Actress Julia Ormond doesn’t believe in ghosts or witches or things that go bump in the night. But she’s willing to grant there are mysteries we can’t explain. “I’m not religious in terms of believing in organized religion,” she says in a clattering coffee bar of a hotel.
“I do believe in our connectivity through metaphysics. I believe that there are strange things that happen that we can’t account for.”
It’s a good thing because in her latest incarnation, Ormond is playing a witch on Lifetime’s new series, The Witches of East End, premiering Sunday.
“What I love about the witch stuff in all the research that I’ve done, if you look at the genocide that happened in the witch hunts and the killing of women, it was about wiping out female power,” she says, brushing an unruly lock of chestnut hair behind her ear.
“I don’t believe that the witch hunts were about supernatural powers that were being stamped out, it was about threatening women within the community … I think most of it – the term even today ‘witch hunt’ – is somebody who is unfairly sought after or plagued or gone after because they don’t fit in some way. I think there was a turning point where, for whatever reason, women’s power and intuition was turned against and (their) healing powers … it was used as an excuse.”
She doesn’t need any excuse to explore the netherworld. Ormond, who’s best known for her roles in Sabrina, Legends of the Fall, Mad Men and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, has already done considerable research on witches.
“I feel I’ve worked a number of different projects where I’ve looked into aspects of being a witch,” she says. “We did The Crucible when I was at drama school. It was exploring about what happened when people were accused of it. I did do a pilot where I was a witch, but it didn’t get picked up.”
Research is a cherished part of her job, she says. In fact preparing for a role is one area in which she can easily go overboard. “In some ways I’m a perfectionist and I don’t necessarily feel it’s a good thing,” says Ormond.
“I don’t know that I bring perfectionism into acting because it almost literally doesn’t have a place. You could maybe once you’re finished, look back at your work and – as a perfectionist – feel like you endlessly fall short. But there’s no such thing as a perfect take. If it’s good, it’s living, it’s alive, it’s too fluid, too mercurial. The good stuff isn’t set in stone. It’s not a painting. It’s not a canvas that’s finished. It’s more open than that.”
Preparation, she says, is a bottomless pit. “You can go on and on and on and on but there is a point at which you feel secure enough to dive into your role, and that stuff is either useful or it’s not. If I have a perfectionist side it comes into play in terms of my preparation.”
Once she’s laid the groundwork, intuition clicks in. “The actual experience is an experience where time should disappear. I’m in it, I’m not observing it. You observe it after. It’s a horrifying moment when the director says, ‘Could you do exactly what you did last time?’ ‘No!’ I kind of have a sense of where that went. I kind of have a sense of it but I’m not completely sure what happened.”