Tonight, the third episode of Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches
premiered on AMC. In the episode, when Ciprien Grieve (Tongayi Chirisa) brings Rowan Fielding (Alexandra Daddario) to his place to help her understand some of what’s going on, he also reveals more about his own character when he talks aabout his powers of seeing the past via touch.
Ciprien is actually based on two different characters in Rice’s series of novels that showrunner Esta Spalding combined into one. “What I appreciate about what [she] did was that she pretty much took the the richness of both characters,” Chirisa told explained to SciFi Vision during a recent interview. “Michael [Curry] with his abilities, with his gift, Aaron [Lightner], obviously from the Talamasca and his dress sense, just pretty much that was the foundation to say, ‘Hey, this is what it is, but I want you to build off of that.’ So, with that springboard, it allowed me to just kind of really delve into how I saw this character. We had conversations with Esta about what [they’re] looking for in this world, because she was like, ‘Look, don't get too married to the material that you see, because we want something that's unique and different, paying homage to where it starts, the foundation.’ So, because of that, it allowed us to really explore, and that, for me, is the fun part of figuring out where we're going.
He added that the character is still evolving. “There's still so much that I am also unpacking about him,” said Chirisa. “So, what we're seeing is obviously what we've been allowed to see in the show right now, and hopefully, as time goes on…we get to see more about his backstory, so we can actually then kind of really flesh out the Ciprien Grieve that we see in season one.”
In this kind of story, there is a lot to pull from, according to Chirisa. “I think the world, the genre of fantasy, is one genre that allows you to go anywhere, because you're mixing magic, science, horror.”
Filming on location in New Orleans also really helped. “It's everything,” he told the site. “…When you're reading it, and then when you see it in real life…you start to envision what it would have been like in this fictional world. So, location, literally, is a character unto itself. It starts to force you to behave and act a certain way when you understand that this place is real.”
For more from Chirisa about Ciprien, including his character’s relationship with Rowan, what’s to come, and more, read the full transcript below, and watch all-new episodes every Sunday on AMC and AMC+.
SCIFI VISION: So, when I talked to you at the roundtable, you mentioned that you auditioned for it, can you expand on how that went?
Oh, it was long; it was long. I mean, I had sent in the first tape in January, and I think I waited until like March until the second time came. And at this point, you thinking, “Oh, God, it's been a month, and nothing? Like, it’s a wrap; we might as well move on.” But yeah, then, not long after that, I got the call from my team to say, “Hey, they want a callback.” Then, I had two more rounds of auditions before I actually had a chemistry read with Alex and Michael [Uppendahl] and Esta [Spalding], and Michelle [Ashford], who are the producers, showrunner, directors. So, that was fun. We were on that call for I think at least an hour just really playing with the material and really getting to sink our teeth into the material. So, it was fun.
Is it hard kind of, I guess, putting two characters into one? I haven't read the books, but I know that Ciprien is a combination of two characters. How do you kind of in your mind marry that? I mean, I know obviously, it's in the script, but besides it actually being written, what do you sort of do to make sure that you you're getting of those sides?
So, what I appreciate about what Esta Spalding, the showrunner, did was that she pretty much took the the richness of both characters: Michael with his abilities, with his gift, Aaron, obviously from the Talamasca and his dress sense, and just pretty much that was the foundation to say, “Hey, this is what it is, but I want you to build off of that.” So, with that springboard, it allowed me to just kind of really delve into how I saw this character. We had conversations with Esta about what [they’re] looking for in this world, because she was like, “Look, don't get too married to the material that you see, because we want something that's unique and different, paying homage to where it starts, the foundation.” So, because of that, it allowed us to really explore, and that, for me, is the fun part of figuring out where we're going. Where Esta needed to reel me in she did, and where she [needed] me to just really flourish, she allowed that to happen. But I think with this character, he's still evolving. There's still so much that I am also unpacking about him. So, what we're seeing is obviously what we've been allowed to see in the show right now, and hopefully, as time goes on, second season, wink wink, we get to see more about his backstory, so we can actually then kind of really flesh out the Ciprien Grieve that we see in season one.
As you were creating him, where else, other than taking it from there, did you pull from?
I think the world, the genre of fantasy, is one genre that allows you to go anywhere, because you're mixing magic, science, horror. So, my love for this world, just I kind of had a sense of the - there's a term that they use, the rules in this in this world. So, that kind of helped me establish with the backdrop of the books themselves, creating that world. So, I just had to figure out a way to mesh myself with the character. Then, obviously, the abilities of this man, Ciprien, he works for the Talamasca, and it's almost like the FBI. So, you already know that being an investigator, there's certain qualities that he needs to come with in terms of the prowess of hiding in plain sight. So, knowing that and the ability of being anonymous, but constantly monitoring supernatural events in and around, it just allowed for me to kind of like really hone in as to who he was. And like I said, I think a lot of it is still kind of evolving, because, you know, there’s the introduction…of his sister, and he alludes to his mom in Episode Two. Then, later on in future episodes, his mentor mentions something about his upbringing, but we know enough [to know] that it was troubled. So, there's room for us to really continue to explore that. So, he's open game. He's not a fully developed character, at least not in my sense as an actor, but we have a sense of who he is and what he's capable of doing and where he's going.
Talking also about everything you pull from, how much does actually being [in New Orleans] help you to get into that mindset?
It's everything. I think being on location - and especially when you remain true to certain locations that Anne Rice has in her books. We use the Ponchartrain hotel, for example. When you're reading it, and then when you see it in real life, you're like, “Oh my god, so she actually walked the halls of the Pontchartrain.” You start to envision what it would have been like in this fictional world. So, location, literally, is a character unto itself. It starts to force you to behave and act a certain way when you understand that this place is real. I’ll [give you] an example where in certain locations, when you touch surfaces, there's dust, and you're like, “Oh my gosh, okay,” so you suddenly have a profound respect for an environment, and it makes you act accordingly. So, absolutely. Locations are a character unto [themselves]. It just really helps to get you in the framework of doing investigative work the way you need to, or the character be performing the way he or she needs to, because of how much the influence of the location [has on] you.
Personally do you have a favorite place that you got to go to while you’re down in New Orleans?
Absolutely, the Ponchartrain.
Oh, it is your favorite, okay.
It is historical, it is mystical, and it's just rich with New Orleans tapestry and just the energy that represents New Orleans.
You said a minute ago that Ciprien’s not fully developed yet, and obviously, you talk about if there's a season two, but is there a lot then, just as an actor, that you kind of have to, I guess, make up for now, as you're doing it now, in order to be able to feel like you understand him enough?
No, not really. I think there's enough information within the world that we've created and obviously the background of Michael and Aaron and the Talamasca. So, knowing the world of the organization and just some of the attributes that Michael has, it's enough to then navigate - and a little bit of the history of his relationship with his mom and his upbringing. Certain things that we also had in the first episode, that obviously didn't make didn't make the cut, would have explained a little bit more about how he's intricately involved within the Mayfair lineage and drama. So, there is enough. He's well rounded. But I think in terms of just getting in depth as to his storyline and who he is and what makes him click, you tend to see that more when he kind of opens up to Rowan, just how sensitive this man really is. But because he's in this work mode frame continually, there're elements of his life that cannot conflate with work. Because if that were to happen, I don't know what kind of man this Ciprien would be, because it's taken a lot to get into a place where his allegiance to the Talamasca is - he's a soldier for them, he will do whatever they ask, but who is he outside of that? And I think Rowan entering his life and being as vulnerable as he is to her, we start to see pieces of that, and we start to see that kind of unravel as episodes in the season progress. But to what limit? That's the question that I am very keen to find out
I want you to talk a bit about his connection with Rowan. I was thinking about how she kind of doesn't connect with people easily, and she's connecting with him partially because he can feel how she feels. And I feel like that makes it different for her, and it makes it different for him as well, because he's able to touch her and kind of get closer to her in that way. But do you think that for both of them, it is one hundred genuine or that some of it may be because [they are able to get closer in that sense]?
They are comrades, you know, because, Cip, he talks about, being in the forest and he sees this other man and he said, “Hey, come with me.” And it's like, “Why should I go with you?” Their objective is to get out of the forest. They don't have to be friends to complete this mission. And I think because Cip understands Rowan's dilemma right now; she's just come into this power. She doesn't know what's happening to her, and she feels lost and confused, because nobody that she knows around her circles believes her, or at least wants to give her that voice of saying, “I get you.” And Cip comes into the picture. He's like, “Look, I know what you're feeling. I've been there, and I know what it's like to be abandoned because of this gift and not knowing how to control [it]. Let me be that light of reason, that guiding light to help you at least navigate, for you to kind of like understand what this is so you can have some sort of ownership over it.” And so it starts off as that but then, I think, there's the underlying tones that start to happen. Because when you have a common endeavor, and when you start to walk towards the goal, it's inevitable that some other things begin to develop. You begin to know the person then. With their journey they start to learn each other, and they actually realize, “Wow; you're not a bad person at the end of the day.” So, where that leads to is the proverbial question, you know, towards the end of the season.
Can you tease a little bit about what's to come?
I will say this in one word: “unravels.” Take what you will with that one there. I can't say nothing more without saying too much. But does it unravel for the good? Does it unravel for the bad? Is it unraveling, that this thing is, you know, is blossoming? Or is this turning to something else? And like you said, is there an objective with each of these individuals as to why they need each other? Wow, that is the question that I would like to see the answer to, so you have to stay tuned for that.