Salem’s Janet Montgomery Talks Her Biggest Threat, Stephen Lang’s Return, and Lots More!
In advance of tonight’s Episode 2.07 of “Salem,” entitled “The Beckoning Fair One,” series star Janet Montgomery (aka Mary Sibley) sat down with a group of journalists for a Q&A, and we have the highlights right here.
They include who she perceives to be Mary’s biggest threat, what it was like having Stephen Lang back on the show, why audiences sympathize with Mary, Sebastian’s motives, John’s return, going for the horror, and LOTS more!
Strap in, heathens, and read on for the goods.
Q: Who would you say poses a bigger threat to Mary, John Alden or the Countess?
Janet Montgomery: That’s an interesting question. I think they’re very different threats… John, you know, now is this witch hunter. And Mary won’t see that coming. But I think the Countess is also equally dangerous in a very different way. I don’t know if I could say who is the bigger threat… I think to find out that John has turned again her and is going to kill her, I think would probably the most heartbreaking. The Countess is more predictable. You know, obviously… The Countess wants to kill her.
Q: With regard to the Countess, there’s usually a character that comes in and kind of stirs the pot even more. Is that going to be the threat for the season? Their relationship and rivalry?
Janet Montgomery: Definitely it sets apart the rest of the season. But I think what’s so great about this season is Mary started off slightly cocky almost. And she had a real confidence. She felt that she was in control. She wasn’t listening to any warnings. And now we start to see the world, and she’s got enemies coming. Everybody’s trying to get her, and nobody’s on her side. So really, there’s so much coming… the Countess is all part of a lot of other people who are trying to get at Mary… the Countess is only one part of that.
Q: There’s an element to Mary that you can’t help feeling for her a little bit because of the way things happened to her. This is not something that she asked for, but she’s had to adapt to survive. So there’s an element of sympathy that we have for her.
Janet Montgomery: Well, I think that’s what the writers have done really well and what I am constantly striving to do… for the audience to sympathize with Mary… “Oh, she did this because of this.” She’s doing everything she can, and she does have a heart. But also, there are things that are unredeemable that she’s done and that she’s doing. But she’s very complicated. And I think a lot of us can say that about ourselves. You know, we’re neither good nor bad. We’re all somewhere in the grey area. And that’s what – that’s sort of the sort of characters I want to play. And what I’m really trying to do with this character is every time she does something that I think, “Wow, how are people going to sympathize with this?,” I manage to find a way in which people can understand why she’s doing it. You know, we’re all just survivors at the end of the day.
Q: We’re going to see the return of Increase Mather. What can you tell us about what’s coming up? And how is it to work with Stephen Lang? He seems so much fun.
Janet Montgomery: Stephen Lang is an absolute joy to work with. He’s a true professional. He’s exciting to work with. And he creates such a wonderful working environment. We have fun together when we’re working together, but we also both have a very similar work ethic… he’s one of my favorite people to work with. I always want to be very prepared. I like to feel free in the scene to move around. And he has a very similar work ethic. So it’s always good fun to work with him. I was really sad that we killed him at the end of last season because for me as a young actress, he could have elevated my work… his character is different this year. And I think people will be excited to see the dynamic between him and Mary slightly change.
Q: Mercy is also a threat, and now she’s teaming up with the Countess. What can you tell us about that?
Janet Montgomery: It’s coming from all angles for Mary. She’s got so many enemies now and very few allies. Mercy sort of seems a bit like a child compared to the Countess… The Countess is a real threat. Mercy was trying to just warn Mary, but sort of like throwing her toys out the pram in the corner. The fact that now the two of them have come together, I think there’s a real danger in what Mercy’s capable of. She’s unpredictable. Mary doesn’t necessarily worry about Mercy so much though; she thinks Mercy’s dead. So that’s another real kind of worrying situation for Mary.
Q: Mary and Tituba have this very complex, kind of feisty, deep relationship history. What are your thoughts on Mary’s sexuality? Do you see her as bisexual?
Janet Montgomery: It’s interesting, that question… the language of witches is often sexual. It’s often based in a sexual nature. And you know, with the relationship with Tituba, obviously there’s a sisterly relationship like family. There’s also the fact that they’ve grown up together. And so they’re like best friends. So there is a sexuality in their relationship. And I think that comes from just the way witches would speak to one another. Like they speak in a sexual way to one another, whether it’s physically or through language. Do you know what I mean? So I think that’s something that I’m playing with, with all kind of the relationships with other witches. And [it] came in this season as well with Anne Hale. Like, the way they communicate… I think sexuality doesn’t really necessarily come into it, you know… I would say that she doesn’t… Mary would never say she was straight or bisexual. I think it’s more she just very sexual if that makes sense.
Q: Looking at this season, do you have a favorite episode or even a scene that sticks out for you acting-wise that you can speak a little bit about?
Janet Montgomery: I had this scene in Episode 9 that’s coming up, and I’m not going to tell you what happens in it, but it was a very emotional scene. It involved John. I think everyone is waiting for Mary and John to be reunited. That doesn’t necessarily happen in 9, but 9 is a big moment where they sort of talk about everything. And I think that for me was like my work grew so much. It felt like I was just having a conversation with the other actor. And nothing was being pushed because I – now I feel like I know Mary so well that there’s no need for me to try and push anything. It just sort of comes very naturally. And the emotion with how she’s feeling come very naturally to me.
Q: Mary all season has been working for witch equality. Are the witches starting to get on board with her plan and actually back her up against the Countess? Or are they just going to let her be on her own?
Janet Montgomery: Well, it’s a very difficult situation. I think Mary has sort of chosen to go on her own. And she doesn’t really have anyone else to turn to. But I think eventually, she’s going to have to turn to the Essex witches, and that’s going to be interesting to see whether they support her or not.
Q: Returning to Tituba for a moment, she was Mary’s most trusted ally, but after the events of last season, can you trust her again. Are they going to continue to work together because they have to?
Janet Montgomery: I think the difficult situation with Mary and Tituba is, obviously, Tituba has been lying to her for so long. What she’s done is sort of unforgivable. But Tituba, at the same time – and what I love about the writing on this show – has her own reasons for that. And she thought she was doing the right thing. So I think there is room for Mary to forgive Tituba. But I just feel like… it’s going to take a while. And I think that people kind of like to see them at odds with other. The relationship works that way. So you never really know where each one stands with each. So you don’t know if Mary’s just going to kill Tituba at any moment or if actually she’s forgiven her. I think that’s an interesting dynamic.
Q: Mary has so many elements going against her this season. It seems like she can’t catch a break. What is it like performing as a character who can not really trust anyone and has all these ulterior motivations?
Janet Montgomery: It’s kind of stressful, to be honest. When you play a character so intensely and you’re working 14-15 hours a day, every day in this character, you start to become a bit of a paranoid mess you self as an actor. It definitely spills over into your everyday life. And the emotions that Mary feels become more my own emotions. I’m ready for a break at this point in the season. It’s great fun to play, but it is intense. And I think it exhausts me in a way that I’m not used to.
Q: In terms of your character, you’ve really been put through an emotional wringer this season whereas other characters have been put through a physical wringer, such as Elise Eberle. In terms of that, are you going to have any big special effects or monster effects sequence for your character this season?
Janet Montgomery: It’s actually really interesting because as the season goes on, Mary does have quite a lot of physical stuff… I have a great stunt double, but I’ve done quite a lot of it myself… my character has gotten more physical, and I’ve enjoyed that part of it as well. It’s nice to not just be so Puritan-like and actually get kind of down and dirty some.
Q: Regarding John Alden and Mary, do you think they are ready to confront each other? Mary at this point doesn’t know that he’s on a witch hunting crusade; how do you think she’s going to handle it with everything else she’s going through?
Janet Montgomery: I don’t think Mary is… [she] believes he’s dead. So I think it’s going to be like a ghost coming back. And I think she’s already been through this with him. She’s just starting to get strong on her own and feel like she’s doing things by herself. And everything’s for her son. But she’s definitely not ready for John to reappear in her life. Whereas, obviously John, the longer it goes on and the more he’s sort of watching her from a distance, I think the harder it’s going to be for him to kill her.
Q: Do you think it’s going to be more painful for her to realize that he’s actually alive or that he’s trying to kill her?
Janet Montgomery: Well, I think that she will somehow understand why he’s trying to kill her because he doesn’t know anything about the fact that she’s been manipulated by the witches. They have a child together… let’s just hope he stops before he kills her to hear an explanation… like, “Oh, maybe she has good reason not to show up into the wood.”
Q: It was recently revealed that Sebastian is apparently in love with Mary. Is Mary skeptical of the entire thing? Does she actually believe that he has feelings for her?
Janet Montgomery: I think Sebastian is a great character because he’s a very dangerous young man. I think he is in love with Mary. I think he believes in his heart that he is in love with Mary. But he’s also very much in love with his mother. So the dynamic of that… I love the character. And I love the possibilities if Mary chose to be with someone like Sebastian; it would be almost like Bonnie & Clyde. It could be like a complete massacre going on in Salem.
Q: Both he and Dr. Wainwright are really taken with Mary. Is that going to develop into any sort of a full-fledged triangle? Or what’s coming up with that?
Janet Montgomery: I think there’s a good possibility there could be. But there’s also John Alden. Not only is there a triangle… what would you call that? A square. It does seem like everybody in Salem. Someone wrote something online which I think was pretty accurate. That everybody either wants to make love to you or kill you. And I think that’s very true with Mary at the moment. People either want to make love to her or kill her. So definitely Sebastian’s very taken with her. Dr. Wainwright is obviously taken with her. And John wants to kill her at the moment. So who knows what’s going to happen.
Q: About Anne Hale, your interactions with Tamzin have been great this season so far. Could you talk a little bit about what’s coming up with you two?
Janet Montgomery: She’s been this sort of moral compass… she’s a real do-gooder all of last season. And now that she’s a witch, you almost get to see the demise of her, which makes you understand Mary somewhat more. Choices she’s forced to make that change her path forever. I think it is a similar journey for Mary. The interaction between the two characters is just stronger throughout the season. The more Anne accepts that she’s a witch, the more she needs Mary.
Q: Going back to our first question about threat assessment, with John Alden having the weapons that he has and the Countess having certain strengthens more than Mary, how much of a threat might he be to the Countess?
Janet Montgomery: Well, that’s an interesting question. I honestly think the Countess has lived for centuries and centuries. And I don’t think that even with the help of the Indians and this margin that John sort of created with these weapons, I don’t think he’s going to be any match for the Countess. I think the Countess is like a league of her own. Although, obviously, at one point Increase Mather defeated the Countess… Anyone who is super-powerful – Mary felt very powerful at the beginning of the season – can stop her… I think the Countess is being quite smart at the moment because she’s not aware of what Mary is capable of even though she knows that she probably is much stronger and she could pursue Mary very easily. She’s keeping her close in order to find out what sort of threat she is.
Q: What about the horror aspect of the series? We’re surprised by how much you guys can actually do. It’s really amazing.
Janet Montgomery: Yes. It is amazing – you never know, especially with a new network, how much you can show and how much is too much. And I think the thing that makes the show really work at the moment, and especially we’ve really done it in the second season, is just going for it. And the writers are not holding back. And it’s very shocking. That really works for the show… having free rein to create the world. And it means that we’re doing something very different from anything else that’s on TV. We’re not holding back because of certain… worrying that we’re going to upset someone out there.
Q: The episode in which Increase Mather comes back is directed by Joe Dante. Allan Arkush directed earlier this season. What was it like to work with these esteemed old school horror directors?
Janet Montgomery: Well, it’s really interesting actually. Every director that we’ve had has been very different… when I worked with Joe Dante, everyone was a little bit nervous because he’s… an icon. And I was surprised how different his shots looked. You get used to TV, the way they shoot things. It was sort of cinematic almost… [Joe] trusted me as the actor. And he came in very little. Like he’d maybe say one or two things. But it was – he let me do my own thing. And that was quite nice really. I guess there’s a different way of working. And he was happy with what I was doing. So he left me to it. So I was happy as well.
“Salem” Episode 2.07 – “The Beckoning Fair One” (air date 5/17/15)
Countess Marburg (Lucy Lawless) threatens to destroy all that Mary Sibley’s built. Faced with losing everything, Mary (Janet Montgomery) turns to the darkest form of witchcraft, Necromancy, to bring an ally to her side. But this ally is also her greatest and deadliest enemy — Increase Mather (guest star Stephen Lang).
With the final days leading up to the second phase of the Grand Rite upon them, Mary tries to fortify her political hold over Salem with a move that could assure her success or seal her fate.
Meanwhile, Wainwright (Stuart Townsend) returns to Salem to shocking results; Tituba (Ashley Madekwe) makes plans for her recently captured prey; Anne (Tamzin Merchant) learns that her newfound path comes with hidden costs; Cotton (Seth Gabel) gets a surprising visit; and the Countess uncovers a startling truth about her enemy that could change everything. Written by Donna Thorland and Adam Simon; directed by Joe Dante.