10 Reasons We Love 'A Discovery of Witches' Actor Lindsay Duncan
Lindsay Duncan is in terrific form in AMC's A Discovery of Witches as the formidable matriarch Ysabeau de Clermont – a fascinating role that she absolutely nails. Here are just 10 reasons why we love the prolific British actress who's also appeared in everything from the BBC's Sherlock to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.
1. She's an accomplished theater actress.
Duncan has more than 35 stage credits to her name, and won Tony and Olivier Awards for her performance in a 2001-2 revival of Noël Coward's Private Lives. She also won an Olivier Award and earned another Tony nomination for her performance opposite Alan Rickman in the 1985-6 production of Les Liaisons dangereuses.
2. She helped to inspire one of Rickman's movies.
Rickman directed 1997's The Winter Guest, a poignant British film exploring the relationship between a grown-up daughter (Emma Thompson) and her mother who is battling Alzheimers (Phyllida Lloyd). It was based on the play of the same name by Sharman MacDonald – Keira Knightley's mother – who drew from stories Duncan shared about her own mother's experiences with the disease.
3. She has no time for presumptions about her background.
"I've been described as an English Rose, which irritates me intensely," she told The Independent in 2011. "It sounds so sickly-sweet and it's so limiting; but I can't be described as English anyway."
Indeed: Duncan was actually born in Scotland to Scottish parents; the family only moved south of the border to Leeds and then Birmingham when she was five or six.
"When people hear the way I speak, they think I'm from some comfortable middle-class background," Duncan added in the same interview. "But we didn't have a lot of money. We didn't have a telephone or a car. Both my parents spoke with Scottish accents. A lot of expressions they used were Scots army slang. They used to say, 'Kit'na budgie?,' meaning: 'What time is it?' I don't know how I spoke but it wasn't Scots or Birmingham. I can remember two friends of my older brother saying, 'Ooh, 'ere cooms the Queen' because I spoke posh, but I don't know where it came from."
4. She has lots of natural curiosity.
When asked which era she would time travel to, A Discovery of Witches style, Duncan told AMC Talk: "It's a bit of a cliché, but for several reasons I suppose it might be Paris during La Belle Époque. It was so cosmopolitan. I love cities. People were coming in from all over the world, artists of all kinds. To be part of that, God, how invigorating would that be? All those minds – artists of all kinds, dancers, writers. You had lots of women coming forward, being accepted for the great talents that they were."
5. She made a memorable guest appearance in Jennifer Saunders' sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.
Duncan appears as Jeanne Durand, a legendary French film star whom Saunders' PR guru Edina Monsoon signs as a client. Durand persuades Monsoon to book a gig for her at the iconic Royal Albert Hall, but there's one tiny problem: she can't sing a note.
6. She has a supporting role in the Oscar-winning film Birdman.
Duncan plays Tabitha Dickinson, a withering theater critic who refuses to be intimidated by Michael Keaton's ferocious actor on the comeback trail. Their scene below is pure gold.
7. She's a Star Wars alumnus.
Yes, really – she provided the voice of the android TC-14 in 1999's Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. And incidentally, her actor husband Hilton McRae had a small role as a Green Leader in 1983's Return of the Jedi.
8. She brings depth to complex characters.
A case in point: Meg, her character in the acclaimed 2013 indie film Le Week-End, who wants more from life than her glum husband Nick (Jim Broadbent) can supply. "I did worry about sympathy," Duncan told The Guardian at the time. "Jim is such a hugely sympathetic actor and Nick is such a sympathetic character. And I thought that this film has got to be balanced or what's the point? It's not the story of a beleaguered bloke. You've got to feel for both of them, you've got to see it all."
"I felt I had to fight Meg's corner a little bit," she added. "It's undeniable that the character is acerbic and I love that about her. But you have to make sure there's some warmth and compassion."
9. She's a Doctor Who guest star.
Duncan portrays Adelaide, a companion to David Tennant's Doctor, in the 2009 episode "The Waters of Mars." Four years later, she told Anglophenia: "I'm just rather cross that my character can’t come back, because it would be lovely. I'd love to have worked with Matt Smith who I've worked with in the theater — and now Peter Capaldi. You feel quite envious of the adventure they're having when they're making it."
10. And finally, she's absolutely brilliant as the matriarch Ysabeau de Clermont in A Discovery of Witches.
Asked what she finds interesting about the character, Duncan told AMC Talk: "Well, of course I love the fact that she's a strong woman. I suppose it's now a bit of a cliché. I have to say it would be equally interesting to play a less strong woman, but there's something about seeing the stuff that she has to take on and the adjustments she has to make, which make her really interesting. I suppose I empathize with having to adjust to changes, to the demands made of one for the greater good, to be able to see outside yourself."
"She's had so much power all her life, and she's been at the top of the vampire tree with Philippe, and yet she shows a great intelligence and a great capacity for empathy," Duncan added. "She can adjust her worldview to the extent that she has to. That makes her interesting."
You can read the Duncan's full interview with AMC Talk here.