In Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 2 (available to stream at Netflix), Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is finding her place in the darker, sexier witch world, now that she’s left her human friends behind and signed the Book of the Beast, which has changed her life and her hair in noticeable ways. While Sabrina is curious to learn more about her heritage, it causes a strain on her life in the mortal world, pushing her further away from Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch) and into the arms of warlock Nicholas Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood).
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Scottish actress Michelle Gomez (who plays Sabrina’s favorite teacher Mary Wardwell, a woman who also just happens to be possessed by the Devil’s handmaiden, Madam Satan) talked about the fun in playing such a deliciously devilish character, the pleasure it’s been working with co-star Kiernan Shipka, what it’s like to have scenes with characters that don’t really exist, what makes Madam Satan a classic frenemy, getting to learn a bit more about Ms. Wardwell, the relationship dynamic between Ms. Wardwell and Sabrina, and whether she’d like to see the women take charge. She also talked about how much she enjoyed her time as Missy on Doctor Who, and what it’s like to see Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor.
Collider: First of all, congratulations on delivering what I think is one of the best and most totally delicious performances on TV, pretty much ever.
MICHELLE GOMEZ: That’s a really good start. You can just keep repeating that until we’re done.
Madam Satan is truly one of those all-time great, memorable characters and performances.
GOMEZ: Oh, my god, thank you so much. Yeah, she is. Clearly, you can tell that I thoroughly enjoy it and threw myself into it, wholeheartedly. It’s wonderful. It’s just a fun transition to go from Wardwell to Madam Satan. It was a really good one.
Did you feel like you got who this woman was, from the very beginning?
GOMEZ: It’s difficult because you’re not entirely sure exactly where your character is going to go. The beginning, for a lot of us, is unknown territory. But it was really important for me to, as quickly as possible, try to make this woman who has possessed somebody’s body as real as possible. That was the biggest acting challenge because you don’t come across many people that have possessed people’s bodies. In the beginning, I had to really keep vigilant not to be a two-dimensional character, to try to somehow be real. (Showrunner) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was a massive help in that because he would flesh it out from the page, and I could just turn up, throw on the costume, say it and leave.
What have been the most memorable scenes or moments for you? Are there specific moments that stand out a lot?
GOMEZ: There are so many. It was such an opera, the entire production. Madam Satan is a fantastic character, but there are many fantastic characters in the show, so there’s always an opportunity for all sorts of craziness to happen. Most of my scenes were done with Kiernan [Shipka], and she’s just the most magnificent human being alive. In fact, she taught me how to be a grown up. She’s unbelievable, that girl. She’s just fabulous. A lot of the time, it was basically me, in my room, talking to nothing because Stolas wasn’t actually there. There was also lots of ridiculous prop stuff happening, especially when the exorcism was going on. There were a lot of great moments in that.
You have quite a few scenes where you’re just talking to your familiar and they’re not having a conversation with you, so you’re essentially having a monologue with yourself. As an actor, is that fun, or do you ever wish that you had a co-star that you were working with?
GOMEZ: I was so yearning for somebody to play with, and that’s where the crew came in. They were amazing. I had such a brilliant camaraderie with them. The problem is that you can’t really ever afford to get that close to Madam Satan because she tends to eat you, so nobody was really prepared to jump in the ring with me. And then, I did get somebody that they employed to come and play with me, and I was like, “Please don’t let me eat this one. I really like this one.” I would try and keep people alive, for as long as possible, before I ripped their hearts out with my own bare hands.
Madam Satan is someone you want to admire the fashion of, from afar, but you don’t want to get to know her too well.
GOMEZ: Yeah, she’s a classic frenemy that you should never take home to your parents because your parents are gonna wanna play with her, too. She’s bad news, but she’s great, at the same time.
When you do scenes with the Dark Lord, are you working with somebody? Is there a person dressed in a costume, or are you also acting by yourself, in those moments?
GOMEZ: There were a couple of what were probably my most dramatic moments, when I was acting with a shoe at the end of stick. I’ve really gotta be really careful ‘cause I don’t wanna give away all of our tricks, but there was a couple of moments where I was deeply distraught at how he was treating me, and then I would have these out of body moments, and see myself on my knees crying, stroking a foot that was attached to bit of wood that one of the props guys was holding. There, I’ve completely burst the bubble. Within the suit, there was also this very adorable, lovely, very tall young man, who just always looked utterly terrified, when he was acting with me. I had to take his head off quite a lot. He’d pass out, it was so hot. I was meant to be terrified of him because he’s the Dark Lord, but I would always trying to placate him because he just looked so scared to be there. He was always reminding me, “You know I just work in a thrift store, Michelle.” And I would say, “I know. It’s okay. It’s all right. I’m only pretending.”
I love that, with these episodes, we also get to learn a little bit more about Ms. Wardwell and we get to see her fiancé come back, which means you had Alexis Denisof to act with. What does the fact that he has no idea that the woman he loves has been possessed mean for their relationship? How can you have a relationship with somebody who’s possessed?
GOMEZ: Don’t we all ask ourselves that, every day? We all get into these relationships with people, and then you wear our good mask. You can’t keep that up, so the mask drops, and that’s what true love is. It’s when someone sticks around, even in your ugliest moments. That’s actually why I completely adored Alexis Denisof. When he walked up, I was so happy that I had somebody to play with, and we had a riot. We had a really good time together. He brought a lot to the table. I didn’t wanna just play the baddie, or the villain. I wanted to understand why she was a villain and a baddie. Why does she have to possess somebody? Why is she the way she is? That’s what always interests me with people, especially when I’m looking at a character. Why do they behave the way they behave? Why does somebody become twisted, dark and evil? What’s behind that? I’m fairly certain none of us are born twisted, dark and evil, but life can really damage people and shape people how we respond to difficulties. When Alexis turned up, we got a little insight into the softness and the heartbreak, and who she once was, when she was younger, before she got disappointed, hurt or betrayed. That’s why I really enjoyed Alexis. He’s a fantastic actor and we had wonderful scenes to play with, but it also gave me a chance to get a little deeper into who Ms. Wardwell is, or was.
It’s so interesting to see Madam Satan have to figure out how to deal with humans because it’s clearly not something that she has to do, all that often.
GOMEZ: It was really interesting, and it also gave us license for a bit of comedy, as well, because it was just so fun. Alexis came in with such a fantastic, wonderful, warm and painted innocence with a naive energy. Everything about him was good, and he has no idea that he’s dealing with a thoroughly dark, twisted energy. When he kisses her, how does she respond to that? It’s hard for her not to go with it because he’s just so lovely. There’s a saying that there’s no defense for kindness, and that’s how I sum up his character. She has no defense for his kindness.
We know that at her urging, Sabrina signed the Book of the Beast and has chosen a path that she wasn’t necessarily expecting to choose. How will that affect things between Ms. Wardwell and Sabrina?
GOMEZ: What Roberto does is give us all an opportunity to sit in the gray, and to not be so absolute that Sabrina is good and Madam Satan is bad, with nothing in-between. When you’re moving from being a child, or a teenager or young adult, into adulthood, the challenges are always, how do you navigate that? When temptations come along with that? Who are you, really? What would your choices be? That’s what we get to look at, through Sabrina’s path. Madam Satan is the one who’s standing, waving her arms and going, “It’s really fun over here.” There’s nothing wrong with that. She also stands for not judging yourself. It’s okay to try things. She’s dangerous because she makes everything seem okay, and that there’s nothing wrong with being really bad.
Personally, I wish that all of these powerful women – Madam Satan, Sabrina, Hilda and Zelda – would just team up and get rid of the Dark Lord and Father Blackwood, and rule themselves.
GOMEZ: You just stay tuned. You stay tuned, honey.
Is that something that you’d like to see happen?
GOMEZ: The thing is, it’s not necessarily about getting rid of any one male character. It’s also not about the four of us standing for beating down the patriarchy. That’s not what’s happening. It’s actually more of a celebration of powerful women. We don’t necessarily have to tear down the patriarchy to enjoy it or support it. It just so happens that times are changing. We are in a very different world, from even five years ago. There’s been a real movement and shift in how we, as women, get to be in the world. It doesn’t seem to matter where you come from, how old you are, what the color of your skin is, or what your sexual preference is. That just doesn’t matter anymore. We’re living in a world today where Nancy Pelosi is a siren. She’s hot. Who would have thunk it? What matters is what the individual is like, in terms of them being comfortable in their own skin. That’s what we’re trying to do, and we don’t have to be told anymore how we have to look or feel or be. I think that’s incredible. Whilst you have the Weird Sisters and the three girls that are challenging Sabrina, you also have Zelda, Hilda and Madam Satan, and they’re presenting the Weirder Sisters. It doesn’t get more weird. We are the original Weird Sisters. I think a lot of people are really enjoying that.
You also certainly made your mark on Doctor Who, as the first female Master, and now we get to see one step further with the show exploring the first female Doctor. What did you most enjoy about your time on that series, and what does it mean to you, to see what that show has also evolved into?
GOMEZ: I was certainly thrilled and quite blown away, at the beginning, when they asked me. I was incredulous because, even just a few years ago, as far as I was concerned, the Master would always be a man. It was really surprising to me that they asked me to play the Master, and then, I wondered, for a minute, about whether there would be any backlash because it’s always been played by a man, but there wasn’t. In fact, it was quite the opposite, and Missy was really accepted. I had such a wonderful role to play. Steven Moffat wrote it to my strengths. Since then, many people have said, if there hadn’t have been a female Master, they don’t know if there would be a female Doctor now, but I don’t know. I have no idea about that, but I think Missy coming along and being the first female Master certainly opened the door to the idea of moving forward with a female Doctor. I think a lot of people felt it was time. And look at what’s happening with Jodie Whittaker. She’s been completely accepted because she’s fantastic. It doesn’t matter that she happens to be a woman. That’s the point. It just doesn’t matter whether the Doctor is male or female. It’s just whether you’re up to the job and can tell that story, and she does that, very well.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Pt. 2 is available to stream at Netflix.