British actress Janet Montgomery has dabbled in a number of American TV series, from FOX’s Human Target to CBS’ Made in Jersey, but nothing has come even close to her newest role as Mary Sibley in WGN America’s Salem. “I do know when I read the scripts it definitely gives me the chills and sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that seems so risqué,’” Montgomery says of Salem, which airs on Sundays at 10pm ET beginning April 20. The series is set in 17th-century Salem at the height of the Salem witch trials, and follows Montgomery’s character Mary Sibley and the decisions she’s forced to make in this brutally dark and mysterious period of time.
When we talked to Janet Montgomery, she shared some insights on basing her character around Margaret Thatcher, working in witchcraft and more.
Tell us about your character Mary Sibley. Is she the villain in this story or more of a hero?
Janet Montgomery: What makes Mary so compelling and what makes any TV show interesting is when you have a lead character who is doing something that you would immediately disagree with, but their reasoning behind it you understand. And, the people she is doing it to are evil and therefore you reason with it and you reason with her character. Sometimes you find yourself going, “God, I can’t believe she did that. She’s so awful. She’s pure evil.” And other times you’re like, “I completely understand why she did that. She had no other choice.”
On basing Mary Sibley on Margaret Thatcher … I based quite a lot of my characterization, and a lot of research on Mary, on Margaret Thatcher, actually. She’s such a controversial figure of like a woman in power who abuses that power. A lot of times you find yourself, if you watch a lot of video of Margaret Thatcher, really sympathizing and respecting her because she’s a woman who is forced into this role and has to be tough, and other times you’re like, “She’s completely off her rocker, she’s mental.” … I think a lot of Margaret Thatcher is that she took it too far because she was forced to do that, and a lot of that comes in with Mary as well.
On some of the more difficult scenes (and it’s not the nudity) … There was a scene where I was doing a spell and I had a mouse, and in the scene I squash the mouse in my fist to get the blood out. That was a really hard scene for me to shoot because I could feel the little mouse in my hand and its little heartbeat — and I’m a total animal person, I couldn’t hurt an animal — and then to switch it over with the fake mouse (we didn’t kill a real mouse) to squeeze it, it was horrible. It made me feel pretty grotesque afterward, and frightened.
On what else scares her when it comes to Salem … I’m not great with the creepy crawlers to be honest. I’m not great with the snakes, the mice, the toads, and I have them all.
On why it’s taken TV so long to tackle the Salem witch trials … I think the reason it has been such a taboo subject is the fact that it’s some of the oldest American history, and the way Puritans operated during that time and the scare tactics that they used — there were a lot of innocent people killed due to hysteria.