Mayfair Witches: Director Axelle Carolyn Breaks Down “Curiouser and Curiouser” (Exclusive)

On AMC’s Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches, views have been following along with Rowan (Alexandra Daddario) as she goes on an unexpected journey as she comes to discover not only that she has supernatural powers, but the truth about her biological family and its legacy — including a dark entity named Lasher — that she is connected to. Last week, that connection became more real than ever with Rowan encountering Lasher during a second line on the streets of New Orleans, but this week’s episode, “Curiouser and Curiouser”, takes Rowan deeper into the Mayfair family and all its mysteries and proves to be a major turning point.

Directed by Axelle Carolyn — as was last week’s episode “Second Line” — the episode is the midpoint of the first season of Mayfair Witches and has some major implications, not just for Rowan’s story, but for the larger telling of entire Mayfair saga. sat down with Carolyn to talk about the episode, her approach to the series, and her favorite experience making the series in New Orleans.

Warning: spoilers for Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches beyond this point.

Nicole Drum, I thought there were some interesting parallels between the Scotland scenes that open the episode and then the more contemporary scenes, because we’ve got two funerals. They’re very parallel and in a lot of real ways Suzanne and Rowan’s stories are parallel to one another. They’re both discovering these new worlds and new aspects of themselves. And visually there’s also some similarities and some very key differences between these two funerals that are very much world opening events. Talk to me a little bit how you approached what is something very similar but also very different narratively and visually?

Axelle Carolyn: I think technically there’s almost three funerals, because there’s the prayer at the beginning with the priest with the body, and then there’s the real celebration of her life at night in the forest. And then we have the Mayfair funeral. And all three felt like, what I really liked is that you had two funerals that took place within the context of the more traditional, more structured environment with the church. And it’s very patriarchal in some ways. And then you have the more disruptive and more joyous and very different celebration, more freeing and more perhaps woman-centric celebration that happens in the woods in Scotland. And then I guess you can compare that to Lasher suddenly bringing his presence with the rose petals flowing through the church.

But visually, I thought it would be really fun to have the same kind of sense of things being very symmetrical, very centered, very slow when it comes to what’s more structured and what’s more conservative, I guess. So, the priest at the beginning and then the church when she comes in, when Rowan walks into the church and it’s the first time she sees the Mayfairs and it’s all very impressive and it’s all a world that she’s not familiar with. And then having the camera move more freely and having something that’s more asymmetrical and more shiny and less traditional for the celebration at night. And I just love that scene. I love the way that being allowed to use your emotions is what really matters and is what really helps you.

And it’s not even so much about what happens in the afterlife, even though we’ve had that conversation at the beginning of episode three and we have a sense of something that happens afterwards, and we see Deirdre come back, and even though it’s through Lasher, but it’s more about letting out your feelings and your grief and being surrounded with your community. And again, the sense that you don’t necessarily get when you go to the church with the Mayfairs.

it really makes sense too. And what I thought was also interesting about this episode, in a way, outside of the episode title of Curiouser and Curiouser, it felt a little bit like a trippy Alice in Wonderland to me. This really had that same kind of weird, disorienting wonder as Rowan’s literally going down the rabbit hole in a sense. And on a lot of different levels, she’s in the rabbit hole of this world she’s now into, but also the family members and everyone’s telling her something different. And you see that in the way the episode is structured, as inside the frame of the house, even when she’s at that celebration of life after. For you as a director, did you have any inspirations and things that you have seen or worked on or even things that you have that you touched back to when putting that together to help aid in bringing us into Rowan’s disorientation and that confusion?

Emotionally I had a couple of things in mind. One of them was the idea that very often you get to meet an entire family at an event that makes it difficult to actually communicate with them. And I’ve been through that meeting the family of my significant other through a funeral. And it’s the first time you meet all those people and you’re dealing with this wave of emotions and you’re trying to understand very complex family dynamics in a day that’s already very charged. And I felt like it’s really interesting that she does that, but it’s her own mother’s funeral and so there’s another layer of mystery and of emotion to it. So that was something that I definitely kept in mind.

The other thing that personally I related to was, I’ve never been to New Orleans, and I got to spend two months there for the show and you get to see places you don’t usually have access to. You go to houses, you don’t, as the public you wouldn’t necessarily have access to. You get to go to a graveyard that’s usually closed. And I really was falling in love with the city and with its beauty and its mystery. And that’s very much something I wanted the episodes to reflect, because Rowan is going through the exact same thing and she’s going through that enchantment and mystery of the city of the family that she’s being part of, all those elements that she gets to discover. And I wanted it to feel as magical as what I was really experiencing, which was a pretty… Have you been to New Orleans?

I’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans. And I was actually telling my partner, watching episode three, I’m like, “I really hope I get to talk to the director of this, because I’m watching this episode and I can smell, and I can taste New Orleans just sitting here and I’m homesick right now.”

That’s wonderful. And that’s certainly something that I was hoping would come across. And so, episode three is being thrown into the city itself. You have the second line, you have this, so much fun to explore. And then episode four is not just the city and the Garden District, the house, that fantastic house that we get to film in, but it was also the world itself and the Mayfairs and being surrounded with so many people who assault you with so many questions and have so many different… And especially in her teens, everybody is projecting something different onto her and everybody wants to grab a different piece of her. And there had to be something that felt a little bit confusing.

And then somehow Lasher is the one who shows her a path through the house because he has a very clear idea of what he wants to show her. And that’s the only thing that drives her forward in a very clear way. But yes, the episode is a little bit disorienting. I think it throws a lot of information at you, but that’s what Rowan is going through in that moment. So, we’re just mirroring her confusion and her emotions.

One of the things I also thought was particularly striking about episode four, and as much as it really is about Rowan, who is going through this experience and this rabbit hole, like I’ve said, coming off of three, the episode’s also a lot about Aunt Carlotta. First of all, I love Beth Grant, I love Aunt Carlotta so much. And after what happened with Delphine in three, you walk away from that episode thinking, okay, she is our villain. But this episode, even though you know there’s manipulation going on, this episode, gives her a lot of actual humanity. And I’m thinking particularly of the scenes near the end where she sees Rowan with the necklace, and the way that that scene is framed, it hits something to where it’s almost like the way you’ve set this up, it strips, even though it’s in the writing as well, but it’s in the visual. You’ve stripped away all this humanity of this character who seems hard and no humanity. And then of course as we get towards the end, we see her have this feminine rage and she’s finally getting to be honest, and of course she burns it all down. What was your approach to this aspect of the story as a director storyteller in this moment?

I’m so glad that you picked up on all of that. And that’s one of my absolute favorite moments. And I loved working with Beth by the way. I adore her. She’s one of the warmest and most wonderful human beings. But something we discussed a lot with these episodes is that I didn’t feel like the villain. I feel like no one wants to be a villain. No one sees themselves as a villain of the story. And I think Aunt Carlotta, if you had a different show that followed her, would be the hero of that piece. Because in her mind, she’s doing what she thinks is right, even though it’s completely awful, completely misguided. What happens to Delphine leaves no doubt whatsoever that she is not a good person and that she is ruthless, but she’s doing everything thinking that she’s protecting the family and that she is protecting the people around her from a greater evil.

And I felt like what was really interesting was that Beth made a lot of personal emotions come out and she made her look wounded, made her look vulnerable, made her look sad. That moment you mentioned where she sees her put the necklace around her neck, we discussed the fact that it’s not a moment of anger, it’s a moment of my world has just collapsed, my life work, everything I’ve done, the horrible thing that I’ve just done to this woman who didn’t deserve it, it was all in vain because Lasher has won in that tiny little moment. And it’s her world collapsing and it’s the grief and the heartbreak, and the heartbreak is a word that we use a lot discussing Carlotta. And that’s the thing that drives her to do the things that she’s doing in the final section of the episode. But it was very important for both of us that it would come from a place of heartbreak, of personal disappointment, emotion, and not just fury.

There’s a particular shot that I love in addition to the seeing it, but we also get to see the rose around the floor. And I think that just says so much. Everything is false. And that I think is, it’s just such a perfect, perfect moment.

She’s been discarded, she’s been swept aside. And there’s the scene previously where Cortland does the same thing. And even though she sort of wins because she stays with Rowan, I don’t think the feeling you get when you leave that scene is that she’s the one in control, at all. So, it’s that final moment of realizing, I’ve lost this game and have nothing left to do but try to burn it all down, literally.

One of the things that jumped out to me today in today’s rewatch, preparing to talk to you that I hadn’t really thought about before is, while we’ve got all this stuff going on at the Mayfair House, we also shift gears at some point in the episode, and we follow a little bit of Ciprien’s story, which we don’t want to forget about him, because his story’s really important too. And we get to see a little bit of the work of the Talamasca. And it jumped out to me that while it is also disorienting and confusing, it is also very tonally different from the way that it’s presented. And I wondered, what was your process between moving between what is, now that I really think about it, two very different realities almost within this episode.

I find that’s very much the fun of it though when you have contrast between different worlds and between different characters. And I love, again, the confusion, the magic, the enchantment of the world that Rowan is entering and also the danger and the dark side of it, but then the very structure, almost administration like world of the Talamasca, which visually is very different. The kind of colors that we chose are very different. The type of shots, again, playing with symmetry or coming from different angles. It’s also a world that has its own mystery. And I think that will be explored further in the next few episodes and then probably in the greater world, although I’m not clued on that, but that’s my guess since it’s such a big part of the books that Anne Rice wrote.

The feeling I, got again, based on these episodes. Is that even someone like Ciprien doesn’t know the entirety of the workings of the Talamasca. And as we’ve seen in the previous episode, his work is very confidential. He doesn’t even let his family into it. I think that that’s the thing to take away from the scene with Odette is that she doesn’t seem to know what her brother does for a living. So, there is a huge aspect of his life that’s kept secrets.

And what I love about the relationship between Roman and the Ciprien that’s starting at that moment is that both of them have learned that they can’t speak to others about their situation and about their troubles, and suddenly they find someone else who’s had to keep everything in for so long and they get to let it out. Someone who sees them inside and sees them for what they really are, and they both learn to slowly open to each other and letting those two worlds collide.

The show films in New Orleans, and you’ve got to spend some significant time there now, and now that you’re aware, that’s very much its own living, breathing entity in and of itself. It’s probably my favorite city. For you, what was your favorite or most interesting experience filming Mayfair Witches in New Orleans?

The second line, the episode three second line, although I also loved filming at the house. I loved filming the exterior. I was madly in love with it. I love the sets that were built for the interior. I think it’s gorgeous, but filming the second lines, which is special. Then it’s TV, everything moves quick. But even then, it just felt like at the end of the second night when we were done filming in the graveyard and we had just wrapped, it was a mad night. You’re in a graveyard with a hundred background and there’s a horse-drawn carriage, and there’s people on stoves and there’s pyrotechnics and there’s very little time to shoot everything. You have dialogue between your leads who are weaving in and out of the crowd. And it looks amazing. And it’s everything that I personally love as far as my tastes go, getting to work with prosthetics. It’s almost like a little haunted mansion homage. I grew up being a huge fan of the Haunted Mansion, and that seemed like the scene that could get those little references in.


There’s also a reference to James Bond because I also love the James Bond franchise in the scene before that, when the second line starts. I think if people are fans of Live and Let Die, they will probably pick up on it. But at the end of that night, after everything that had happened, I just had to sit down in the graveyard and just absorb the moment and enjoy the fact that I’d just been through something so special. We had this amazing Mardi Gras crew, the Skull and Bone Gang, who sang for us and walked through those streets. They’re the ones with the big paper mache heads. And it was fantastic. It was such a moment of capturing a little bit of the essence of the city and getting to put it on screen. And it was one of my favorite nights shooting anything ever.

Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches airs Sundays at 9pm ET on AMC and AMC+.