Méridiana by Chloé Dumas
Interview translated from French in English by Isabelle NG
Chloé Dumas is such a funny person, easy to talk to and generous. The sole fact that she took some time with us to talk about her experience on the set of A Discovery of Witches Season 1, playing the unexpected character of Méridiana.
Volunteering for many humanitarian actions, Chloé Dumas is not just a (very beautiful) actress ! She is also a gifted yoga teacher (go on her Instagram account and discover her impressive yoga flows) and successful athlete. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Kickboxing, horse riding, archery, dance and rock climbing… She embodies the motto “ Mens Sana in corpore Sano »
Chloé is also an adventurer who doesn’t hesitate to take her chance abroad, in the UK or in the USA. Multicultural and speaking 4 languages, chatting with her is so insightful !
You can learn more about her beautiful vision about Life and Kindness in this other interview.
How did you become Meridiana for the 1st season of A Discovery of Witches?
I got the part while I was moving for England. To prepare the part, I loaded the books in English on my Kindle and I couldn’t stop reading them! I loved them so much!
I thought to be logical, season 1 would tell the story of the 1st book. And I only see one single mention of Meridiana. Then, I expect to be an unrecognizable and no speaking silhouette.
Weeks later, I received 4 scripts and I’ve very surprised. Obviously everything is confidential and I discover I have some text! Deborah Harkness has developed Méridiana into a full character!
I take contact with Deborah who is very reachable and generous of her time. Since I love History, we talk a lot about this surprise character. She explains to me she wishes the TV show not to be just the book put on screen. She wants to make some surprises for her fans by developing unexpected characters.
In the meantime, I went to Millennium FX, in the London suburb to mould the mask. More than an hour under the layers of bandages and plasters with only a straw in each nostril ! Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has helped me a lot to struggle against my claustrophobia, so it wasn’t that bad, especially since everyone at Millenium FX was very kind with me.
When I leave to shoot in Wales, I’m still a complete secrecy. I don’t have the right to tell the name of my character.
On screen, Méridiana is only « a golden head » . I suppose you had many hours of makeup to get prepared and some special effects. Can you tell us more about it?
Once I had the head through the table, the staff fixed the metal harness around my head. Then, I couldn’t move at all and they added the removable mask. Once the system was installed, I used to stay there, kneeled, the head in the box to wait even between the takes. Besides all the masks, I wore a kind of dentures fixed above and below. I couldn’t speak at all. I had to redo all the dialogues in post- production.
Anyway, I was very lucky because the crew was amazing. They did all their best to make me comfortable.
I loved working with Malin Buska [Satu]. I loved her interiority so bright, the mystery of her energy.
Trevor Eve [Gerbert] has been the most respectful person in the world. Each time he was supposed to feed me with his finger blood, he washed his hands before me. He wanted to be sure I felt respected.
What was your favorite part shooting these episodes?
Since I’ve just arrived in Great Britain and I didn’t know the British industry, I didn’t realize how big this production was. Everything was under control, nothing got out. We went straight from the studio to the hotel. And despite all that, there was no arrogance. The atmosphere was genuine, very positive. And there were so many women, everywhere. 50% of women on a set, that’s so rare ! That was an amazing experience.
The show is full of strong and amazing female characters: do you have a favorite and why?
Teresa Palmer brought to Diana’s character a strength I didn’t find in the book. I love the TV Show Diana. Teresa is the perfect woman to play that part because she has inside her that kind of strength. She carries it with gentleness, even in her daily life. This strength is there, just like a state of being. That’s so beautiful!
I really love Satu’s character. She is a very interesting character, so different from the book! We learned so much more about her !
However in the books, I really loved the aunts, Sarah and Em!
Your character was one of the most puzzling in this 1st season since Méridiana doesn’t really exist in the book, where she is only mentioned. I remember discovering you on the Premiere red carpet and we all wonder who could be your character. What did it feel being a “secret” character? How did the fans welcome you?
My character was indeed a total secrecy, hidden. While the Premiere in Cardiff, on the red carpet, Deborah told only my name but didn’t talk about my character. The surprise was still complete.
The first time I’m on screen, it is in the finale of episode 3. I’m facing Gerbert and there is only that moment when I open my eyes. In the end credits appears “ Chloé Dumas – Meridiana ” At that moment, there were so many reactions on Twitter ! People didn’t expect that !
I only received positive reactions from the fans. Since Méridiana wasn’t expected, it was easy for me. The few of the fans who had understood I was on the set only wanted to know who I was. When they knew, some were disappointed. Since I have a very symmetric face and an athletic body, they thought I would play the Goddess.
But generally speaking, I received a lot of positive criticism, especially on the fact I was able to pass a lot of emotion without movement or body expression.
The hardest part for me was not to give any information to anyone. Especially at the end of the season when the fans wanted to know if I was in season 2. I couldn’t answer and I didn’t want to disrespect them.
How did you prepare for your character? Does Deborah give you some indications or advice?
Deborah talked about Méridiana before and after shooting.
As an historian, she feels the obligation to create a consistent work, respectful of her audience. She understood it was the same for the actors. Learning your lines and coming on set is not enough. This is not how I work and no one on this project worked like that too.
That’s very interesting to discover all the backstory Deborah created for each of her characters. I found it very amazing that she decided to wait until the end of the shooting to tell me what was her backstory for Méridiana. She trusted me and let me do my work. She answered all the questions I had but imposed me nothing. I know she did the same for each character, even for Diana. She trusted us and didn’t try to impose her vision on us or to control us. She was always there when people needed help. There was such a strong trust between her and Jane Tranter (Bad Wolf producer).
As you speak 4 different languages, you can play different parts in each of these languages. Is your acting different according to the language?
No. I think to play in a language, you have to be able to think in this language. Phonetic isn’t enough. You have to be conscious of the language music.
German is the language I master less, so I have to learn by heart all the lines and work 10 times harder than in French, English or Spanish.
How you act as an actor is not about the words, but it is all about the silences. As a human being you inhale, the idea pops up just before the sentence or the words. The acting is all about the ideas, whatever the language.
Many friends and critics have congratulated the great sensibility of the show and the subtlety of all the emotions shown on screen. A lot talk about the “female eye” to explain all these shades. You had the opportunity to work both with Alice Troughton and Sarah Walker. According to you, what makes the difference between the way a female director sees things to a male director?
I’ve read a study which explained the majority of the shows have a male hero because women are able to identify themselves equally to a male or female hero. Men, on the contrary, can only identify themselves to male heroes. I don’t know if it’s true, or only because of the common habits.
I believe the female eye is mostly due to the creator of this story and those characters. Deborah is full of kindness for her characters and she succeeded to surround herself with kind people to give them life.