The Secret Circle Preview: Are Witches the New Vampires?

Talking with cast members Phoebe Tonkin, Thomas Dekkar, Britt Robertson, Natasha Henstridge about CW "companion series" to hit The Vampire Diaries

By , Contributor

The CW

The Secret Circle cast

Who do you think of when you hear witches? Elizabeth Montgomery, Alyssa Milano or Melissa Joan Hart? Or are you like me and don’t take much to the pop culture versions, thinking more about old hags with crooked noses and warts in black hats cackling spells over their cauldrons?

Meet the new modern witches, 2011 style.

The CW’s number one show, The Vampire Diaries, gets a new companion September 15th and 9 pm is going to the witches. The Secret Circle is based on LJ Smith’s book trilogy, which came out in 1992, shortly after her other successful trilogy, The Vampire Diaries. So it’s only natural The Secret Circle would eventually follow its companion in TV Land. It’s a match made in supernatural heaven, right?

The CW is riding on it. Even though last year’s Nikita did well in the overall ratings, it lost a lot of the young 18-34 demographic that watched The Vampire Diaries. The hope is this series will share and retain the same advertiser rich audiences. Judging from the official synopsis from The CW, the plot seems to fit:

Cassie Blake was a happy, normal teenage girl - until her mother Amelia dies in what appears to be a tragic accidental fire. Orphaned and deeply saddened, Cassie moves in with her warm and loving grandmother Jane in the beautiful small town of Chance Harbor, Washington - the town her mother left so many years before - where the residents seem to know more about Cassie than she does about herself. As Cassie gets to know her high school classmates, including sweet-natured Diana and her handsome boyfriend Adam, brooding loner Nick, mean-girl Faye and her sidekick Melissa, strange and frightening things begin to happen.

Keep in mind, this is no spinoff. During my chat with the cast and producers during the press session at Comic Con, the words “companion series” were used more than once. That still didn’t prevent the comparisons of the two series. After all, both have witches, and they both have the same Executive Producer. That’s where the similarities end though.

“This world is witches,” explained Executive Producer Kevin Williamson, who was brought onto this project because of his success creating The Vampire Diaries. “We don’t have vampires and werewolves in this world. There’s other things but there’s not vampires and werewolves.” Williamson tried to be sly about what those things were, but admitted that if they were in the books, they’ll probably be in the TV show too.

“We’re just trying to redefine our version of witchcraft,” said Executive Producer Andrew Miller, who’s been with the project since the very beginning and handles a lot of the show running duties. “It’s a bit more nature based and we deal with the elements a lot. Water, fire, air and earth. We’re trying to take the all star team of magic from different cultures and times and try to put it together and create something that’s a little fresh and modern.”

Just like with The Vampire Diaries though, there are some deviations from the books. The most obvious is the death of Cassie’s mother, who is alive and well in the novels. Why was the decision made to kill her? Williamson didn’t see the logic in Cassie’s mother returning to the same town years later with her daughter knowing what she knows. He also thought the town’s name and location didn’t make much sense. “Why is the town called New Salem when it’s about a bunch of witches that were trying to hide? Thank you LJ Smith. So we changed all that.”

The location from the books, New Salem, is now Chance Harbor, Washington. The hope is the location change to another part of the country will give this show it’s own look and feel. “We are shooting in Vancouver and the idea of witchcraft and using elements is so huge there,” said Miller. “It seemed a fit to take that Pacific Northwest feel. There’s some great cultural stuff there from natives and it’s a more frontier kind of place.  Instead of just doing something like Salem or Virginia like The Vampire Diaries we could make it new for us there.”

Miller further explained that when beginning a TV series based on novels, they will start with characters and the core relationships, as well as the bulk of the mythology. Once that’s done though, it’s anything goes. “The books go to a specific end that we can’t. For the characters we unfortunately had to reduce the circle a little bit. Things like that are just practical issues in terms in creating the show. We all so love the heart of the books and the idea and the characters so we’ll stick with that pretty closely.”

Also, don’t look for any typical network stunts, like Damon and Stefan Salvatore dropping in for a surprise visit. “Every show has it’s own world,” said series star Thomas Dekkar. “Every one is wondering if we’ll ever do a cross over episode type deal. I don’t think that will happen. We’re really trying to assert ourselves as our own circle.”

Of the cast members that I got to talk to at Comic Con, they all seemed to have a perfect grasp of their roles and what this new style of witchcraft means for their characters.

Phoebe Tonkin

I have to admit, when Phoebe Tonkin sat at our table, I had a major “HITG” moment. Once she spoke with her native Australian accent, it all came to me. She played a mermaid in the Australian series H20: Just Add Water, a show my kids took to watching on Nickelodeon regularly.

Now she plays Faye Chamberlain, who’s characterized as “mean-girl Faye.” Phoebe knows what makes her character tick. “She’s just kind of bored. Instead of going out and partying, she wants to do really bad magic. That’s kind of her vibe.”

Phoebe Tonkin The Secret Circle.jpg

This is Phoebe’s first major role in the United States. She told us that as soon as she read this script, she really wanted to be part of this project. What happened when she found out? “I was at a juice bar and screamed. I was so excited because I genuinely wanted this role so badly."

As for her character, what sort of struggles does she see for the circle? “Witches can do anything. That’s where the moral dilemma comes in. If we have this incredible power, how far do we take it? Do we use it for good or do we use it for bad?”

Phoebe must be in the right role, for she knows her genre references too. When asked, “Evil Willow Rosenberg or Faye?” she had the easy answer. Definitely Faye.

Thomas Dekker

Thomas Dekker also got a few of us recalling where we’d seen him before. One easily popped in our heads, John Conner on Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. I also remember him from Heroes and one of my favorite House episodes. Now he plays Adam Conant, one of the male witches in the circle.

Thomas Dekkar The Secret Circle.jpg

What’s it like being a male witch on a show with lots of female witches? “To play with witchcraft you’re automatically playing with nature and spirituality, the things you associate with women. I don’t think witches are just for women. I don’t think werewolves should just be for men.”

What’s his philosophy for the circle? “In witchcraft the age old rule is to go light or dark. Two options. It doesn’t come down to the magic being light or dark, it’s the heart of the witch. It depends as we go along and as the powers intensify who’s going to slip to which side, which gives us a lot of places to go.”

Thomas is also very aware that Adam is different in the show compared to his book counterpart. As someone gave him a long description of Adam from the book, he found the comparison quite humorous. “Basically you’re saying, ‘You’re not the character at all I know,” he joked. “Why are you at the table? You’re supposed to be Rupert Grint.” That’s a wizard actually, but we weren’t saying anything.

Britt Robertson

Britt has the most impressive CW credit in the room, coming off of her two season lead role as Lux Cassidy in Life Unexpected. She’s actually counting on their companion show to boost theirs. “A lot of the people that who are excited about our show are fans of The Vampire Diaries.”

Why does she think witches are so popular? “Genre has become such a huge thing. With witches there’s so many cool things that entail that world that we can dive into. This show specifically, you get to watch real people that ordinary people can relate to, but they get to do extraordinary powers that are exciting to watch.”

Britt Robertson The Secret Circle.jpg

What about her character? The pilot shows Cassie to be a reluctant member of the circle. Will that change? “It comes back to her mother at the end of the day and this is her heritage, a part who she is. Being a 16 year girl and constantly being influenced by the outside world that can be a very overwhelming thing. The only choice eventually is to break it.”

Who’s her favorite all time witch? “When I was younger I was a big fan of TGIF on ABC and Sabrina The Teen Witch came on. I loved Melissa Joan Hart.” I do wish we had time left to ask her who would win in a Evil Willow/Sabrina death match.

Natasha Henstridge

Natasha came to our table with the longest resume. She’s been on many shows, but the recent one I remember is Eli Stone. Scanning through her IMDB page, movies The Whole Nine Yards and The Whole Ten Yards stand out, but the one that made me smile was “Job Applicant” in a Saturday Night Live skit in 1998. What a credit!

Natasha Henstridge The Secret Circle.jpg

Natasha’s role is unique since she’s playing Dawn Chamberlain, Faye’s mother, who has no powers but a hidden agenda. “She really believes she’s using her daughter for the greater good.  Like they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, I think she’s got her eye on the prize and probably thinks she’s doing the right thing. Whether the things she does to that endpoint maybe dark and twisted and horrible I don’t think she genuinely wants to hurt her own daughter.”

How does her character play into the circle?  “The generation that I’m in has lost their power.  But there maybe devices and things enable her to have power briefly.  She wants the full circle together so she can have all the power.”

Still, this show is very different to what she’s done in the past.  What drew her to a youth skewing show like this?  “It’s great to join a show that’s young and hip.  I’ve done some great shows that didn’t have that young audience and ‘bye bye.’  Nobody wants to work where nobody’s watching the show.” 

As you can tell, this is a cast with a fantastic sense of humor.

Other cast members include Shelly Henning (Days of Our Lives) as Diana, Louis Hunter (Out of the Blue) as Nick, Jessica Parker Kennedy (Smallville, Lie to Me) as Melissa, and Ashley Crow (Heroes, Grey’s Anatomy) as Jane Blake.  

On a final note, I was very pleased to find during my recent visit to Vancouver that most of the crew from Smallville now have jobs on The Secret Circle, and even two of their writers, Don Whitehead and Holly Hendersen, are also with the show.  Another scoop?  Director Guy Norman Bee (Supernatural, Criminal Minds, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) is helming episode six.

The Secret Circle premieres on The CW Thursday, September 15th at 9 pm.  

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Alice Jester is a freelance writer, web developer, site administrator, IT consultant, and a wife and mother of two demanding kids, not to mention four very needy pets. She is the owner of Jesterz Net Media, the Editor-In-Chief and founder of The Winchester Family Business, a popular fan site for theā€¦

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