There are witches here among us—at least if you’re an avid follower of WGN America’s supernatural fiction drama Salem. As its title suggests, Salem is set against the backdrop of 17th century Massachusetts, where colonial life gained notoriety due to witch trials of the same name.
On Sunday, the thrilling series will be back for its sophomore season, with star Ashley Madekwereprising her role as Tituba. With just two days until an epic Witch War is unleashed on Salem, Madekwe spoke to Glam about her character’s influence on her day-to-day life, her favorite pop culture witch, and why we need to tune in to the season premiere.
Glam: You play a sort of “bad guy” role on the show. What type of research did you do to get into character?
Ashley: For this, because it’s a period piece, I watched a couple of documentaries about the Salem Witch Trials, just so I had some background. And I read a great novel called I, Tituba, which is a fictional reimagining of the story from Tituba’s point of view, because Tituba was a slave, and such is the nature of slavery—little was really factually written about her. It was great to kind of read an enriched version—it’s totally from the writer’s imagination—but it gave me a feel for the time.
There’s not really much you can do. You have to trust the writers to write the story. You can go there and say “That’s not historically accurate,” but no one’s going to listen. You have to do what’s on the page.
Glam: Is there any connection between Tituba and Ashley Davenport, your character from Revenge?
Ashley: With Revenge, Ashley Davenport was ambitious. Everything she did came from a point of ambition and selfishness—it was about self-preservation and furthering herself. With Tituba, it’s easier, in a way, because she has more, concrete reasons for her revenge. She had slavery, she was sold, her mother and sister were raped. So the writers gave me that rich backstory, so you feel a bit more vindicated when you’re doing nasty things.
Glam: Do you think there’s an underlying message of women’s empowerment on the show?
Ashley: Did you see that scene where Hawthorne challenges Mary, and it’s a big deal that Mary is speaking for her husband? He says “The way of the world, the way of God, is that men are supposed to rule the world.”
Glam: If Tituba lived in present day, what designers would she wear?
Ashley: Tituba likes to mix it up. I think she’d be a bit of a Margiela. And then, maybe some Balmain, because she likes strength—she may have been in the Balmain army. Structured.
Glam: Are there any beauty tips you’ve taken from your character?
Ashley: I’m afraid of eyelash curlers, because you can never do both eyes the same. I just don’t like them. I don’t like clamping my eyelashes. But Marianna [Elias, the show’s makeup artist] uses a heated wand on us, and you get a great effect.
Glam: From Hocus Pocus, to The Craft, to AHS: Coven, there has always been a witch of the moment. Who is your favorite pop culture witch?
Ashley: Most recently, Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau. She was everything. That woman doesn’t age. On the show, and in real life, that woman doesn’t age. Those women who age beautifully and gracefully, they’re rare. They’re a dying breed.
I was a bit partial to Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I loved watching that when I came home from school, and I loved her cat called Salem. There’s a little stray cat that follows me around here—obviously, I’m a crazy cat lady—and I’ve named him Salem, in honor of the show and Salem from Teenage Witch.
Glam: What is your pre-shoot ritual? And how do you unwind from a day on set?
Ashley: Pre-shoot, I just go over my stuff for the week or the day—my lines. We shoot out of sequence, so I usually read the script, and no matter how little or how much I have to do, I usually end up reading the script quite a few times. Sometimes I read the script before [I shoot] to try to make sense of the journey, especially if we’re shooting [a clip] for the end or the beginning.
[After], I just have a shower and go to bed early. I try to get a lot of sleep. It’s quite a long day. Janet [Montgomery, the lead actress], definitely does most of the heavy lifting, but this year—last year I would sometimes get three to four days off in a row, and this year I’ve worked a lot more. And I’ve complained. No—I’m joking.
Glam: You and Janet seem to have a really good relationship, on and off set.
Ashley: We do. Our first scene that we shot together, in the pilot, was the wooden broomstick scene. So she was in front of me with her legs open. There was no time not to be friends.
Glam: What can you say to lure in someone who’s never tuned in to the show?
Ashley: They get to see women being strong, and they get to see witchcraft, and, if they’re a fan of horror, they get to see plenty of that.
Tune in to Salem when it airs Sunday, April 5 on WGN America.