WITCH HUNT, which opens theatrically on October 1, is a movie set in an alternative present. In director/writer Elle Callahan’s magical dystopia, witches and witchcraft are real. However, they are being lethally suppressed by the U.S. government. Any woman found to be a witch is burned at the stake. Anti-witch propaganda has made much of the population believe that all magic is evil.
Elizabeth Mitchell plays Martha, a woman who has opened her Southern California home as an underground railroad station for witches seeking safe haven in Mexico. This doesn’t sit well with Martha’s moody teen daughter Claire (Gideon Adlon), who just wants to fit in with her friends at school.
Mitchell was so engaged by WITCH HUNT that, in addition to taking one of the lead roles, she also signed on as an executive producer.
Southern California native Mitchell can currently be seen in Netflix’s new drama OUTER BANKS, and portrays one of the main characters in the upcoming series FIRST KILL. She also played the Reverend Doctor Anna Volovodov on THE EXPANSE and snow queen Ingrid on ONCE UPON A TIME, as well as leads in REVOLUTION and the reboot of V. Mitchell has also appeared in feature films including FREQUENCY, RUNNING SCARED, THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR, WHEN TIME GOT LOUDER, and QUEEN BEES. She is known to LOST fans for her years as Dr. Juliet Burke.
Speaking by phone, Mitchell talks WITCH HUNT, along with OUTER BANKS, FIRST KILL – and how to share production space with real offscreen bats.
ASSIGNMENT X: How did you become involved with WITCH HUNT?
ELIZABETH MITCHELL: It came to me as an offer, and it was a very quick “Yes.” [laughs] I talked to Elle on the phone, and was instantly amazed by her, by the way she presented herself, by the material. Gideon Adlon was also attached by the time that I came on, and I was a little bit entranced by both of them. Elle just had this way about her where I was like, “Whatever she’s doing in the world, I would like to do that, too.”
AX: WITCH HUNT can be seen as a metaphor or an analogy for quite a few different things. Was there a particular analogy that you like for it, or did you just like the fact that you can choose your own, if you want?
MITCHELL: Of course, I love the choose your own, because I find that to be such a wonderful thing about entertainment, and movies, is that we get to go on our own adventure. But I did think that there was something to the idea of empowered women, and what that tends to do to a society, when women achieve more power than people believe they should have [laughs]. I thought that was an interesting take on all of that.
AX: How did you become an executive producer on WITCH HUNT, and what did that entail for you?
MITCHELL: When we were negotiating [the acting contract for WITCH HUNT], because it was a project that I really liked, I wanted a slightly larger role in it. It was a very short shoot. On my part, first of all, [as an executive producer], I just got to have a little more information than I would if I were simply acting in it, which by the way, I usually love. And I also did a fair bit of feeding the crew, and the other actors. I felt that responsibility, to make sure that everybody was taken care of. So, in between set-ups, I would run down the mountain and grab fresh fruit and veggies and cookies, and just make sure that we were all feeling loved and taken care of. That was my self-appointed duty [laughs].
AX: So, you sort of spread out from acting and executive producing to craft service?
MITCHELL: I did. And then I just got to have that wonderful inside information, which I quite enjoyed. I think that when they offer actors that [executive producer] position, it can mean all kinds of things. For me, it just meant having a little bit more information about what was going on behind the scenes, and I loved that.
AX: Were there any changes or suggestions you made, in terms of your character or the script overall?
MITCHELL: Yes. Not because I thought something was lacking, but because we had situational issues that came up, as you always do on one of these shoots where every minute counts. So, Elle and I would discuss how to deepen [Martha], how to make it work. If problems came up, we would discuss how to fix it. The monologue at the end, we were supposed to shoot it at the end of the week, and I think we ended up shooting it on a Monday. As a result, none of us were off book. So, a great deal of that ended up being improvised, and Elle and I discussed, because it wasn’t fully fleshed out, what that looked like and what that sounded like, and what points we needed to fit. And then she’d just run with it. It was really fun to have that trust, and to also have the opportunity to just be part of the framework of this story.
AX: WITCH HUNT takes place near the Mexican border, but where was it actually shot?
MITCHELL: We shot only about forty-five minutes from L.A., but way up into the hills. I can’t remember the actual name of the location, but it’s this old house that is only used for movies. It’s set in the middle of these rolling hills, very desolate, bats and crows. The house was made just for movies. So, there’s no upstairs. You can get into the walls.
It’s a home for bats, apparently. I guess they had just put all their babies in the walls when we started filming, and they were very unhappy with us. We didn’t do anything to harm them. We had to get a bat wrangler out to help make them happier, and feel less invaded.
AX: How do you make bats happier? I think this is something everyone should know …
MITCHELL: Isn’t it true? Well, there’s not a lot you can do, because they’re always going to want to come back in, because the babies are in the walls, right? You catch some of them, the ones that are actively trying to be on camera, you relocate them to outside, just for while you’re shooting, and then they come back [laughs]. We also were very [unint.] and we tried not to create – the lights were hard for them, having people, and having noise, and having that kind of thing was hard. And they always seemed to be aware of when the camera was rolling, because the minute [it was], they would start swooping in front of your face. But I think that we mainly just dealt with it by dealing with it. I tried to make sure that my coverage, I was just watching the scene, and paying attention, and I tried not to jump when they did their swoops [laughs].
And Elle handled it really well. She was like, “Well, let’s go shoot something else while they deal with the bats.” And that’s what we would do. We would go to another part of the property, and we would shoot something else, and she approached everything levelheaded and ready to make it work. So that’s what we did. We worked around the bats. No bats were harmed in the making of this show. They’re amazing, aren’t they?
AX: Well, they keep us from being eaten by mosquitoes, and they’re very cute …
MITCHELL: And they’re very cute [laughs]. A lot of people would leave the house when they weren’t [shooting], but I really didn’t mind the swooping. I felt like they were interesting.
AX: Were you shooting WITCH HUNT during COVID?
MITCHELL: We were not. We shot right before. I think I did that, and I did one more little movie, and then everything shut down.
AX: You’re also on Netflix’s series OUTER BANKS. How would you describe that?
MITCHELL: It’s kind of OUTSIDERS meets GOONIES. It is a bunch of highly attractive but actually incredibly talented kids, searching for a treasure. The fun thing about it, I think, is that you have the Popes and the Kooks, right? You have the kids who grew up without much, and the kids who grew up with a lot, and the sadness and the joy and the love of that. It’s really quite well done. I really enjoy Jonas [Pate] and Josh [Pate, who created OUTER BANKS with Shannon Burke]. I find them to be incredible show-runners and directors, and they’ve done an awfully good job with this. They have three or four cameras, and it all feels gritty and real and good. I did not expect to like it, because I thought, “It’s a teenage show.” But I started to watch it, and was instantly sucked in, and it’s really funny, because my mom and dad said the same thing. They’re well into their seventies, and they’re like, “You know, Liz, it’s a good show.” I was like, “Well, awesome.” [laughs] I think it’s because the kids bring some realism to this age-old struggle of being a kid and not getting a break, and trying to figure it out.
AX: Did you actually shoot it in the Outer Banks of North Carolina?
MITCHELL: No. We shot in Charleston, South Carolina, and then we shot in Barbados.
AX: How was working in Barbados?
MITCHELL: It was amazing. It was beautiful. Both of those things were a real gift to me, because it was during COVID. So, I would put on all of my apparatus, my big N-95 mask, and my face, and my gloves, and they would fly us places, and then I would quarantine for seven days, and then I would start filming, and then I would fly back home, and quarantine at home for seven days. So, I did get to do what I love during what has been a horribly challenging time for everybody.
AX: What is your OUTER BANKS character, Carla Limbrey, like?
MITCHELL: She’s an antagonist in this story. She’s a wealthy uber-kook, I guess they would say. She is after the treasure as well, but for her own reasons. And she’s a bit of a menace. I see her as a piece of moldy, torn lace. She puts herself out there as a good guy, but she’s very toxic.
AX: You play a lot of extremely good people, and you play some very bad people. Do you have a preference between those?
MITCHELL: [laughs] I don’t. I like them both. Martha in WITCH HUNT was a really good person, one of my heroes. I like them both. I think the thing about life is that we always think we’re the good guy, right? We always are the hero of our story, and we’re sure that we’re good, and we can’t all be [the hero if anyone is a villain]. It can’t be true, right? So, that’s what fascinates me is, where do we go wrong? What are the choices that we make that take us off that path, and how do we still convince ourselves that we’re the good guy? And that’s where we get our antagonists, people sure that they’re the good guy, because they really do have to make everyone else wrong. So, I like them all. I love all the different characters. I especially love the ones that scare me, and they’re usually the bad guys.
AX: You also played Reverend Doctor Anna Volovodov on THE EXPANSE …
MITCHELL: Oh, I loved THE EXPANSE. That was such a fun group of actors. And I love sci-fi. I thought that character was really interesting as well. It was fun to see a religious person in a sci-fi series, and it was also fun to play her. I found her to be such a good person.
AX: Was THE EXPANSE one of those sets where a lot of things weren’t there in reality, or was everything practical?
MITCHELL: Much of it was practical, more than I thought would be. I think that the green screen was just on the screen [showing the exterior of the spacecraft]. Everything else was something you could play with. When it was something we were having to show with our hands [that wasn’t physically on set], it was very specific as to what it was. It was detailed. And it made sense with the books [by James S.A. Corey, the pen name of the writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, which are the basis for the series]. The books are incredibly detailed, well thought-out, very concentrated, excellent science fiction, and I thought that the show did it the same way. The props master and the set dec was out of this world.
AX: What is the movie QUEEN BEES?
MITCHELL: Oh, QUEEN BEES was great, and I got to work with Ellen Burstyn. I play her daughter. [Fellow costars are] James Caan and Ann-Margret and Jane Curtin and Loretta Devine, and oh, my gosh, I was in heaven. I was staying in the same hotel with all of them, and I found them to be more fun than anyone in the world [laughs]. It was me just sitting back and marveling at all of them, and watching them work, and just sitting there beaming that entire experience.
AX: What is the film WHEN TIME GOT LOUDER?
MITCHELL: WHEN TIME GOT LOUDER is about a family living with autism. The son [is autistic, the daughter is] going away to school, and what happens to the family when that dynamic shifts. Some things happen in there that spark conflicts, and it’s so relationship-driven, it’s so actor-driven, it was a real joy. Again, I got to improv quite a lot, and I really enjoy it.
AX: Who do you play in the upcoming Netflix series FIRST KILL?
MITCHELL: FIRST KILL, I play Margot, a five-hundred-year-old vampire. It is basically vampires against hunters, or hunters against vampires, and quite a bit ROMEO AND JULIET. A vampire falls in love with a hunter, and the families of course are not in love with that, and a great deal of action and drama and badness ensues. And I had an absolute blast with my fangs [laughs]. It was a little bit soapy, but actually so grounded in reality by Felicia [D. Henderson], our show runner,, and I got to work with all these amazing Broadway actors. So, it just turned out to be a wonderful experience for me.
AX: Do you have any kind of special vampire makeup?
MITCHELL: No, not so much. I mean, they did make me slightly paler, and of course, I had the teeth every once in a while. But Margot, she just is who she is, and I loved it.
AX: Did you have to learn to talk around the teeth?
MITCHELL: I did. We all did. There’s a lisp, because our teeth have a bridge that goes right underneath where your tongue touches the top of your soft palate. So, that was a bit of a learning curve [laughs].
AX: Did your executive producer experience on WITCH HUNT make you want to produce anything else?
MITCHELL: Yes, absolutely. I’d love to be there from the beginning on things. I have no problem with that idea. I have more of an understanding of what goes on, and I like knowing [the behinds-the-scenes dealings]. It’s fun to be part of that process. I’ve always been a lover of the ensemble; I’ve never liked being out on my own. I think I just grew up doing improv, I grew up being on stage. And so being in the ensemble as an actor is fantastic, but also being in the ensemble overall, being part of [the production team], is really wonderful. Yeah, I’d love to do it again. It was great.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about WITCH HUNT?
MITCHELL: I think that it is an achingly beautiful. scary movie.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: WITCH HUNT: Actress Elizabeth Mitchell chats about her new movie and the TV show OUTER BANKS