Witches of East End is inspired by Melissa de la Cruz’s best-selling novel that centers on the Beauchamp family, a multi-generational family of witches. Family matriarch Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond) has two daughters, Ingrid (Rachel Boston) and Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum), who accidentally discover their secret past. So, when a series of dark and mysterious events, including the return of Joanna’s mischievous sister Wendy (Mädchen Amick) start to occur, their lives spiral into chaos and the family is forced to reconcile their true calling as witches.
During the Lifetime Television portion of the TCA Press Tour, showrunner Maggie Friedman talked about what makes this show different from other witch-based shows, the similarities and differences to the book that it’s based on, how immortality works on this show, how this show compares to both Practical Magic and Charmed, and she sees this is a family drama, a soap and a dark, scary genre show, all mixed into one, while actress Jenna Dewan-Tatum talked about the challenges of going back to work as a new mom, how much motherhood is affecting her performance, what type of powers her character has, which power she’d like to have in her own life, and the chances her husband might ever make a guest appearance on the show. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
MAGGIE FRIEDMAN: What makes it different, I think, from other witch shows is that it’s very much centered on this family. It’s about mothers and daughters. It’s about sisters. It’s about a multi-generational family. It’s four very distinct women, and how they each deal with their powers and gifts. And I don’t think we’ve seen a show like that. Julia’s character is a mom who has to learn how to let go of her daughters and let them make mistakes and put them in harm’s way, but that’s part of the learning process. And I think it’s a metaphor for motherhood, letting your child out into the world to experience things, even if you want to keep them safe and hold them close. The title is similar to The Witches of Eastwick, but it’s a book that is its own thing. It’s very different from Eastwick, and it has a loyal fan base of people who really love it, on its own terms. We didn’t want to change the title because we want to embrace it for what it is, and it was a fabulous book.
How close are you staying to the book, and did you combine any of the characters or add new ones?
FRIEDMAN: It is a little bit different. I think what’s the same is that, at the core, it’s the mother-daughter relationship, and it’s the sister relationships. We have a great love triangle with Jenna’s character, Eric Winter and Daniel DiTomasso, and that stays very close to the book. But, the Wendy (Mädchen Amick) character is brand new. She’s very dear to my heart, and I love that character. She’s that crazy aunt that we all either have, or wish that we had. Another big difference with the book is that, when we begin, the girls don’t know what they are. It’s about them coming into their gifts and discovering them and learning how to use their powers. That’s really compelling, as an ongoing storyline, and that was a change I wanted to make because I thought about a TV show versus a book as a different medium. If you want to generate stories over a long period of time, it’s cool to see people on their learning curve and through their learning process.
Jenna, you may not have personal experience in being a witch, but you now have personal experience being both a daughter and a mom. How is that informing what you’re doing on the show? Have you found that being a mom now is helping you get into this role?
JENNA DEWAN-TATUM: Yes. It was one of those things that happened without me even realizing it, kind of organically. We just started filming, but doing a couple of the scenes, I was saying these certain lines and it added so much more depth to what I was saying, given that now I have this little life that I’m taking care of. We’re dealing with so many family issues, and we’re dealing with loss and finding out truths, and all this stuff where, having done that before having my daughter, it probably would have come out a little bit differently. Now, it’s had this transformation on my own life, really without even thinking about it, and I’m excited about that. That’s something that I was really looking forward to, about becoming a mom. Art imitates life. Your work deepens everything a little bit, especially on this show because this show is all about the family dynamics between a mother and her daughters, and here I am with a daughter.
DEWAN-TATUM: I don’t know. Maybe we’ll sweet-talk a certain little husband, and maybe he’ll come on and do it. Maybe he’ll be a bad guy. That would be fun.
Maggie, how does immortality work on this show?
FRIEDMAN: Well, immortality works a little differently for each of the characters. Each character has their own distinct gifts and curses. Joanna is immortal, but she has to give birth to the same daughters, again and again and again. Every time they die, she suddenly ages back, however many years, and becomes pregnant again and births them again. So, her age is always shifting. It’s fluid. With Wendy, she’s a cat. She has nine lives. So, that works in its own way, and she ages at a different rate. And the girls age like regular people. They reach a certain age, and then they die. They’ve never lived this long before. I want to keep them alive, as long as I can. I want to give them as full a life as I can.
DEWAN-TATUM: And it gives us a lot of places to go with the story and with the layers of our characters because it can play on past lives. We can play on what’s happening now, and it’s all happening, at the same time.
FRIEDMAN: One of the fun things about the show was being able to see the characters through all different time periods. Because they’re immortal, we get to tell stories about their lives, in all different times. I think that there’s a lot of fun to be had there.
Another project about sister witches was Practical Magic. Are you familiar with that, and how do you think this stacks up?
DEWAN-TATUM: That’s my favorite movie, ever. When I read the script, that was exactly what the script reminded me of, as a TV show, especially with the sisters and the mom and the family dynamic. I think there are a lot of similarities, especially in the tone. It was one of the things that really excited me about the project because I think that’s a really great movie, and it’s got a really great tone, as far as witches and that family dynamic goes.
FRIEDMAN: And the magic felt very grounded. It impacted the characters in a very real way.
Charmed was a show about a family of female witches that actively fought supernatural creatures and people who were constantly trying to threaten them, but this show seems more like a family drama about witches. How much is there war and battle and fighting to stay alive from other entities?
FRIEDMAN: There is some of that. On Charmed, there was the monster-of-the-week thing, but this is more of an ongoing story. In the pilot, we meet a shape-shifter who looks like Joanna. We don’t know who it is, but they are an enemy that’s out to get our family. The ongoing story is finding out who this person is and why they’re after the Beauchamps. The show is scary, dark and creepy. It’s a family drama, a soap and a dark, scary genre show, all mixed into one.
Jenna, what powers does your character have, and what power would you like to have, in real life?
DEWAN-TATUM: In real life, being a new mom, I would like to be able to sleep. I’d like to snap my fingers and be asleep because I’m a little sleep-deprived, at the moment. On the show, I’m playing a very emotional character. Freya is very ruled by her emotions, so my power comes from her emotions and how she’s feeling and how the situation is making her feel, which therefore transforms the energy of a room.
What are the challenges of being back to work, as a new mom, six weeks after having your baby? How much is your husband able to be around and help out?
DEWAN-TATUM: It’s hard. It definitely is a challenge. It’s a whole other job, on its own. I’m getting more into the flow of things now. It’s about switching the brain from, “Now I’m a mom. Okay, now, I’ve got to go to set and be an actress and jump into Freya. Now I have to go back to breast-feeding.” It’s a juggle, but I feel like every new mom that goes back to work feels that. I feel really grateful that I have these amazing women, and an incredible network and studio behind us, that’s so supportive. They’re really working the schedule around me, and I have tons of help, so I’m managing. It’s actually been quite nice to go and be creative and be able to ignite that part of myself. I believe it’s going to make me a better mom, at the end of the day. And Channing has been amazing. He comes and visits me. He’s working, at the same time, right now. But, we prepared for that. We have a two to three week rule, and we don’t break it. So, it’s a little crazy in my house, but it’s good.
Witches of East End premieres on Lifetime on October 6th.