Matthew Goode has appeared in his fair share of literary adaptations from Brideshead Revisited to Watchmen to Death Comes to Pemberley and more.
But when he signed on to play vampire and scientist Matthew Clairmont in A Discovery of Witches, the adaptation of the first book in Deborah Harkness’s best-selling All Souls trilogy, he encountered something entirely new — the gift of having the author there on set with you. Harkness served as an executive producer on the series and was highly involved with the production process from start to finish.
“Sometimes, when you are adapting something, it has often been a hindrance to have the person who’s written it there because this isn’t how they imagined it in their heads,” Goode notes. “One of the things she’s been so graceful with is giving this over to an adaptation.”
Having Harkness on-hand to answer questions about her world-building, as well as more in-depth historical conundrums, was an unexpected boon for the actor. “Just being able to ask her questions about the world — what would he be thinking at this point? Does he sweat as a vampire? It’s just like those minutiae questions that crop up all the time. We’re fine most of the time, but we just adore her,” he elaborates.
Goode has also done a fair bit of research on his own. His character, Matthew Clairmont, is a scientist who researches the evolution of creatures (witches, vampires, etc.), DNA, and more. In addition to reading A Discovery of Witches the novel, Goode says he’s dipped into some scientific texts to beef up his subtextual knowledge of Matthew’s career and interests. “I tapped into a little bit of Darwin the other day when I was sitting at home,” he explains. “It is pretty fascinating stuff.”
But he assures us he’s not hitting the books too hard. “I’m not sitting at home looking at medical books and stuff like that,” he adds. “When something comes up we talk about, you look it up in an encyclopedia or whatever and just have a little peruse. Because you don’t want to be blasé. But I’m not sitting at home pounding science books.”
It was actually Harkness who first had the idea of casting Goode as her dashing leading man. “Debs bizarrely got the idea for casting me because she saw me in some advert for a clothing company,” Goode laughs. “She claims to have seen the stuff I’ve done, but I’m like, ‘It was just the advert.’”
At the author’s suggestion, producer Jane Tranter (Doctor Who) set a meeting with Goode. He admits he was initially uncertain about the project, calling Twilight “ludicrous,” but after speaking to actor pal Bill Nighy, who had played a vampire in the Underworld series, he was convinced to take the meeting. It was Tranter who sealed the deal for Goode, and as luck would have it, displaying her own connection to Harkness’s work is what did it.
“Jane is one of those rare producers who’s really properly read the book and knows the whole world,” he says. “[She] explained everything in such an erudite and clever way and how they were going to change things and what the world was. And also, I loved that she was already talking about ‘And in season 3.’ I was like, ‘That’s quite confident.’ So yeah, she had me at season 3.”
A Discovery of Witches premieres on Shudder and Sundance Now on Thursday, Jan. 17.