SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers for “What Rough Beast,” the Season 1 finale of “Mayfair Witches,” now streaming on AMC+.
In the season premiere of AMC’s “Mayfair Witches,” Rowan Fielding (Alexandra Daddario) was a San Francisco-dwelling neurosurgeon too preoccupied with her own self-destructive tendencies to care about a world of magic.
By Sunday’s season finale, she is a powerful witch, an ascending family matriarch and –– in the biggest turn of events –– a new mother to a baby she conceived days prior that is now possessed by her demonic lover.
“Mayfair Witches” is the second series in AMC’s Immortal Universe, an interconnected world of stories conjured from the acquired works of Anne Rice. It follows last fall’s “Interview With the Vampire,” which executive producer Mark Johnson tells Variety will begin shooting its second season in April in Europe.
The two series won’t be alone in the universe for long.
“Anne Rice has given us this plethora of characters and situations and worlds, so I don’t see any end to what we can explore right now,” Johnson says.
“Mayfair Witches” spent its first season giving Rowan a crash-course in her family lineage, a birthright she learns comes with its own seductive leech of a demon named Lasher (Jack Huston). As the world’s worst family heirloom, Lasher is part of a centuries-old prophecy that foretells how, as the 13th Mayfair designee, Rowan will serve as the gateway for Lasher to cross over into the real world.
In the finale, that gateway is the baby she conceived with Cip (Tongayi Chirisa), a pregnancy put into hyperdrive when Lasher seduces Rowan into embracing her powers and consummating their dark bond. Soon, Rowan is stranded in a liminal space, and left to wander through the generations of trauma on her family tree until she reaches the modern day where the first Mayfair witch helps her give birth about eight and a half months early.
Rowan initially rejects her offspring/lover, but ultimately protects him from Cortland (Harry Hamlin), who was revealed to be her father through rape; and Cip, who planned to take the baby to his bosses at the nefarious Talamasca agency –– at least that’s what he told them. (Yes, this is all as bonkers and campy as it sounds.)
With the prophecy fulfilled, Rowan will step defiantly into a new realm of power in Season 2, which has already been ordered by AMC.
As the Immortal Universe begins to take shape, Johnson, along with “Mayfair Witches” co-creators Esta Spalding and Michelle Ashford, spoke with Variety about Rowan’s grasp on motherhood, whether the now-fulfilled prophecy will require recasting Lasher and what it all means for the Immortal Universe.
Leave it to Anne Rice to give you the story of a demon inhabiting the unborn fetus of his witch lover. Is it safe to say Lasher was plotting this the whole season?
Esta Spalding: The way we have built the structure of the story, Lasher is orchestrating all of this, including trapping Rowan and Cip in that house together in Episode 5 so she can get pregnant. We are just going from the book, which has this wild, wild ending and we wanted to honor that. So here we are!
Rowan goes on quite the journey this season. You had Anne Rice’s book as your guiding light, but where did you want to leave Rowan in your finale?
Spalding: To me, it was always about fulfilling what was set out for us in the book. From the beginning, Rowan says, “If I had power, I would use it differently.” This moment at the end of this season, it felt super important for her to choose to take that power. Even though this whole prophecy has been fulfilled and Lasher has been born, there is the option where she can let it go to Cortland, but she doesn’t. She chooses the power, and so the promise of Season 2 is to see if she will do what she said. Does she use this power well and wisely, or does she make terrible choices?
Michelle Ashford: Or does she do both? This is a very, very interesting topic right now. If you have seen “Tár,” this is very much about the idea of what women do when they get huge amounts of power. It is out there in the zeitgeist, this notion of whether power is essentially corrupting no matter your gender. Or do women bring something different to being in charge? It is a very fun, deep topic.
Rowan’s pregnancy progresses over a matter of hours, as it does in the books. Her child, now possessed by Lasher, grows up just as fast in the books. Does that mean by the time we reunite with Rowan in Season 2, she will have an adult child?
Spalding: That’s a great question. Again, we want to honor the books, but there is a lot of drama in the process so I think it will be a balancing act. And yes, I am going to be that vague about it!
This is a very faithful adaptation of Anne Rice’s books. Will you get to a point where you have the opportunity to diverge from the material, and maybe start to pull in elements from her other books that AMC has acquired?
Spalding: There is so much richness in the books that we are just trying to mine what we can, which doesn’t mean there won’t be places of overlap because she had places where worlds and characters overlapped. But so far, it has been about taking the riches of the first book and navigating those.
Ashford: So much gets left on the table already, because the first book is over a thousand pages. It is hard, because there is a very serious fanbase out there, and when things get left behind, it can be upsetting to people. But it was about taking the best and the most dramatically coherent pieces of it and pulling it together.
You leave Cip in a tough spot. He seems to be comforting Rowan in the final moments, but he is also very clearly trying to get his hands on their child, which he told the Talamsca he would do.
Spalding: It is an interesting arc, because in trying to help her learn to control her power, he is essentially becoming someone who is trying to control her. It is very interesting to us that he could be a true believer that what he was doing was right, that her thoughts were being taken over by this creature, and he needs to get it away from her. But he’s also behaving just like Carlotta [Beth Grant] did in the pilot, who also believed everything she was doing was right.
Thank you for mentioning Calotta and beloved character Beth Grant, who sadly did not survive this season, but is always a delight to have around.
Spalding: Hey, she died in that house, and people who die in that house tend to come back! You never know.
Rowan quite literally walks through the generations of her family in this episode. Will that make it easier for her to access this generational knowledge of the Mayfairs? It was very clever how you never showed any of their faces in case you want to cast the roles of her ancestors in the future.
Ashford: You’re a very good watcher!
Spalding: When Michelle and I were given this thousand-page book by Mark, there is this whole section of hundreds of pages in the middle that is the history of the Mayfairs. We couldn’t do it all. But we wanted to do justice to at least one other generation, which is the Suzanne story that threads through the season. But it felt like we needed to find a way to hint at that entire ancestry. One thing that happened during the pilot was that our director, Mike Uppendahl, thought it would be really interesting for Rowan to go into these moments of killing through some kind of ancestral memory. So we talked about this tunnel, we even called it the “Tunnel of Power,” that she would see before she ended up in someone’s brain. That became a place for the knowledge of her ancestors, and we realized she could literally go into that in her head in the finale, and that’s where she and Lasher meet.
Should audiences read Cortland being turned to stone by Rowan as the end of the father she never knew? Or is his newly acquired immortality just keeping him preserved for an inevitable return?
Spalding: I can’t imagine ever wanting to lose Harry Hamlin! That said, I promise you we don’t know anything definite about the second season yet. But he sure is fun to watch, so I’m glad we didn’t outright kill him.
What do you think Rowan will be like as a mother, even if her child is destined to become an instant adult? For those who have read the books, they know there are some very disturbing things ahead between Rowan and her child.
Ashford: That is also a topic that is very front and center lately — the honest and complicated feelings that come with motherhood. It can make for some uncomfortable feelings, like you saw in the movie “The Lost Daughter.” But people find it very refreshing when you are really honest about how complicated the process and experience of motherhood is. We have a protagonist that is a complicated, smart, ambitious woman, and what will that mean when you have an infant and a child as difficult as hers?
Spalding: It is so fun to play with the genre of horror as well. To take the idea of what it is to be a mother, where there will definitely be wonderful and beautiful things. But to make this child a demon allows us to take on motherhood as a really extraordinary metaphor. And as with Anne Rice’s book, that motherhood phase doesn’t last very long for Rowan.
Since the show launched, AMC has started to go through a period of change with the cancellations of projects and a reorganization of its programming priorities. Have you had conversations with the network about where the Immortal Universe will fit in? Have they given you assurances that, even in the face of changes, this show and its sibling shows have a place at AMC?
Mark Johnson: Absolutely. I can’t speak for AMC, but I think this is at the top of their list of priorities in terms of shows they want to embrace and keep expanding. We will soon start shooting the second season of “Interview With the Vampire,” and Esta and Michelle are in the middle of putting together the second season of “Mayfair Witches.” And I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a third or even a fourth show emerge pretty quickly. AMC has been great, and they have made it clear to us the Anne Rice universe is a top priority.
For fans of these books and now the shows, where are you drawing inspiration from for possible spinoffs? The two shows so far have largely followed the frameworks of their respective book series.
Johnson: There are characters within these two series of books that lend themselves to their own shows, and there are other books that are completely separate. For instance, the Talamasca itself could open up a whole new world we might want to explore. Anne Rice has given us this plethora of characters and situations and worlds, so I don’t see any end to what we can explore right now.
The Talamasca does serve as a potential bridge between these two shows. Esta and Michelle, are you taking that into consideration when you build Season 2 of “Mayfair Witches?”
Spalding: The Talamasca has an enormous story in the second book, “Lasher,” and also the third book. So the role of the organization in our show will expand a bit. And then there will be overlaps with the worlds Mark and others are building.
Are you starting to see the possible connective tissue between these two shows more clearly now that their foundational seasons are complete?
Johnson: I don’t know if I can even tease those ties, but I can certainly start a tease by saying that there are certain aspects of both worlds that can crossover over, and even characters we associate with one world could all of a sudden appear in another.
You have said AMC was very adamant each show in the Immortal Universe has its own visual style and tone. Do the threads running between these shows allow you to borrow some of these stylistic choices and tones, or even story elements from the other books?
Spalding: I think it is less about pulling stories from the books, and more thinking about the worlds. Both first seasons of “Interview With the Vampire” and “Mayfair Witches” are set in New Orleans, so those worlds coexist. They didn’t coexist in the same time period, but perhaps some of the world that was there during “Interview” is still flourishing. To imagine the people in the streets and to imagine a little more overlap in the city is one way we are thinking about it.
“Interview With the Vampire” had an off-handed comment about the Mayfairs down the street. Did you get to reciprocate that acknowledgement in your first season that fans might have missed?
Spalding: There is a clerk at the hotel in the early episodes that is played by the same actor that was in “Interview.” We made up a whole story of how that could possibly be. So there is a connection via this wonderful actor who we cast. For us, it was this exercise in imagining a way these worlds might overlap through this one character, and it turns out we could.
Johnson: That is where New Orleans really comes to bear. In many ways, this is the least typical American city there is. It sort of exists in its own world, and the strangeness and Otherness of New Orleans lends itself to have these characters that wander in and out of where they should be.
Ashford: The city has that incredibly porous feeling in terms of time. You absolutely believe that place is haunted for real! So the notion people are drifting in and out of time in that city seems very believable.
Spalding: And that’s where we went with this one scene in this episode. But we didn’t have any connection as overt as the wonderful line in “Interview.”
What is the latest on “Interview With the Vampire’s” second season?
Johnson: We are ramping up now. We start shooting in April, and the bulk of it takes place in Paris. I was about to say I was going to miss New Orleans, but thank god Esta and Michelle will be taking me back there with “Mayfair Witches.”
For Esta and Michelle, where are you at with Season 2?
Spalding: It is about fully immersing in that second book and drawing out the richness. It is about the aftermath of what you see in our finale. There are new characters and it has been about figuring out who they are and soaking it all up. We will have eight episodes again, so it is about fitting it all into those episodes.
One final question: you have a very unique opportunity here with a reborn Lasher. Do you plan to carry over Jack Huston in the role or cast a new actor to play Rowan’s son and Lasher’s vessel?
Spalding: Mark, want to take that?
Johnson: I’m not going to even touch that one!
This interview has been edited and condensed. The original version of this post misspelled Esta Spalding’s last name.