The first thing that pops up in a Google search of actress Teresa Palmer are the words “vagina cake.”
Her acting credits quickly follow. She’s starred in a handful of dramas, like Nicholas Sparks’ The Choice and Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, and she’s about to carry her first television series, a fantasy-romance on Sundance Now and Shudder called A Discovery of Witches.
It’s that last acting credit, a show based on a best-selling book series by author Deborah Harkness, that seems poised to thrust the laid-back Aussie into the spotlight. Palmer plays Diana Bishop in the series, which dropped across the pond late last year and has already been picked up for two more seasons. Bishop is a witch, albeit a reluctant one, who spends her time studying at Oxford and denying her supernatural heritage. That all changes when a fellow professor, Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode), enters her life and introduces her to the underground world of “creatures,” witches, vampires, and daemons who’ve been existing on the fringes of society and are slowly dying out.
Clairmont’s a 1,500-year-old vampire and the pair quickly become entangled in a forbidden romance and a dangerous hunt for an alchemical manuscript that may hold the key to their species’ survival. So the predictable Twilight comparisons are fair but, according to Palmer, there’s more to the show than bloodlust, witchcraft, and smut.
She shared with Uproxx what that “more” is, but first, back to the “vagina cake.”
When you Google Teresa Palmer, there’s a cake that comes up. It’s on your Instagram feed …
(Laughs) The vagina cake.
That’s the one.
That is hilarious, my girlfriend thought it was so funny to bake a vagina cake for me when she threw me a baby shower. I was waiting for something funny like that because that’s her personality. Yeah, the media picked it up, it was … I remember seeing one of those cakes online and I was like, ‘Whoa that’s so graphic.’ But the cake was delicious.
Well, the good news is this show will probably eclipse the cake soon. It’s a big undertaking for someone just venturing into TV. What part of this story hooked you?
When I read the script, I knew that it was something unique. The characters are very rich and radiant. I just love Diana and I thought, she was hyper-intellectual, but also brave and had wonderful human elements there as well. Then, of course, I met all the creatives and that just solidified the decision for me, because the people in charge had amazing taste and just wonderful passion about the project and its direction.
Well, you’re in good company. Witches are having a moment on TV. Why do you think that particular element of the fantasy genre is playing so well right now?
I think there’s something really enticing about fantasy. Probably because it’s so far away from reality and what people are navigating through, those tragic situations. It’s a form of escapism. It’s mysterious and exciting and you can take it in any direction, really. There are no rules with fantasy and I think that’s very appealing.
Female creatives are running this show which is still a bit of a rarity when it comes to TV. What was it like to have that energy on set?
It was so lovely because we were surrounded by so many females. Our crew, I would say, it was at least 60% female. The creatives and the writers and everyone, there were more females around than males and in the last few years, I feel like I’m seeing that more and more on film sets. It’s great. We really stuck together, and we told this woman’s story in the best way we could and made sure that she had a lot of substance and things to say. And that was important for us to surround ourselves with females. Two of our three directors were female. And I loved it that way. I hear that they plan on continuing that for the next few seasons as well. It’s just nice to have that feminine energy around.
The boys aren’t bad either. Matthew Goode plays your love interest on the show. So much of the action hinges on that relationship so how did you go about building that chemistry off-screen?
We had to have people remind us that we’re working and that we had to get some stuff done. We’re always giggling, the two of us. He’s just so funny, he really is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life. Our sense of humor is very similar, so we would muck about constantly and giggle our way through scenes. There was a scene where we were laughing so much, I really don’t think we got the scene. We both kept cracking up laughing and we ended up running out of time. I was like, ‘Oh my God, we didn’t get the scene. And then I saw it and somehow, they edited it together and it’s a little bit more playful than how I envisioned it, but it’s just like, that’s the reality of working with Matthew Goode.
I heard he’d be enjoying a pint at the pub or fishing on the river while you were out doing hours of rowing practice for a few scenes.
I had to do so much preparation for the role, and he just kind of is Matthew, so he gets to just roll up doing whatever he’s been doing, perform, and it’s just like brilliant. Doesn’t even have to do any research. So yeah, he really does embody that character, it is wonderful. It’s very good casting.
This is obviously a show about romance, but it’s a very restrained kind of romance. Even the “love scenes” have an intentional controlled element to them. Were there discussions on how to balance out these two characters, how to portray them as equals in this relationship?
We’re constantly talking about the dynamic between the two of them and what it must feel like for them to finally be intimate together. It was a very sensual act for them because they do have these heightened senses. So, we wanted to make sure that the smallest thing, like a touch up his arm or the way held me, that was celebrated as much as when we kissed or when they were together in bed. It’s so old school and beautiful. It was nice to tap back into that old school idea of what romance is and falling in love and just like the sensuality behind touch. That was important to us to capture on screen.
There’s a bit of a stigma around the fantasy-romance genre. For whatever reason, people seem to snub their noses at it a bit. With this show though, there’s so much world-building and action happening away from the story of Diana and Matthew, do you think the series might push back on that a bit? Maybe it’ll get more people interested in genre TV?
Look, I wasn’t really a fan of fantasy romance prior to reading this script. But it was so sophisticated, and it was saying so much that it really, it changed my opinion on fantasy romance. And it’s done so brilliantly, and I love the setting and I really believe that world. Sometimes you forget you’re even watching a show about fantasy. It feels like it is just an epic journey. I’m watching these people navigate through things that people must face in life. Like judgments and making decisions that are scary and taking risks. It’s as much a drama piece and an action piece as it is a fantasy romance. So, I think there are so many different elements involved in the show, it just makes it even more heightened and then there’s something about it that people are just connecting with on a soulful level, and that’s been really brilliant to observe and to hear the conversations going on between people who have felt really connected to the material. It’s exciting to be a part of something that really moves people in the way that it does.