. Whenever Em was mentioned, or there was something to do with Em, I would just cry. We were sort of like halfway through the season, and I thought I was kind of over it. And then, suddenly her name came up out of the blue, and hearing somebody say her name, I just completely lost it. I was a mess. So it was hard. It was really hard. But in the funny sort of way, for me, the season ends when things sort of resolve themselves. In a sense, I’d had that resolution as well for myself, because we just had to get on, and I had to get on without her. It was a different dynamic for sure. Without Em being there, it allowed for Sarah to learn to understand Diana and to connect with her in a way that she didn’t necessarily need to before, because Em did that. Sarah loves Diana, Em was the one who was the empathetic outwardly, where Sarah found it more difficult to be open emotionally. So that was the journey that Sarah then, in a sense, found herself on.
Nerds and Beyond: I was just speaking about the same thing with Teresa Palmer, because we had discussed how losing Emily has changed the dynamic between Diana and Sarah. I’m very interested to watch that play out. I think that Sarah and Emily were such a great pair, because they both had their own strengths. They were both different, but they worked so well together. It was great watching them on screen, so it’s going to be very interesting to see how Diana and Sarah now find their way back to each other without Em as that middle person.
Kingston: Yeah. And I kept thinking, Oh, come on, Em could be a ghost! Spirit! Please. The funny thing is, her loss is very much present in a sense. Her spirit and the lack of her actually physically being there, I think, is almost like a character in itself for the whole show. She’s gone, but she’s not forgotten. Her “being” is still very much present.
Nerds and Beyond: What do you admire most about Sarah as a character?
Kingston: I admire the fact that, given that she’s someone who — I mean, if you’re going to use the term, you could say she starts out as someone who’s kind of racist. But she is open enough as a person, or she’s willing as a person, to listen and accept that she is wrong. And is wrong about the ideas she had in the past about certain creatures. I think that’s one of the things that drew me to wanting to partake in the series. Because I felt initially, oh my gosh, this is a genre that has played out so many times, you really need another show with vampires?
But this aspect of them, their fear of each other, their suspicion of those particular creature groups, their culture, as it were, I thought that is a parallel to the world that we’re living in. It’s so interesting, because in so many ways, they’re super inclusive, like there is total gender fluidity. They don’t even notice the things that, in a sense, we struggle with at the moment as humans on this planet. But yet they have their other forms of, if you’re going to use the word, racism. And that’s something that I feel that, Sarah, that’s a separate journey for her — the understanding that what she thought in the past was actually wrong, and she reassesses how she views people and reacts to them. I think that that, for me, is one of the greatest journeys. She learns compassion along the way.
Nerds and Beyond: Looking back on the first two seasons, since I know you won’t want to spoil season 3 yet, what’s the scene that stands out to you that’s one of your favorites?
Kingston: I’m going to tell you something about season 3, because it’s not going to give away any spoilers. It doesn’t relate to the scene itself or the storyline. As you’ve seen, there’s been a lot of filming in Oxford. And I hadn’t been, because Sarah had been in the States. I have rarely been to Oxford. So for me, just going to that city was extraordinary. But we then had the incredible good fortune of not only being allowed to film in the Bodleian Library, but within the Bodleian Library (which is this ancient gorgeous library in Oxford), there is a library called the Duke Humphrey. It’s not open to the public, you have to have a special dispensation to go there. It has the most rare and ancient books.
To actually be able to go into that library and just sort of be in this incredibly ancient world … I know that Teresa had filmed there before, but I hadn’t been there. So for me, that was super, super special. I mean, I don’t know whether I’ll ever be allowed to go in there again. I’m holding that memory. And also in season 2, I mean, I love filming abroad. I love filming on location. So to go to Italy and film there and be in this fabulous castle, those are the things that I love.
Nerds and Beyond: Yeah, I can understand that. The sets are beautiful. Just watching the show, even if you weren’t paying attention to the plot, just seeing the visuals … it’s amazing.
Kingston: Absolutely amazing. We were so lucky to have the design team that we did. It helps the acting, if you’re in something that feels so real. Whether you’re filming a prison show or a detective show or hospital show, if you’re in a truly authentic set, it just makes your job so much easier.
Nerds and Beyond: Fans are really excited for season 3, but it’s bittersweet because it’s the final season. So how would you sum up your experience working on the show? What’s a takeaway that you have?
Kingston: I joined an amazing family. It’s those relationships where you may not see each other for a while, but then the minute you see each other again, it’s as though time stopped, and you just continue from where you left off. I’d say that it was an amazing privilege to be allowed to be part of that journey.
The first episode of season 3 of A Discovery of Witches is now streaming on AMC+, Sundance Now, and Shudder. Follow along with all of our coverage on the series, including episodic recaps and more!
Make sure to check out our interviews with Teresa Palmer (Diana Bishop) and Steven Cree (Gallowglass) as well!