In A Discovery of Witches, Lindsay Duncan plays matriarch Ysabeau de Clermont, one of the most powerful and respected vampires we’ve encountered thus far.
As we get to know Ysabeau more in Season 2, we see more of her vulnerability as she finally confronts the devastating loss of her husband.
In this interview with amc.com, Duncan tells us why Ysabeau finally accepts Diana, what it felt like to enthusiastically open up Sept-Tours to others, and what we can all learn from Ysabeau’s journey.
Q: We get to know Ysabeau a lot more this season. We learn more about her relationship with Philippe, and we get to see her in an emotionally vulnerable state for the first time. Can you talk a bit about diving into this character for Season 2?
A: It’s interesting to see her open up a bit because she begins as someone quite closed off because I think she’s heartbroken. The loss of Philippe is, and was completely devastating. This season we learn that vampires mate for life. I suppose the loss of her mate is something that she had never expected to have to deal with, and that loss makes demands on her. Is she going to stay cut off emotionally and in every other way? Or is she going to open up? It’s great storytelling for all the characters and particularly for Ysabeau.
Q: Ysabeau’s power is unmatched, and with that incredible power comes fierce loyalty for those that she loves. It takes her a while to warm up to Diana, but by Season 2 she’s fully on board. What do you think was the final push Ysabeau needed to truly accept Diana?
A: Well she tests Diana in a pretty crude way, by eating a fox in front of her, which is like water off a duck’s back for Diana. She just goes, “Really? It’ll take more than that!” So I think there are specific instances like that impress Ysabeau, plus of course the fact that she saves Matthew. But it becomes clear that her love for Matthew is as strong as I think Ysabeau’s love for Philippe was.
I think she recognizes a woman who is very much like her, except that she’s evolved even further. She’s a different person; she’s a different generation. She’s part of a fully modern world, whereas Ysabeau has basically just been in her chateau—a very nice one too—inhabiting her place in the hierarchy. So she meets this woman who is so passionate, so intelligent, so determined, so committed to Matthew, and I think something clicks in Ysabeau. She goes, “Yup, she’s quite a girl,” and has to admit that! Once she makes that commitment, it’s total and I think it’s a very lovely thing to see that woman-to-woman respect.
Of course because Ysabeau loves Matthew so deeply and, as you say, that love is 100% commitment, she worries for him. This relationship could throw up some pretty weird stuff and produce a lot of problems, but she sees that his love is so strong and he’s in a partnership where they can take things on together. That’s the sort of partnership she had with Philippe and she’s watching it transfer to the next generation.
These are big steps for her to take. All the steps she has to take this season are huge. She’s really stepping out of familiar territory and she’s leaving certainties behind. In a broader sense, this is one of the really important, profound, and thrilling things about the show. Showing how people have to open up and accept change, to live lives that are worth something. To have respect for people who aren’t exactly like you. That’s something that I find very moving about the series.